Are Private-Sector Organizations Responsible for Failing to Plan for Natural Disasters? (Part 3 of 3)
- Natural Disasters Are on the Rise
- Even "Undamaged" Companies Can Go Broke from Disasters
- Applying New Science and Technology to Disaster Recovery
There's nowhere to hide. Natural disasters happen everywhere. One day's sweet scented breeze can be the next day's tropical cyclone, hurricane, or earthquake. Are disasters really on the rise, or does it just seem that way? What can and should the serious corporate planner be doing in response? Can the stewards of private corporations be held accountable for loss due to natural disasters? What is the role of science and technology, including predictive analysis and disaster preplanning, with regard to planning for natural disasters? What is the current state of the art with regard to visualizing and describing the effects of natural disasters, especially to skeptical corporate management?
We attempt to answer the questions above in this final article of this series, as well as answer the question posed by the title: Can you be held accountable for failing to plan for natural disasters?
Natural Disasters Are on the Rise
It's no longer shocking to discover that meteorological natural disasters are happening more frequently and increasing in severity as populations grow and move. The chart in Figure 1 paints a compelling picture. Disasters are increasing. Nobody knows precisely why.
Hazards such as severe storms, flooding and drought, high winds, landslides, wildfires, and other weather-related events are causing untold suffering. Canada, for example, suffered its longest and most severe drought ever between 1984 and 2002. Similarly, one of the six strongest hurricanes ever recorded, Hurricane Katrina, hit the United States Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, taking more than 1,800 lives and doing an estimated $81.2 billion in damage. Scientists around the globe are attempting to understand why hazardous weather is becoming ever more severe. Those efforts must begin first with demonstrating that the increases in frequency and severity are genuine. That part at least seems relatively easy, at least from what we're reading:
Writing in Nature, MIT professor of meteorology Kerry Emanuel briefed readers on "an index of the potential destructiveness of hurricanes based on the total dissipation of power, integrated over the lifetime of the cyclone." His briefing claimed, "This index has increased markedly since the mid-1970s. This trend is due to both longer storm lifetimes and greater storm intensities."
Over recent decades, there has also been a marked increase in the damage caused by geographical hazards such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and resulting tsunamis. This is not because such events are becoming more frequent. Any apparent increase in the number of geographical events (as well as the sharp rise and related damage estimates) can probably be accounted for, at least in part, by the fact that there are more people and business enterprises in places that are known to be at risk.
Wildfires cause more problems in densely populated southern California. Hurricanes do much more damage when they hit seacoasts that had previously been uninhabited but now contain vast new developments. As a result, a higher number of events are reported in detail, more lives are lost, and more businesses are affected or destroyed. Add to this the fact that disasters garner a lot of attention when featured on the evening news programs. That means more disasters happen, they affect more people, and public awareness as a result of the media coverage has never been higher.
Numbers alone cannot tell the story, but they help us to picture the sheer scale of the problem that disaster managers face. According to EM-DAT's March 2007 "Cred Crunch" newsletter, in 2006 disasters killed 23,000 people and cost more than $34.5 billion. Now there's a sound bite for you.