Saturday, February 11, 2023

Why We Need An Improved Culture Of Preparedness


While we struggle with the remainder of our 3-year COVID pandemic, and peer into the darkness looking for the next global disease threat, one thing we can count on is that we'll see a number of local or regional natural disasters in the year ahead. 

Last year, the United States experienced 18 Billion-dollar-plus weather or climate disasters, as listed by NOAA. 

In 2022, there were 18 weather/climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each to affect the United States. These events included 1 drought event, 1 flooding event, 11 severe storm events, 3 tropical cyclone events, 1 wildfire event, and 1 winter storm event. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 474 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted. The 1980–2022 annual average is 7.9 events (CPI-adjusted); the annual average for the most recent 5 years (2018–2022) is 17.8 events (CPI-adjusted).

Weather/climate related disasters are the most common, but they are far from the only disaster threats we all face.  

Nearly half of the nation's population lives in or near an active seismic zone, while millions more live along coastlines vulnerable to tsunamis generated by earthquakes that may have occurred thousands of miles away. 

The `big one' in California (see Dr. Lucy Jones: `Imagine America Without Los Angeles’) is arguably the most anticipated major U.S. disaster of all time. While long predicted, in 2019 the SSA (Seismological Society of America) held their annual meeting, and a study was presented that concludes that California's recent lack of major quakes has no precedent in the past 1000 years. 

They suggest that the `earthquake drought' of the last 100 years in California was unlikely to last, and that the next 100 years are likely to be far more seismically active than the last.

There are other areas in the continental United States equally ripe for a big quake, including the Pacific Northwest (see FEMA: Cascadia Rising 2016)  and the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) that includes eight Central U.S. States.

In recent years Oklahoma has see a huge upsurge in seismic activity (see M5.6 Quake In Northern Oklahoma), while northern Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Eastern Tennessee - and even New York City and parts of New England  - can experience infrequent, but strong temblors (see USGS: Eastern Earthquakes - Rare But Powerful).

There are also nearly a dozen `very high riskvolcanoes in the continental US (4 in Washington, 4 in Oregon & 3 in California), along dozens of `lesser' threats. While earthquake damage is generally localized, volcanic eruptions  can affect property and populations thousands of miles away.

Not all of these threats originate on earth.  While asteroid strikes are rare (see Russia: Hundreds Injured By Meteorite Strike), severe space weather is a genuine threat that the United States (and most other countries) take seriously (see USGS: Preparing The Nation For Severe Space Weather).

  • In 2012 the earth narrowly missed being hit by a massive solar storm, one that - had it been earth-directed - could have caused extensive damage to our electrical grid and electronic infrastructure (see NASA: The Solar Super Storm Of 2012). 
  • In 1989  an earth-directed storm caused a major power outage in Quebec, and in 2003, power stations in Europe were affected by another solar event (see NASA's The Day the Sun Brought Darkness)
  • And the Granddaddy of them all, the 1859 Carrington Event, which sparked electrical fires in telegraph offices, sparked auroras as far south as Cuba, and if repeated today would cause massive failures of the grid. 

While most CMEs pose little direct physical danger to us on the earth’s surface (we are protected by the earths magnetic field and atmosphere), a large CME can wreak havoc with electronics, power generation, and radio communications

As we become more dependent upon sensitive electronic equipment (think power grid, internet, communications, etc.) these storms increasingly threaten both our economy and our society.

In 2013 Lloyds issued a risk assessment for the insurance industry called Solar storm Risk to the north American electric grid which calls another `Carrington’ class event inevitable, and the effects likely catastrophic, but the timing was unknowable.

And then there are the man-made disasters, either deliberate, through negligence, or simply bad luck. 

In December of 2018, in NIAC: Surviving A Catastrophic Power Outage, we looked at a NIAC (National Infrastructure Advisory Council) 94-page report that examined the United State's current ability to respond to and recover from a widespread catastrophic power outage.

Six years ago, in DHS: NIAC Cyber Threat Report - August 2017, we looked at a 45-page report addressing urgent cyber threats to our critical infrastructure that called for `bold, decisive actions'.

A year before that, in The Blue Ribbon Study Panel Report on Biodefense, we saw an 84 page Bipartisan Report of The Blue Ribbon Study Panel On Biodefense that looked at our nation’s vulnerability to a biological attack, an accidental release, or naturally occurring pandemic with a highly pathogenic biological agent.

What once might only could have been created in a multi-million dollar lab can now be done on a limited budget in a basement somewhere (see 2018's National Academy Of Sciences: Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology).

But even if you discount a deliberate attack, we’ve seen lab accidents involving `select agents’ – like Anthrax, Ebola, H5N1, and even Smallpox – over the past few years, many involving government labs (see CDC Grand Rounds - Strengthening A Culture of Lab Safety).

How many other accidents that have gone unreported around the globe is unknown.
Despite all of these past events, and the certainty that more will follow, according to FEMA's 2021 Household Survey on Preparedness, only 59% of households took 3 or more (of 12 recommended) preparedness steps in 2021.

Although that is up 2% from the 2019 survey, it is far from ideal. 

Whether it is due to a CAT 5 Hurricane, a major earthquake, a solar storm, or a blizzard, you and your family may be called upon to fend for yourselves -  without power, water, or emergency services - for days, or even weeks. 

So . .  if a disaster struck your region today, and the power went outstores closed their doors, and water stopped flowing from your kitchen tap for the next 7 to 14 days . . . you are you prepared with:

  • A battery operated NWS Emergency Radio to find out what was going on, and to get vital instructions from emergency officials
  • A decent first-aid kit, so that you can treat injuries
  • Enough non-perishable food and water on hand to feed and hydrate your family (including pets) for the duration
  • A way to provide light when the grid is down.
  • A way to cook safely without electricity
  • A way to purify or filter water
  • A way to handle basic sanitation and waste disposal. 
  • A way to stay cool (fans) or warm when the power is out.
  • A small supply of cash to use in case credit/debit machines are not working
  • An emergency plan, including meeting places, emergency out-of-state contact numbers, a disaster buddy, and in case you must evacuate, a bug-out bag
  • Spare supply of essential prescription medicines that you or your family may need
  • A way to entertain yourself, or your kids, during a prolonged blackout
If not, you've got some important work to do. A good place to get started is by visiting

Some of my practical preparedness blogs from the past year you may wish to revisit include: