What Will the Weather Bring? Searching for Solutions to Disaster Preparedness

With major drought forcing severe water restrictions in California, the Rio Grande nearly dry by the time it reaches the Texas-Mexico Border and an extremely active and hazardous spring storm season across the south and mid-west, weather disasters and their devastating impact on American communities are all over the news. Not getting proportionate coverage are ways of reducing disaster risk.

Now, more than ever before, it is imperative that Americans come together to address weather-related disasters. From 1980-2010, there was an average of three to four weather events per year that caused at least $1 billion in damage. The record year during that period was 2008 with ten events. Then came 2011, which saw a whopping 15 events with more than $1 billion in damage. 2012 saw 10 such events. So those two years had 25 weather events greater than $1 billion.

As the price tag for federal emergency relief packages continues to grow, we see more and more bipartisan support for investing in planning and preparedness ahead of the next storm or wildfire season. In the last Congress bills like the Strengthening The Resilience of Our Nation on the Ground (STRONG) Act and the Preparedness and Risk Management for Extreme Weather Patterns Assuring Resilience (PREPARE) Act, enjoyed co-sponsorship from members of both parties.

Unfortunately, disaster preparedness and response have become political issues, largely due to the debate over whether these events are linked to climate change. But no matter where you stand on climate change, it's clear that natural disasters will continue to strike and we're not doing enough to deal with them. In the same way that your neighbors' politics don't matter when they need help in a crisis, our national political squabbles should not stand in the way of our national readiness.

The U.S. is not doing enough to prepare for large-scale weather disasters. Few communities or local governments in New York and New Jersey were ready for the havoc that Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene wreaked on their power grids, transportation networks and economies.

Solution Search, an online initiative, seeks to crowdsource and reward the many ways Americans are working to reduce the risk of natural disasters on their communities. A judging panel has identified the top ten ways Americans are reducing the risk of disasters, and with help from the general public, we aim to determine which hold great promise for helping the nation deal with these risks. And since all of the entries are accessible online, we've created a first-of-its-kind database, searchable by weather hazard, so that a community looking to develop its own plan can see what others are doing and borrow what works.

The diversity of solutions out there is impressive. The Solution Search finalists include some of the best examples of civic engagement, smart use of science and technology, and local government action across the country:

  • The Billion Oyster Project is a long-term, large-scale plan to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor over the next twenty years. In the process, the project will enhance water quality and the resilience of coastal communities to storm surge as well as educate thousands of young people in the Metropolitan area about the connections between the ecology of their local marine environment and the economy and resilience of their communities.
  • ottawa flood rare

  • Climate Central developed the Surging Seas Risk Finder web tool to help local communities and planners better understand and visualize how populations, infrastructure, and assets are exposed to coastal flooding in their neighborhoods - and how sea level rise has already changed the game by increasing the odds of damaging coastal floods.
  • Once known as Louis Joliet's panoramic campground, the City of Ottawa, Illinois sits at the confluence of the two largest rivers in Illinois. For many years Ottawa was considered by the state and federal emergency agencies as one of the worse "repetitive loss communities" in the state. The new open floodplain has become a defining feature of Ottawa and the city leaders and citizens are committed to this new philosophy of embracing the river and returning the floodplain's natural function. Working with nature, not against it.

Natural disasters will happen, and Americans will continue to help neighbors in need. Our goal as a country and for our government however, should be to make those disasters easier to cope with, so that fewer people will find themselves needing help. By unleashing ingenuity and innovation, we believe the best technologies and solutions can spread from coast to coast, making our nation stronger than ever in the face of catastrophe.