Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Humans and Natural Disasters

"Recent events have highlighted the safety disadvantages of pressure-suppression containments...I recommend that the [Atomic Energy Commission] adopt a policy of discouraging further use of pressure-suppression containments."
- S. H. Hanauer, September 20, 1972

Nearly all of us are following the tragedy that is unfolding in Japan this week, including the ongoing effort to gain control at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.  

This afternoon, the New York Times reported that concerns about the reactor design used at Fukushima Daiichi were raised as far back as 1972. This is spelled out quite well in a memo by S. H. Hanauer that is cited above.  Chances are you've seen this before.  

"Not only did the have that in their repertoire of information, they failed to used it as best we can tell"
- Raymond B. Seed commenting in USA Today on a 1985 US Army Corps of Engineering test that suggested the levee failure during Katrina could have been anticipated.  

Hindsight is 20/20, but a common thread that runs through many natural disasters is that human action and inaction with regards to planning, preparedness, and resiliency contribute to the resulting societal impacts.  Minimizing the loss of lives and property during hazardous weather requires more than a good forecast.  This is why it is increasingly important for meteorologists to have a background in the social sciences.  For more information, see the WAS*IS web site.  

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