risk management | May 29, 2013

Extreme Weather On The Rise: Eric Klinenberg On Proactive Disaster Plans

Erwann Michel-Kerjan, a catastrophic risk management speaker, tells us that an increase in extreme weather events means we have to alter our disaster management strategies. The devastating tornado that recently crippled a large section of Moore, Oklahoma is another example of the importance of disaster prevention efforts. "Just as coastal towns and delta cities are beginning to adapt to the 'new norm' of recurrent extreme weather," Eric Klinenberg writes in The New Yorker, "states and towns in the vast Tornado Alley (which stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians) need to improve their preparedness for dangerous winds and thunderstorms." Despite the government's extensive disaster relief budget, and the fact that rebuilding efforts are underway in Oklahoma already, Klinenberg argues that an increase of storms requires more preliminary planning.

"The United States invests far more in disaster recovery than in preparing for disasters by designing and creating more resilient buildings and infrastructure," the Going Solo author writes. About double, in fact. Klinenberg says that the most recent Federal Emergency Management Agency has dedicated about six billion dollars to relief and only three billion to preparedness. The federal government allocated even more than that, spending a hundred and thirty-six billion dollars in disaster relief between 2011 and 2013. "If the U.S. continues simply to rebuild, rather than building in anticipation of the punishing weather that’s coming," Klinenberg warns, "communities everywhere will remain vulnerable, and the government will keep spending billions more than it has to."

That's not to say that the government has done nothing in the way of risk prevention. However, the old risk management paradigms are being seriously challenged by the increasingly chaotic world we live in. In his talks, Michel-Kerjan explains that there has yet to be 6 month period over the last few years where a major crisis (or, a black swan event) hasn't taken place. He shares his insights on how we can not only become more prepared for these events, but how we can prosper by shifting to more preventative policies. Klinenberg, similarly, argues that it's crucial to put an emphasis on anticipatory planning. Whether it's in terms of extreme weather preparedness, or investing in the social support structures of cities to better provide for the growing number of people choosing to live on their own, it's crucial we act now. In his keynotes, he draws from his extensive research on the anatomy of the metropolis. He shows us how the demographic makeup and environmental conditions of our cities have changed, and argues that the way we develop and run our cities needs to change to in order for us to prevent massive catastrophes.

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