Building a Prepared Nation

Emily Holbrook


October 1, 2011


So far this year the United States has experienced nine separate disasters with an economic loss of $1 billion or more each, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Most recently, the country has experienced drenching floods along the Missouri River, wildfires in Texas and even a rare Northeast earthquake and hurricane. Seeing the need for a more prepared country, NOAA has launched an initiative to build a truly "weather-ready" nation.

To tackle this gargantuan task, the organization has partnered with government agencies, researchers and the private sector to improve the precision of weather forecasts and communication of risk to local authorities, develop specialized emergency response teams and implement a major software and hardware upgrade of the national Doppler radar system.

The National Weather Service has already begun installing this "dual-polarization radar" upgrade to Doppler radar systems across the United States. Phoenix was the first city to receive the upgrade and all locations are planned to have the new system installed by 2012. The technology will aid forecasters in the weather warning process and help the public safeguard themselves and their property. NOAA is also planning community-based test projects across the country that will focus on everything from emergency response to ecological forecasting.

These proactive measures come at a time when the nation needs them most. According to Munich Re, average thunderstorm losses have increased five-fold since 1980. In the first half of 2011 alone there were $20 billion in thunderstorm losses -- twice the three-year average of $10 billion annually. Meanwhile, the average number of natural disasters per year has tripled in the last 20 years and 2010 was a record breaker with approximately 250. Statistics such as these have propelled states to enhance their preparedness before the inevitable strikes.

California, for example, has spent the past three years formalizing its statewide response for the "Big One." On October 20, millions of residents will participate in a drill designed to help citizens and organizations better prepare for a major earthquake.

Started in 2008, the Great California ShakeOut began as the Great Southern California ShakeOut -- an effort by scientists and emergency managers to inform the public about earthquake preparedness. The drill was based on the ShakeOut Scenario, a comprehensive description of the destruction a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the San Andreas fault would cause in Southern California, which was organized by the United States Geological Survey's Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project. In 2008, the ShakeOut became the largest earthquake drill in U.S. history with 5.4 million participants spanning eight counties in Southern California. This year, more than eight million are expected to participate in California alone with Nevada, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia practicing the "drop, cover and hold on" technique as well.

The central United States will join the preparedness planning with its own ShakeOut on February 7 to commemorate the bicentennial of the 1812 New Madrid earthquake. The first Japanese ShakeOut is being planned for March 11 in Tokyo. Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Alaska, Turkey and Chile are considering their own ShakeOut drills as well.
Emily Holbrook is the founder of Red Label Writing, LLC, a writing, editing and content strategy firm catering to insurance and risk management businesses and publications, and a former editor of Risk Management.