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Extremes: Communities can recover, lives lost cannot

on December 28, 2015
Tornados in Texas.

Tornados in Texas.

Bad weather happens. We expect that, to a greater or lesser degree depending where we live in the world; sometimes where we live in a country.

From time to time, extremely bad weather happens. That, too, we expect but usually it can be predicted in certain areas.

Hurricanes, tornados, severe snowfalls, monsoons and so on tend to be restricted to particular regions. They still hit hard but through years of experience the authorities evolve better systems of protection and recovery.

It is important to make it absolutely clear that this blog is not referring, in any way, to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis – although they, too, are restricted to different regions.

What is disturbing about the current rash of storm force winds and flooding in both USA and the UK is that they are happening at the same time. And, while the US is used to encountering extreme weather conditions, the killer tornados now hitting the southern states have arrived months before the usual tornado ‘season’.

Added to that, the storm winds have arrived with the seasonally-expected snow and, together, that has led to a warning that the forecast 18 inches of the white stuff could lead to drifts up to 10 feet deep.

As I write this, 43 deaths have been confirmed across the south with several state governors each declaring a ‘state of emergency’.

A State of Emergency can be declared when a Governor believes a disaster has occurred or may be imminent that is severe enough to require State aid to supplement local resources in preventing or alleviating damages, loss, hardship or suffering.

It authorises the Governor to speed State agency assistance to communities in need. It enables resources to be made available immediately to rescue, evacuate, shelter, provide essential commodities (such as heating fuel and food) and even to quell disturbances in affected localities. It may also position the State to seek federal assistance when the scope of the event exceeds the State’s resources.

However well prepared they are in the US and other countries, the UK is notorious for its lack of readiness. The problem really seems two-fold. Firstly, they don’t believe they will experience very bad weather or, if they do, it will not happen very often; and, secondly, the cost of preparations and defences against a possible but unlikely threat will be too high.

They are the twin reasons why homes and businesses, indeed whole communities, across a wide area of northern England as well as some in Wales and Scotland, have been flooded. In some places, a month’s worth of rain fell in one day. Drains could not cope with the extra volume, rivers burst their banks and flood defences proved to be less than adequate.

Rooftop rescue in UK.

Rooftop rescue in UK.

People have been evacuated, some have had to be rescued from homes or trapped cars, farm animals have been swept away, army units have been sent to help in the worst affected areas. So far, there have been far fewer deaths in the UK but even one is too many.

The Government has said it will look again at flood defence spending in the wake of the deluge that has left thousands of communities flooded. Meanwhile, the Environment Agency said the number of properties at the highest risk of inundation could rise by 60% from current figures of 560,000, as it outlined a new five-year strategy, including plans to protect an extra 200,000 homes and businesses from flood waters.

It really is time that all authorities, everywhere, prepared properly for extreme weather, however unlikely such an event may seem to be. They need to put effective defences in place to protect their communities.

There should be no budgetary limits, no thoughts of value-for-money. No-one should try to put a value on a human life. It is about time that authorities realised that for every dollar, pound or euro spent on preventing a disaster, much more would need to be spent on recovery.

Also, if disaster is not prevented, while communities can be rebuilt, a human life once lost cannot be recovered.


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