From: Protecting New York City, Before Next Time (NYT, November 2, 2012)
The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work. And in the short term, our subway system remains partially shut down, and many city residents and businesses still have no power. In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods — something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable. Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be — given this week’s devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.
Extreme weather is the new normal. In the past two years, we have had two storms, each with the odds of a 100-year occurrence. Debating why does not lead to solutions — it leads to gridlock. The denial and deliberation from extremists on both sides about the causes of climate change are distracting us from addressing its inarguable effects. Recent events demand that we get serious once and for all.
Even before Sandy hit, New Jersey Governor Christie was clear. According to an August 19, 2011 report in the Star-Ledger, “The governor said, “climate change is real.” He added that “human activity plays a role in these changes” and that climate change is “impacting our state.”
During his Wednesday press conference the President said:
I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it… The temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago. We do know that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than was predicted even five years ago. We do know that there have been an extraordinarily large number of severe weather events here in North America, but also around the globe.
All the way back in 2010 a study by the think-tank CNA — Why the Emergency Management Community Should be Concerned about Climate Change — and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation found that in regard to climate change,
These changes may impact the location, frequency, and occurrence of natural hazards such as tropical cyclones, wildfires, floods,and winter storms. Thus, the historical data that are typically the basis of hazard identification and risk assessment may not accurately forecast future events. Consequently, we need to begin to evaluate and better understand how climate change could affect the identification and selection of disaster mitigation strategies, the types of preparedness activities that jurisdictions undertake,the execution of response operations, and the implementation of long-term recovery strategies.
The CNA report offers a set of policy recommendations. All are important. I would argue the results of Sandy (and the Japanese triple header, June’s Derecho, last year’s Irene, Katrina, and more) especially highlight the criticality of mitigation and preparedness. For too long these have been the weak sisters of the emergency management and homeland security family.
Mitigation and preparedness are given less money and attention because:
1. Decision-makers at almost every level over-estimate their understanding of future challenges based on their personal experience with past challenges.
2. Mitigation and preparedness require research, thinking, communication, collaboration, and crafting decisions without the benefit of an immediate crisis to clarify priorities and when no one is “in charge”.
3. Mitigation and (real) preparedness seldom involve buying big-boy toys or nifty gadgets. They are less about playing war and much more about playing house.
Mitigation and preparedness are about building smart for the long-term, not just picking up the pieces.