Posts Tagged ‘Earth Sciences


It doesn’t happen here…

Springfield Tornado - 06012011 - 026

Image by Robert Blackie via Flickr

It can’t, it won’t, it hasn’t, it doesn’t.  These are fatal assumptions when associated with words like severe weather or earthquakes or flooding.  I would venture to guess that within the large tally of injured and killed people during this springs severe weather, many believed these statements.  It could be they grew up in areas that experience regular severe weather and nothing has ever happened before or because they grew up in areas that generally don’t have severe weather.  This is the mindset of the vast majority of our population.  Many don’t believe it will happen to them.

Here’s the problem though, it can, it will, it has, and it does happen.  Weather, earthquakes, technological hazards, and all the other dangers of the world can happen anywhere at any time.  I read an article yesterday in the local paper that stated how lucky we are because we don’t get any of the bad things in the world where we live.  I proceded to spit my coffee all over the table and then had to re-read it to be sure that this paper just told all of it’s readers that it’s cool cause it ain’t gonna happen here…unbelievable.  Need an example?  Springfield, Massachusetts.  It’s in New England, nestled in western mass in an area that doesn’t typically get a lot of significant severe weather.  Well much to the surprise of many, it was hit with a very large and destructive tornado, possibly in the EF-3 to EF-4 range.  This system then moved across the state leaving millions of dollars in damage and multiple fatalities and injuries.

As a community, emergency managers need to stress the fact that these events can and will happen anywhere they please.  Emergency management as a profession/volunteer position exists in a realm of confusion and lack of definition.  The average citizen doesn’t really know what it does and therefore has no problem cutting money from these agencies that don’t seem to do anything.  Obviously this is not the case but we need to justify the existance of emergency management.  We need to explain that preparedness saves lives, that those expensive warning systems can pay for themselves in an instant when they are needed, that after the dust has settled we can see the true cost of preparing your community for the events that will never happen, aren’t possible, and in an instant, can wipe you off the face of the earth.


There no such thing as a natural disaster

A picture of the 2004 tsunami in Ao Nang, Krab...

Image via Wikipedia

Sounds crazy but think about it.  What is a natural disaster?  Tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and the list goes on.  We call these natural disasters.  They aren’t.  These are natural phenomena that have occurred on this planet long before humans ever came into existence.  This is critical to dealing with mitigation and recovery to “natural disasters”.

We have long blamed nature for destroying lives and property.  We try to engineer our way out of disaster.  This is flawed thinking, I understand it but it’s flawed.  The reason it’s flawed is that we think that nature is our enemy.  This is manifested in our over consumption, our wastefulness, and in the fact that we are now just beginning to appreciate nature with the “green” movement.  When it comes to emergency management it’s dangerously clear that we haven’t really gotten to that point where we understand our place in nature.

We build houses in floodplains, we build cities below sea level, we are apathetic at best when it comes to the natural hazards that are present in our lives.  When something like the tornado that stuck Greensburg, Kansas happens, we get angry and ask “why us?”.  It’s because we live intertwined with these processes.  The goal is to find a way to coexist with these hazards.  That means not putting ourselves unnecessarily at risk and planning accordingly for risks that we are willing to accept.  Planning for risks is something we can do now and communities all over the country have been doing for a long time.  It’s the bread and butter of emergency management.  Not putting ourselves at risk is more complicated.  The obvious example is New Orleans.  It’s a city that seemed destined for destruction.  They try to engineer their way out of it, there was an apathy in the government about the true dangers, and the people love their city and don’t want to leave.  So is it logical to rebuild the city when it’s at just as much risk today as ever?  This is the great question that citizens, government, responders, and emergency managers struggle to answer.  People want to live in inherently dangerous areas and expect to be safe.

I should note that I am a geographer by training.  I studied how disasters affect humans and studied these natural hazards and the dynamics behind the hazards that affect us.  One thing I have learned and has benefited me greatly is thinking about emergency management critically and really analyzing why things happen and this includes the social concepts such as understanding why people choose to live in areas that are prone to disasters.


Watch severe storms from the comfort of anywhere

Thunderstorms produce many hazards that put li...

Image via Wikipedia

The internet has allowed us to experience cultures and experience from around the world.  I am a big severe weather fan, I love the raw power and beauty of a massive supercell thunderstorm, but I was limited to watching recorded videos after the fact.  Now you can watch severe storms and storm chasers live on the internet!  This actually isn’t new, I have been checking this out for a couple years now but it’s popularity has really taken off. allows you to watch chasers live in the field.  This is a technology that could be very useful in emergency management.  Yesterday I watched the chasers live while listening to live scanners from area’s being impacted.  I had a very extensive operational picture even though I was thousands of miles away from the storms.  The potential for this technology, especially with newer and faster 4G technology, is enormous.  This technology can allow emergency managers to view incidents live from anywhere there is high speed internet access.