31 October 2012

Op-Ed in the WSJ

I have an op-ed in tomorrow's WSJ, just put online.  Here is an excerpt:
[W]ith respect to disasters we really do make our own luck. The relatively low number of casualties caused by Sandy is a testament to the success story that is the U.S. National Weather Service and parallel efforts of those who emphasize preparedness and emergency response in the public and private sectors. Everyone in the disaster-management community deserves thanks; the mitigation of the impacts from natural disasters has been a true national success story of the past century.

But continued success isn't guaranteed. The bungled response and tragic consequences associated with Hurricane Katrina tell us what can happen when we let our guard down.

And there are indications that we are setting the stage for making future disasters worse. For instance, a U.S. polar-satellite program crucial to weather forecasting has been described by the administrator of the federal agency that oversees it—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—as a "dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems." The lack of effective presidential and congressional oversight of this program over more than a decade can be blamed on both Republicans and Democrats. The program's mishandling may mean a gap in satellite coverage and a possible degradation in forecasts.
The op-ed is not about climate change, though I do mention the topic in 2 paragraphs near the end. I am sure the "climate change people" (Thanks Candy!) will want to make it all about that subject.

More importantly is the success story that is the NWS and emergency management in the US, and the scary thought that
In the proper context, Sandy is less an example of how bad things can get than a reminder that they could be much worse.
There is therefore reason to believe we are living in an extended period of relatively good fortune with respect to disasters.

Comments and questions welcomed.