Five years ago Sunday the hurricane weakened as it rolled past New Orleans. What a lucky break. But then one levee broke, then another. Eventually there were 53 breached levees.
Southern Mississippi was hit harder, but a certain fixation with the city is not inappropriate. Eighty percent of Americans are concentrated in urban areas. Our density depends on attenuated networks of infrastructure and supply chains that we seldom see and most barely understand.
In the Big Easy infrastructure crumbled, the power grid failed, supply chains severed, and life became very hard. Death came for over 1800.
Yet we knew Katrina was coming. We saw her swing through Florida heading our way. There was a mandatory evacuation. Most escaped. She ended up a Cat 1 or Cat 2, far from the worst. Still consequences were plenty bad. The blues were given another deep bend.
Not to diminish the impact or its implications, Katrina was the “last war.” Whatever was learned ought be used for the even tougher task ahead. We cannot know precisely when it will happen or where it will hit, but we can be certain it’s heading our way.
The map immediately below projects potential earthquake impacts in the United States. The Pacific ring-of-fire we know, even if we are usually in deep denial. The faults along the middle Mississippi and the South Carolina coast still surprise many. The possibility of strong quakes without an adjacent fault stacks the odds higher still.
This is the best notice we will get.
Earthquake is hardly the only no-notice threat. Most natural, accidental, and intentional threats are no notice (or little notice) events. Lack of notice increases the likelihood a trigger event will cascade toward catastrophe.
We cannot predict, but we can anticipate. Knowing what we know now, what should we being doing now? Are we doing it?
For further consideration:
National Earthquake Information Center (United States Geological Service)
Sustainable Critical Infrastructure Systems (National Research Council)
Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster (Lee Clarke, University of Chicago Press)
Catastrophic Disaster Planning and Response (Clifford Oliver, CRC Press)
Building Resilient Communities (P.H. Longstaff and K. Perrin, Syracuse University)
Resilience: The Grand Strategy (Homeland Security Affairs Journal)
Updated Friday Morning:
On this date in 1883 the Krakatoa volcano exploded. It was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history.
- The 23km square island of Krakatoa existed at a height of 450m above sea level. The blast leveled most of the island to 250m below sea level.
- Pyroclastic flows traveled as far as 40km from the island consuming traversing ships in fire and ash.
- The sound of the final explosion was heard over 4500km away and covered 1/13th of the Earth’s surface.
- The eruption generated tsunamis 40m high that devastated nearby coastlines.
- The final death toll from pyroclastic flows, volcanic bombs, and tsunamis was calculated to be a devastating 36,417.
More available at: http://www.earlham.edu/~bubbmi/krakatoa.htm
Thanks to Bill Cumming for the reminder. I understand President Arthur asked Bill to undertake a close examination of the event in order to generate lessons-learned.
Mount Sinabung erupts, first time in 400 years
Early Sunday, August 29 — Priyadi Kardono from Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency told the BBC that more than 10,000 people were being evacuated from nearby villages. MORE FROM THE BBC