Meteorology and the resilience movement

In the LOTRW fine print you can find an invitation to submit guest posts. Over the eight years only a handful of folks have taken me up on this offer – but the results have been satisfying. For example, the Harold Brooks post of May 30, 2013 – Get as low as you can and put as many walls as you can between you and the tornado – has been far and away the most-read of all the LOTRW posts, attracting some 20,000 views over a two-day period.

It’s therefore a pleasure and a privilege to offer this guest post from Bill Read.

In the way life works, the people who need no introduction are the most deserving of one, so a bit on Bill: He currently works as a consultant with Texas A&M Galveston and others on applied problems in meteorology. But most of us, and most of the public, know him from his years at NWS, which included a variety of assignments but culminated in four and a half years as Director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.

Readers may not know this: Earlier on, Bill served five years as an officer in the US Navy where he flew with the Navy Hurricane Hunters out of Jacksonville, FL, was a forecaster in Keflavik, Iceland and was Officer in Charge of the Navy Weather Detachment at Kingsville, TX. This week we’re honoring another Navy officer nationwide, so it’s especially appropriate, Bill, to thank you and others for your service to the country.

In this post, Bill speaks to community resilience, but in the particular context of an upcoming FLASH conference. By way of full disclosure, he wants you to know and understand his history and present connection with that organization. He became involved with FLASH during the roll out of the Turn Around Don’t Drown campaign in Texas in 2004-05. As NHC Director he partnered with them in annual efforts to get the word out on hurricane preparedness. Since retiring from NHC in 2012, he has served in a voluntary role as a FLASH Leadership Partners. For several years now, the annual theme of FLASH has focused on resilience to disasters.

Bill Read, in his own words:

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Fellow meteorologists, the resilience movement needs your participation!  I know just the conference where you will be welcome. More about the conference at the end of this post.

Per Merriam-Webster Dictionary resilience is defined as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. “

The use of the term resilience or more often resiliency has increased in the world of disaster reduction research and to some extent has become a replacement for the term mitigation.  Editing the dictionary definition a bit to weather and water related disasters results in something like “the ability to recover from a weather or water disaster and/or to better prepare for future events in order to reduce losses.”

We have made amazing strides particularly with respect to reduction of loss of life since the founding of the AMS.  While loss of life from weather related events still occasionally reaches unacceptably high numbers (Katrina, 2005, Maria, 2017), the pathway to reducing loss of life is rather clear.

However, economic loss from weather related events both in direct damage and in loss of economic capability continues to rise due to a combination of increased population, increased wealth and proportionally higher growth in higher risk areas (coastal – hurricanes, western – urban wildfire interface).  To a large extent, these economic losses are impervious to advances in our warning and forecast science.   You can’t just move a house or petrochemical plant out of a storm surge zone when the warning is issued.  This is where resilience comes in.

Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was a wake up call for Florida.  Building codes were weaker and evidently not enforced.  In the aftermath of Andrew a cadre of individuals from multiple disciplines led by Leslie Chapman Henderson formed an organization aimed at mitigating the effects of the inevitable winds of a hurricane in Florida.  In time, the nation’s strongest code for wind was enacted in Florida. In a few years this organization expanded its effort nationwide and from hurricane wind resilience to multi hazard, taking the name Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH).

FLASH Mission Statement: To promote life safety, property protection and resiliency by empowering the community with knowledge and resources for strengthening homes and safeguarding families from natural and man-made disasters.

AMS Mission Statement “The American Meteorological Society advances the atmospheric and related sciences, technologies, applications, and services for the benefit of society.”

See the connection to AMS?

FLASH core values include “Forging strategic partnerships with like-minded individuals and organizations that share a commitment to the disaster safety movement.”   One of the most effective practices of FLASH is through the sponsorship of ongoing outreach initiatives to encourage citizens to build, buy and use buildings that are constructed or retrofitted with disaster safety in mind.

In order to make a difference in reducing the property and economic loss due to weather related disasters, it is imperative that we meteorologists forge partnerships with the many practitioners from multiple professions that work to make us more resilient. We bring to the table knowledge of the science behind recurring natural disasters that can help frame the extent of actions needed to succeed in resilience.  A better understanding on the part of meteorologists to the challenges of land use and building codes will help us in important community awareness and hazard preparedness.

In 2017 three extreme hurricane disasters, Harvey, Irma, and Maria and extreme wildfires in the western USA brought to light the continued lack of resilience caused by poor land use decisions and weak building practices.

This year the FLASH Annual Natural Disaster Resilience Conference will be held November 7-9 in Clearwater Beach Florida with the overarching theme of lessons learned (or not) from the 2017 disasters.  I would encourage any of our members with an interest in this aspect of providing societal benefit to attend the meeting.  Details on registration, hotel and agenda can be found here.

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Thanks again for this post, Bill.

A closing comment: Bill hails from Houston. Coincidentally, we’re at the one-year mark since Hurricane Harvey’s calamitous impact on the area. The Washington Post ran a story in yesterday’s print edition on the recovery. You can find an on-line version, accompanied by a brief video and photographs, here. Please take the time to read it, let the reality of it all sink in. It makes a great companion to Bill’s thoughtful piece.

Houston’s experience is a sobering reminder that “recovery” from a disaster is something of an oxymoron. Survivors never really recover; never are made whole. They instead move into a new, often diminished, normal. When you and I read these narratives, we build an awareness of the threat. We all realize that something similar could happen to us – will happen to us if we live long enough. (After all, we live on a planet that does its business through extreme events.)

But awareness is at most only a beginning. All too often, that awareness fails to translate into preparation, and effective preventive measures. Bill and the FLASH folks are urging us to take those vital additional steps.

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