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Hurricane Sandy (CROWDSOURCE)


Hurricane Sandy (CROWDSOURCE)

All Members of FacultyRow Are Invited To Participate. This forum is open starting Wednesday Nov. 14th, 2012 and there is NO DEADLINE for content contributions.

Crowdsource Forum - Distinguished Faculty and Super Professors from a variety of disciplines will be weighing in on the Hurricane Sandy natural disaster. Our core mission is to help the world understand: 1) The challenges posed by Sandy 2) How we can mitigate our risk and potentially avoid such damage going forward 3) Provide insight and expectations for Sandy's aftermath 4) Formally propose solutions for future disasters of this kind. 

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Members: 65
Latest Activity: Dec 19, 2012

Discussion Forum

Sandy's Impact

Hurricane Sandy's impact can be seen or described along two dimensions.  The first is in terms of the presidential campaign, the second in terms of the role of the federal government.Sandy did two things in the presidential campaign.  It first let Obama demonstrate the power of the presidency.  By that, he could stop campaigning for several days and use a Rose Garden strategy to show that he was a leader.  Had Obama and FEMA blown it, shades of Katrina would  have perhaps doomed the president's…Continue

Tags: Sandy, federal, government, Hurriance, Obama

Started by David Schultz Nov 16, 2012.

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Comment by David K. Twigg on November 19, 2012 at 10:38am

A quick and partial reply to the Director's list of questions.

I lived in south Florida in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew hit (and still live in the same house).  The agency for which I then worked managed some relief efforts.  Regarding #9, several insurance companies went bankrupt because of the losses, others stopped writing policies in the state.  Florida established an insurance company, Citizens, to provide coverage.  Especially in south Florida Citizens has been about the only option for quite some time.  And premiums have quadrupled.  Sandy's losses may well cause similar problems.

Comment by James H. Reynolds on November 16, 2012 at 2:48pm

When I was a kid, in the early 1960’s, my family vacationed on Long Beach Island, NJ (LBI) for parts of several summers. I remember seeing houses and cars stacked against each other from the “Ash Wednesday Storm” of 1962  at the south end of the island.

While developing laboratories for my Environmental Geology class, in 2000, I remembered that destruction. For the Coastal Geology lab, I decided to use the Ship Bottom Quadrangle, which straddles the central part of LBI, for one segment of the lab. One LBI question asks, “What type of environment is ordinarily found on the bayside of barrier islands?” The answer is a salt marsh. The next question asks, “Why is it (the salt marsh) absent on Long Beach Island?” The answer is because it was filled in and thousands of houses were built on it, essentially at sea level. The highest dunes seaward of the development are about 20’ high; most are lower.


Students are aghast when they see this. I tell them about the destruction I saw in 1962 and assure them it will happen again. Last week, it happened. One of my students is from Manahawkin, located on the same map. Her family’s home was decimated.

For years, I also predicted the eventual destruction of New Orleans by a hurricane, in my Geology 101 course. I am not a soothsayer; any geologist who thought about these things for a few seconds  would make the same predictions. I am not going out on a limb by saying that this will happen again and again on other parts of the East and Gulf coasts as our planet continues to warm, sea levels rise, and the violent storms continue to increase in frequency. This is the way Earth works.

What can we do to mitigate the effects of a progressively more threatening  shoreline? The answer is fairly obvious: halt sea level coastal development. We should not spend taxpayer money to rebuild in flood-prone areas. This would be easiest to do by eliminating discount Federal Flood Insurance and only allowing private insurers to cover those who wish to continue living in such precarious spaces. Those who wish to stay are free to do so but on their coin, not ours.

Environmental Geology studies how society interacts with Planet Earth. In most cases, large scale death and destruction could be avoided with the application of a little common sense. I live in North Carolina, where our State Legislature recently passed a law that essentially outlaws scientific sea level rise calculation so that coastal developers can continue rampant development. The sea will flood their folly. Retreating from the coastline is the only sensible, and most cost effective, option.

Comment by David K. Twigg on November 16, 2012 at 2:11pm

Hurricane Sandy threatened the northeastern U.S. in October 2012; merging with another storm system that, alone, would have resulted in a nor ’eastern storm.  The resultant storm, dubbed Frankenstorm (close to Halloween) or Super Storm Sandy was by any name extremely serious, and struck eight days before the 2012 general elections.

Might such a natural disaster impact elections?  President Obama managed the disaster at the federal level.  New Jersey Governor Christy, a Republican stalwart, and New York City Mayor Greenberg, an Independent, commended Obama’s leadership.

Journalists suggested that the Obama response might help his reelection chances.[i]   Comparing Obama’s response to Sandy to President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina reveals starkly different leadership after a disaster.[ii]  Republican Challenger Mitt Romney, not in a position to provide much relief to affected areas, focused efforts on swing states he needed to win.[iii]

After 1992’s Hurricane Andrew (which struck eight days before primary elections) similar results were seen.  In the presidential election, Independent candidate Ross Perot earned more votes in southern Dade County, Florida than elsewhere – he had made a substantial donation to the Salvation Army’s relief effort and personally guaranteed the results of others’ donations.  Incumbent President George H. W. Bush’s response was seen as weak and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton could do no more than visit and share the pain of hurricane victims.[iv]

Immediately after Andrew candidates ceased campaigning (as Obama and Romney temporarily did in 2012) and engaged in relief and recovery efforts.  In such conditions, incumbents are in a position to so engage far more than are challengers.  And incumbent efforts become campaign-like, boosting their public image and aiding reelection chances.

[i] Walsh, Kenneth T. “Obama Riding Hurricane Sandy into Election Day.” US News. 11/5/2012. http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/Ken-Walshs-Washington/2012/11/05/o.... AND   Silver, Nate. “Did Hurricane Sandy Blow Romney Off Course?”  http://dailytrojan.com/2012/11/03/pointcounterpoint-hurricane-sandy.... Accessed 11/12/2012.


[ii] Walsh, Kenneth T. “A Tale of Two Storms: Comparing Bush and Obama’s Hurricane Response.”  US News. 10/31/2012.  http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/Ken-Walshs-Washington/2012/10/31/a.... Accessed 11/12/2012.


[iii] Johnson, Brad. “Exit Poll 2012: Hurricane Sandy was a Deciding Factor for Millions of Voters in the Election.”  ThinkProgress.org.  http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/11/06/1152421/exit-polls-2012....   Accessed 11/12/2012.

[iv] Twigg, David K. The Politics of Disaster: Tracking the Impact of Hurricane Andrew.  2012.  Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Comment by Jerome E. "Jerry" Dobson on November 15, 2012 at 10:06pm

Hurricane Sandy is a classic example of a “Complex Emergency.”  Major disasters rarely consist of one lone threat.  Floods, for instance, often cause fires as Sandy did in Breezy Point and Belle Harbor, NY.   Wind and water often cause hazardous spills and dangerous flying debris.  Collectively, these kinetic hazards transform familiar landscapes into new geographies, disrupted and unknown.  Emergency managers strive to restore as much as possible of the geography that was there before, but first they must orient themselves to baseline maps and then rapidly map the new onto the old.  Often they can’t recognize one landmark from another. Today, however digital geographies, called geographic information systems (GIS), show first responders precisely where they are, even if a pile of rubble has replaced the building they once knew.  Today, popular geographics—such as handheld GPS receivers, Google Earth, and geographically enabled social networking—support near-instantaneous mapping of the new geography.  With the push of a button and a few words of text, any volunteer can report a demolished building or pile of jumbled boats, which can then be superimposed on the baseline map.

When disasters occur, people take priority over property, infrastructure, and natural features.  Yet, prospective hazards often are mapped with little regard for where people are.  Fortunately, there is now a global database of population distribution that serves as the world standard for mapping populations at risk for all types of hazards.  It shows 24-hour ambient population, precise to one square kilometer at the equator and finer toward the poles.  The United States is blessed with an even better version, 100 times more precise with nighttime and estimated daytime distributions.  LandScan and LandScan USA are routinely used worldwide, as they were here in Sandy and other recent disasters.  When I hear that a disaster has occurred or is likely to occur, I routinely search Google for “LandScan” and the name of the disaster.  In the case of Hurricane Isaac, for instance, I found the number of people projected to face each level of wind speed and in Hurricane Katrina the number of people who likely would be without electricity.  That, in turn, leads us to other essential distributions such as water, food, shelter, and sanitation. 

Thus the key to effective emergency preparedness and response is having good geography before and after each event.  GIS clearly offers the ideal baseline, and popular geographics offer the most rapid means of mapping change.  The half-life of GIS is long, some of it good for centuries. The half-life of volunteered geographic information (VGI) may be quite short, for soon it must be replaced with carefully measured data, but in the immediate aftermath of a disaster it can be lifesaving. 

Finally, keep in mind the standard rule of emergency management:  Anything not used routinely will not work in an emergency.  Geographic and other needs must be anticipated; models, databases, and procedures must be developed in advance and used routinely before the disaster strikes.


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