In an Era of ‘Epic Storms,’ Why Are We So Unprepared?

As we witness the devastating effects of severe storms and increases in severe weather-related disasters, we must ask: why are we so unprepared?

There is a definite failure of imagination when it comes to the government response to hazards that we have knowledge of but sometimes don’t believe will happen where we live and work. Local governments, city managers, and emergency managers all need the best available tools to ensure they can respond effectively before a disaster compromises community safety. This blog will explore the question further by taking a look at some current examples highlighting why resilience planning needs greater attention than ever before.

Defining an “epic storm” – why these kinds of disasters should be taken seriously

Epic storms, like hurricanes and cyclones, blizzards and atmospheric rivers, pose a bigger risk than we think. The unusually extreme weather we’re seeing around the world is becoming the new normal – because of climate change, storms are bigger and stronger than expected and last longer than expected. What used to be considered an unlikely event – a black swan, as Nassim Taleb noted, has now become something that needs to be adjusted for in emergency response plans.

We should no longer consider these events remote possibilities – they are now an accepted part of life as we know it and need to be planned for accordingly. Ultimately, if we fail to take these epic events seriously, disaster can’t be far behind.

Storm clouds darkening the sky with a tornado appearing.

Examining the government’s response- why it often falls short of what is needed

When it comes to dealing with hazards, particularly those that we know about but struggle to believe will affect us, the government’s response often falls short of what is necessary. These ‘epic’ events often exceed our collective capacity to plan and prepare for events that are seen as unlikely or even impossible. Moreover, even if the support and preparations are made in the theoretical, there is a lack of significant financial backing from those higher up to take preventative or emergency measures when disasters do strike.

It’s little wonder then that many governments have a failure of imagination when responding to events; not only do we not think these things can happen to us, we’re not willing to commit resources or time into being ready for them either.

Exploring the mindset of decision makers – does a failure of imagination lead to poor decisions and lack of preparation for worst-case scenarios

We often fail to consider worst-case scenarios and that fear may come from both not wanting to believe that a certain catastrophic event could ever happen as well as fear of financial commitment to a response or plan. This fear causes decision-makers to not make a full commitment to preparedness, resulting in poor decisions.

Instead of seriously exploring possible precautions and building proper plans together, they take shortcuts that may seem cheaper in the short term but are proven more costly in the long run when the worst-case scenarios become reality. To prevent this failure of imagination and ultimately its effects on decision-making, it is important for organizations and governments to overcome fear, and recognize their need for financial commitment yet strive for strong community safety.

Looking back on recent events – understanding which steps have been taken and which ones have not

Recent events have shown that there is a risk of hazards that many communities are not equipped to handle. Although risk assessment and awareness is necessary to prepare for and prevent these events, there appears to be a failure of imagination in our government response – raising the question of whether we fully acknowledge the risk of events that don’t regularly occur. Looking back on recent events provides a powerful reminder that risk assessment should incorporate both known and unknown hazards in order to optimize our preparedness against imminent perils.

The role that residents can play in being more prepared for extreme weather events

Residents have an important part to play in staying prepared for extreme weather events: it is essential for us to stay aware of potential hazards and consistently update our family preparedness plans. Staying prepared also means staying connected — make sure you have access to reliable sources of information, whether through the web, social media, or your own in-person neighborhood network, in order to obtain warnings quickly during any event.

Social networks and community gatherings can also be useful tools for asking questions and connecting with people who are prepared and knowledgeable about potential dangers in your area. By providing awareness and education before an event strikes, we can create communities that are more resilient in the face of danger by having the right tools ready to use when they are needed most.

Drawing lessons from past experiences – how we can learn from mistakes and be better prepared for future disasters

Learning from history is critical when it comes to preparing for future disasters. While it’s easy to make the mistake of believing an unlikely disaster won’t affect us, history shows us time and time again just how quickly these scenarios become reality.

As communities, we need to invest in understanding past experiences, as they inform our decisions and investments for the future. This understanding could take the form of after-action reports, analysis of previous training, or a deep understanding of your Threats and Hazards through an in-depth THIRA/SPR to help ensure that our communities are better prepared in the event of a natural or human-caused hazard comes our way. To ignore history would be a huge mistake, as it is possible to draw upon invaluable lessons from previous events if we look closely enough.

With an ever-increasing number of disasters happening around the world, it is imperative that governments prepare for worst-case scenarios. Decision makers must not let a failure of imagination lead to inadequate response plans and must consider risks associated with extreme events that are not easy to predict.

Although there have been some steps taken, more needs to be done in order to protect residents from the potential threats posed by such events. For example, engaging in risk assessments that include epic and unpredictable events we do not want to imagine is key for the safety of communities everywhere. In addition, local governments should take active steps to participate in regional emergency preparedness initiatives designed to generate a collaborative response. By taking precautions now and understanding past experiences, we can foster a secure environment for all regardless of future hazards.

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