We only have to turn on the news to see the need for better risk reduction in the United States and worldwide. Recent tornadoes in Oklahoma have killed dozens, and many people across the country were surprised to learn that sometimes local policy does not require tornado shelters in areas known for tornado outbreaks.

Natural disasters can destroy livelihoods as well. On average, extreme weather events, including hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, droughts, and wildfires, cause $11 billion in damages each year in the United States alone. In 2011, the economic losses from natural disasters totaled more than $55 billion.

The good news is that there are some impressive warning systems in place for many of the natural disasters we face. Scientific research and development has led to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts, warnings, and responses that save approximately $3 billion during a typical hurricane season.

In addition, between 1992 and 2004, the National Weather Service’s NEXRAD radar system prevented more than 330 fatalities and 7,800 injuries from tornadoes, resulting in a socioeconomic benefit of more than $3 billion. The percentage of tornadoes with advance warning nearly doubled from pre- to post-NEXRAD, and the average warning lead time increased from 5.3 to 9.5 minutes. This type of warning saves lives, and the more we can improve our weather forecasting systems, the better those warnings will be.

Last year the National Academies released a report, Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative. The report addresses both weather-related risk and other types of natural hazards, in addition to human-caused events.

Gene Whitney, the energy research manager at the Congressional Research Service and an author on this report, will be one of the panelists speaking during a hazards session at the AGU Science Policy Conference in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. at 10:30 AM on 25 June. The panel, Policies for Risk Reduction, will address which policies reduced risk from recent natural hazard events, the economics of hazards risk, and public policies to decrease future risk.

Other speakers include Carl Hedde, senior vice president and head of risk accumulation at Munich Reinsurance America; Robert Meyer, Gayfryd Steinberg professor and codirector of Wharton’s Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, University of Pennsylvania; and moderator David Applegate, associate director for natural hazards, U.S. Geological Survey.

References: Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative (2012); http://www.noaa.gov/; http://www.nws.noaa.gov/oh/ahps/AHPS%20Benefits.pdf

-Elizabeth Landau, AGU Public Affairs Manager