Friday, August 30, 2013

Examining Earth Hazards 
A public interest assessment of significant natural and non-natural hazards 
of concern to  scientific and emergency management communities

(September 1, 2013 - Baltimore, MD)  When out-going Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spoke to the National Press Club in late August 2013, (C-Span Video) she shined an important light of situational awareness onto several high-risk hazards which for some, usually fall into a "low probability" column. That is, until major weather events of the past several years changed that perspective for many. Even in 2013, nations around the world continue to experience catastrophes ranging from massive floods and devastating wildfires to a historic meteor explosion in Russia and numerous other parts of the globe.

With September being National Preparedness Month in the United States, our team is bringing attention to the Secretary's presentation as evidence our government officials are paying much closer attention to the increasing threat of "Earth hazards."  Concurrently,   use of "probability" in decision-making appears to be gaining important ground across the Homeland Security enterprise. In weather forecasting and climate science, as in many scientific and governmental venues, probability plays an influential role in how intelligence is presented, and how policymakers or leaders act on the information. 

In Secretary Napolitano's remarks, she notes the following about national efforts to secure the homeland against future hazards:
"In a world of evolving threats, the key to our success is the ability to be flexible and agile, and adapt to changing circumstances on the ground – whether that is across the globe, or here at home. It means taking every necessary step to prepare for a range of potential outcomes, and understanding that if things don’t go according to plan, or the unexpected occurs, we are ready and able to shift resources and adjust operations, learn from our mistakes, and put ourselves in a position to succeed in the future."
Later in her remarks, the Secretary maps out several critical points in an "Open Letter To My Successor." Among these include references to two types of hazards, which may at first seem to be unrelated, unless the events have a single point of origin.
A major cyber-attack  "Our country will, for example, at some point, face a major cyber event that will have a serious effect on our lives, our economy, and the everyday functioning of our society."  [see 2012 DHS statement: Cyber Threats]
Severe weather events "You also will have to prepare for the increasing likelihood of more weather-related events of a more severe nature as a result of climate change, and continue to build the capacity to respond to potential disasters in far flung regions of the country that could occur at the same time."
How is this related to weather forecasting? 

Since our founding in 2004 as a "common good enterprise," the Foot's Forecast team has always strongly advocated a supportive relationship with local, state and federal emergency management. Our role is to augment and repurpose existing weather intelligence data into a format that is appropriately sourced, verifiable, peer-reviewed and guided by the scientific method.

Our approach has repeatedly earned invitations to work side-by-side with local and state government officials to assist during their darkest hours, such as Hurricane Sandy, as well as to collaborate and celebrate in their ground-breaking successes, such as the Baltimore Grand Prix.
When our information is presented to or requested by officials and policy-makers, it is done so in a manner to support public safety, strengthen understanding of scientific data, and scaffold around the tireless, heroic work of those who put their lives on the line to secure our nation and its institutions. We are encouraged to see how agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security have a renewed appreciation to understand and plan for Earth Hazards, as evidenced by the Secretary's remarks. 
What hazards are being examined?