The Future of Disaster Preparedness in Relation to Climate Change
By Jane Marsh
Climate change is real. It’s happening right now and will continue changing how we live. Storms and natural disasters are getting stronger and more devastating as we pollute our atmosphere. It’s becoming increasingly important to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
However, now isn’t the time to raise our hands in defeat. We need to support our emergency preparedness experts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other officials to create and implement plans to prevent, warn about, or lessen the effects of severe weather.
Despite our best efforts to prevent emergencies, we must be ready when they occur. Emergency preparedness needs to happen at all levels, from the federal government down to families and individuals, to be most effective. This phase of emergency management involves creating emergency response plans, evacuation routes, and ideas for reallocating resources, just to name a few.
As global warming continues and sea levels rise, nearly every type of severe weather will become stronger and more unpredictable.
Over the last 30 years, hurricanes and tropical storms have grown stronger and more likely to intensify shortly before landfall, making it more difficult for meteorologists to inform the proper authorities and evacuate people in time. Rising water temperatures offer storms more energy and allow them to travel to higher latitudes than was possible before. Also, more intense winds and rising sea levels are bringing storms farther inland.
Precipitation has been trending towards intense single-day rainfall rather than smaller, spread-out showers. This will only worsen over time and lead to flash-flooding scenarios.
As the atmosphere gets warmer, it can hold more moisture at once. For every 1-degree increase, it can retain 7% more water. The extra heat also provides the necessary energy for heavy and prolonged rainfalls.
As a species, we aren’t designed to tolerate extreme temperature changes. Yet, NASA predicts that by the end of the century, the single-day record-breaking heat we typically experience every 20 years or so will now occur as often as every two to three years.
In addition, the yearly increase in global temperatures before 1980 was .13°F. Since then, the annual increase has more than doubled – our surface temperature is currently going up at a rate of .32°F each year.
As global temperatures rise, much-needed water will be pulled from the ground, creating extended droughts. We’re already seeing this across the entire western United States. Global warming will continue to shrink the cold season and thereby decrease the amount of annual snowfall. Northern and mountainous regions rely on melting snow in the spring as a vital part of their water supply.
Large expanses of overly dry ground lend themselves to an increased risk of widespread and devastating forest fires like we’ve seen in California and Australia. Also, dust storms will become more frequent as desert-like conditions expand.
Ways to Improve Disaster Preparedness
Emergency response officials at every level have worked very hard to create plans to counteract the effects of severe weather caused by climate change. By providing guidance on staying safe during storms, they help communities prepare for the worst. They also enact change at a higher level to make our country more resilient.
Stores of medical, food, and water supplies will be beneficial in the wake of future storms. Preparing those now will ensure their availability when they’re most needed.
Another essential factor is improving the technology with which we track these storms. They can change on a dime, so increasing the accuracy of our tools even slightly could make the difference between having enough time to evacuate or not. Local governments and businesses should also have evacuation plans to avoid confusion.
Flash flooding can be incredibly destructive, like the European flood of 2021 that killed 220 Germans in only three days and annihilated anything in its path. While we can’t stop them from coming, there’s a lot we can do to prepare for the next time.
Funding should go toward fortifying rivers and dams, and essential locations like hospitals should install flood barriers for times of emergency.
Local and national governments have plans in place that establish a chain of command and evacuation strategies and routes to get people to safety as quickly as possible.
Extreme heat waves will have the most adverse effects on the youngest and oldest of our population. They’re the most vulnerable and likely to develop heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke. Everyone should stay indoors and cool during the hottest parts of the day. Anyone without access to a cooling system could shelter in a public building during those hours.
To combat drought, cities need to build water reserves and encourage citizens to conserve water where possible. Planting more vegetation will hold onto precious groundwater and soak it in slowly instead of letting it rush away. Farmers should plant more drought-resistant crops and store food for future use.
Some of the most beneficial changes happen at the individual level. Listen and follow all official preparedness advice. Obey governmental orders on water conservation and generally be a good neighbor. In inclement weather and extreme heat conditions, consider helping others who may not have access to safe or cool shelter.
Even though we may not be able to prevent severe storms brought on by climate change, we can band together and prepare to withstand the effects.
Jane works as the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers environmental news and sustainable living tips.