Friday, November 9, 2012

Be Prepared…That’s My Motto

Superstorm Sandy, elections and a Nor’easter…May you live in interesting times indeed!  We seem to be finding new opportunities by the week to understand how a changing climate could impact our lives, homes and cities. The experience from the recent “superstorm” will definitely provide fodder and lessons learned to reflect on for years to come.

Photo Credit: NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab
With then-Hurricane Sandy bearing down on us last week, my family and I heeded warnings to prepare supplies and inspect our readiness kit to weather the impending storm. My daughter, oblivious to the “superstorm” coming our way, found it to be great fun “helping” dad charge the batteries, check the lanterns, and batten down the hatches.

Our trip to the local grocery store for some odds and ends met with bare shelves and hurried neighbors buying up the supplies that remained. Between the 2010 Snowmageddon, this summer’s super derecho, and numerous other less notable storms in between, I mused over the bare shelves of items long since purchased and picked over at local stores. How many flashlights, batteries, and generators does the typical NoVa household have on hand…materials for an emergency shelter and home repair, along with water and food? I guessed my years as an Eagle Scout and a Peace Corps Volunteer may have slightly skewed my perception on “being prepared.”  

While the Washington, DC, metro region suffered storm damage, infrastructure disruption and loss of life, we were spared the heartbreaking destruction and tragedy experienced in New York, New Jersey, and in other northeastern states. Superstorm Sandy’s high winds, rain, flooding, Storm Surge, and snow demonstrated that Mother Nature’s raw power is not to be taken lightly. She has (and will continue to) test our mettle, preparedness, and resilience.

For those who survived the Superstorm Sandy and sheltered in place, the aftermath and challenges of keeping warm, hydrated, and fed without operating critical infrastructure are overwhelming with thousands of homes becoming uninhabitable in the cold weather. Despite this, many New York and New Jersey citizens, along with the rest of our Nation, braved adversity and cold to exercise our civil right and duty to vote on Tuesday. Now, with the election behind us, comes a Nor’easter that piled on rains, winds, and snow to these battered neighbors in the northeast. With over a foot of snow and winds taking down recently restored power, New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie made an apt observation about watching and “waiting for the locusts and pestilence next.” In addition to downed power lines, both New Jersey residents and New Yorkers are facing fuel shortages, long lines, and rationing at their local gas stations.
In this backdrop, I though back to an article I'd recent read in National Defense Magazine on Top Five Threats to National Security— published just prior to Superstorm Sandy. It included a litany of nuclear weapons, bioweapons, cyberwarfare, transnational crime, and…climate change? Wait…climate change? It touched on many of the issues raised in our book and mentioned how the military is planning for the national security implications of energy-water-food security, polar ice melt and arctic access, and growing demand for US military response to natural disasters abroad. Ms. Erwin’s companion posting on Superstorm Sandy, and its challenge to national security thinking on climate change, is both timely and appropriate. While it is important to plan for the future security environment, it is likewise necessary to assess, plan, invest, and improve our critical infrastructures' resilience here at home. This is the essence of climate adaptation. Adaptation efforts are focused on assessing vulnerabilities and taking actions to become more resilience, not just applied to our military installations and state National Guard units, but also to our communities and households. DHS and FEMA both have agency adaptation plans as required by EO13514, along with their critical infrastructure protection portfolios and domestic emergency management missions.

Climate adaptation is not always identical to natural disaster preparedness measures (more on this in a future post)—but the areas where they overlap seem to be ripe opportunities for moving forward toward being prepared…as a nation, department, sector, community, or household.

How do we learn from our experience but increase our resilience for the future?

Be prepared…that is my motto. Be prepared.

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