Senate Homeland Security panel: Preparedness and resiliency should come first when dealing with extreme weather

By Jessica Ball posted 02-21-2014 16:10


A changing climate means changing patterns of weather extremes, including weather-related disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Regardless of the political debate over the science of climate change, the fact remains that extreme weather events are expensive. For 2013 in the United States alone, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center reported 7 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each. Last week, representatives from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), the Delaware Department of Environmental Quality, the University of New Hampshire, and the insurance industry testified in a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing about the importance of preparing for extreme weather.  


“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” was a common refrain during the hearing, where Mark Gaffigan of the GAO testified that the effects of climate change (including extreme weather) are now considered the biggest financial risk to the United States. According to David Heyman (DHS), weather-related losses in the US have totaled more than $1 trillion over the past 30 years. Extreme weather can have cascading effects when it damages critical infrastructure, which can lead to not only loss of life and property but also long-lasting damage to the economy and the nation’s security.


Paul Kirshen (University of New Hampshire), who conducted studies of the cost-benefit ratios of weather-related resiliency, found that investing in protecting infrastructure and human interests paid off anywhere from 4 to 16 times the original investment. He cautioned that uncertainty about specific risks is hard to deal with because all adaptation is ultimately local, but he – and the rest of the witnesses – agreed that any investment in resiliency is a “no-regret action.” Lindene Patton of the Zurich Insurance Group emphasized the need to educate people about risk and the costs of improper insurance, but joined the rest of the witnesses in stressing that there need to be rewards for preparing for extreme events and disincentives for risky behavior – whether through higher insurance costs, withdrawal of federal/local funding, or making sure that less money is allocated for disaster recovery funding and more for preparedness.


The panelists mentioned a number of programs in place in government to incentivize preparedness. The Resilience STAR program at DHS is a public-private pilot project to help build and retrofit homes to be more disaster-resistant. Following this pilot project, DHS hopes to expand the program to other critical infrastructure sectors, including commercial facilities, transportation, and water utilities. In addition, FEMA’s National Preparedness System provides resources for communities to conduct risk assessments for hazards such as extreme weather, and resources for prioritizing preparedness and resilience-building activities. Finally, individual states and cities are increasingly developing climate action plans which include strategies to prepare for extreme weather events and reduce the cost of weather-related disasters.


GSA’s position statements on coastal and other natural hazards include suggestions for geoscientists who want to contribute to efforts to build resiliency and increase preparedness for extreme weather events. 

1 comment



03-25-2014 14:25

It is positive to have the insurance industry engaged in discussions about extreme weather events. As insurance industry actuarial modeling works its way into premiums, there will be a clearer understanding the risk of loss from a severe weather event, not just losses from events themselves, impact us all. An interesting article on the political aspects of updating federal flood insurance policies.