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Keeping the Recent Tornado Deaths in Perspective

I just “Tweeted” a New York Times piece entitled:

When Warnings Don’t Work

It was a good piece and it included a good chart which helps put the tornado deaths in perspective.

Many of us wonder why, after decades of experience, better preparedness and constructions techniques, and improved warnings, are we seeing these tragic killer tornadoes?

Can we do more to reduce the impact of the natural disasters which seem to be plaguing us?  Questions abound:

  • Do we need to do more to educate the public?
  • Do we need better warnings?
  • Does everyone need a shelter?

We wonder why people living in a modern society can still be victims of disaster. And, we wonder why isn’t a tornado survivable?While we have seen it all before, we are still shocked and deeply saddened.  As the Times story noted:

But what really shocked them about the powerful storm that struck Joplin, Mo., last week was the toll in lives: more than 125 and counting. “We thought we were done with the 100-dead tornadoes,” said Thomas P. Grazulis, a tornado historian in St. Johnsbury, Vt. “With warnings and Doppler radar, there was a lot of feeling that we were done with this stuff.”

Emergency Management experts know that natural disasters will take lives but we are always optimistic that we can minimize the damage and save lives. We prepare Comprehensive Emergency Management Plans and Programs to address the emergency management cycle of mitigation preparedness, response, and recovery.

Devastating disasters like the recent tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes have left some wondering if we are successful in our emergency management efforts.

It is easy to say that we are seeing more disasters than ever before – but this is not true.  Just look at the New York Times Graphic on tornado deaths per one million people.  While 2011 is certainly a significant up-tick, things have certainly been worse in our recent past.

We need to understand that natural disasters fluctuate over time. Climate change, or climate cycles as some prefer, happens.  And it happens to impact the severity of weather. We need to remember this and be prepared for what may be a very active part of the cycle.  We can anticipate more severe weather, and perhaps even “Maximum of Maximum” (MOM) events which FEMA Administrator Fugate has urged us to prepare for.

We all know that we need to keep working to minimize the negative consequenses of these disasters. While we can not stop natural events like storms and earthquakes, we can better prepare for these events by doing more to mitigate against the hazards, prepare for the hazards that do occur, and improve or capabilities to respond and recover to the events once disaster strikes.

All of this takes time and effort and it takes money.  Whether the cost of building a shelter or of greater public programs. Disaster resilience takes effort.

We are just going to need to keep working at it and keep investing in preparedness.