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Winter 2000

AMS-UCAR input into the new administration and Congress

The time has come for a new national approach to natural hazards.

Historically, we have regarded hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, drought, wildfires, and other extremes as unforeseeable, and their associated devastation unavoidable. But science and engineering have advanced the characterization and prediction of natural hazards, provided new tools for protecting people and property, and shed new light on how long-established public policies and ways of doing business have made society even more vulnerable. Today, we possess unprecedented means to anticipate hazards, protect citizens and property, and reduce accompanying disruption. There is a flip side, however: in the aftermath of disasters, today's public officials are rarely held blameless.

From A National Priority: Building Resilience to Natural Hazards, UCAR, 2000.

So begins the document prepared by UCAR and the American Meteorological Society for the new administration and Congress. It is the fourth of these "awareness" documents that UCAR and AMS have prepared for incoming administrations and members of Congress. The three previous ones have emphasized the importance of weather and climate to the nation. This approach was justified on the basis that over two trillion dollars ($2,000,000,000,000) a year of the U.S. economy is directly weather and/or climate sensitive. Furthermore, weather and climate disasters comprise about 85% of all natural disasters in the United States and account for about two-thirds of the total economic losses. This year, however, we went beyond these events to cover all natural hazards, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, mudslides, and space weather. This broader approach attracted the support of other professional organizations and private companies, including the American Geological Institute, the American Geophysical Union, the American Red Cross, the Alliance of American Insurers, the Reinsurance Association of America, the Seismological Society of America, the Weather Channel, and others.

We also took the position that although improving our understanding and ability to predict these hazards is important in mitigating their negative impact on society, changing a number of behaviors that lead to societal vulnerability is equally or even more important. These include permitting development in high-risk areas such as floodplains and hurricane-prone coasts; allowing inadequate building codes or failing to adhere to strong codes; failing to receive and respond to warnings or misunderstanding them; and carelessness, ignorance, and even arrogance (It can't happen to me!).

Our recommendations therefore cover a broad front of initiatives that the next administration and Congress should act upon. These include:

The AMS and UCAR are distributing this document widely: to the new administration, every member of Congress, and about 500 Hill staffers on committees such as Science, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Natural Resources, and Transportation. We will also send copies to many members of the AMS and UCAR community and ask them to urge their congressional delegation to support the recommendations in the document.

In addition to this broad document, the AMS and UCAR have prepared a second one that is more narrowly focused on atmospheric science: A National Priority: Coping with Weather and Climate. This document is consistent with the natural hazards document but emphasizes more the impact of weather and climate on society and the need for the nation to invest in improved weather and climate science and services. The document's recommendations are summarized as follows:

To ensure essential weather and climate services meet future requirements, the United States should accelerate its current rate of investment in the atmospheric enterprise. Urgent needs include: greater funding for observing and computing infrastructure, augmented weather and climate R&D and more rapid transfer into products and services, new emphasis in schools on meteorological education, and revitalized international data exchange agreements. Finally, to guarantee that these changes are sustained for an extended period of years, the United States should establish a National Commission on the Atmosphere.

This commission would encompass all stakeholders: government, end users, commercial service providers, the university community, and the relevant NGOs. Initially, it would ensure that the immediate measures highlighted in the document's recommendations are in fact achieved. It would engage a new, multilevel dialogue on policy related to the provision of weather and climate services needed for public safety, economic growth, environmental and ecosystem protection, and national security. The dialogue would be directed and shaped by leadership at the highest levels of government and industry, but refined and implemented in its particulars by experts in each of the specialist areas involved. Over time, the commission would continually develop and articulate goals for America's weather and climate agenda, formulate strategies and policies for meeting those goals, search for ways the atmospheric enterprise could be improved, and evaluate progress.

We urge members of the AMS and UCAR to use these documents with their congressional delegation and leaders in their states and cities. Copies may be obtained from the UCAR Office of Development and Government Affairs (303-497-2102). They are also on the Web.

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Wed Feb 7 15:34:33 MST 2001