Thursday, April 16, 2020

"Scientific American" Article: A Lost Opportunity

This photo is at the top of the "Scientific American" article.
With the Easter Weekend severe weather outbreak, the fear of some in the disaster management (DM) community materialized: a major tornado outbreak overlaid on the coronavirus (CV) social distancing strategy. The combination is a genuine concern: It was the primary reason I made my special forecasts (see, here) two and one day before the tornadoes began. I am told those forecasts were valuable. The NWS SPC did a great job, too.
So far, it seems the recovery from the tornadoes seems to be coming along reasonably well, given the circumstances. But, I'd like more information from those involved.

So, this afternoon, when it was brought to my attention Scientific American had just published an article about emergency managers and the challenges of tornadoes (or other disasters) overlaid on CV social distancing, I stopped what I was going and read it immediately. I was disappointed. I wish to discuss the reason: as has too often been the case throughout the CV mess, the writer is based in NYC - the people interviewed in the article are overwhelmingly researchers (only one is in tornado alley) and none of the emergency managers/researchers were in the geographic areas struck by this past weekend's storms. The article says,

Across the country, emergency managers already stretched thin by the unprecedented health crisis are making on-the-fly decisions about how to respond to other disasters—from flooding to hurricanes—in a way that minimizes the risk of further spreading the novel coronavirus. There is no playbook for them to follow. 

So, isn't that even more reason to interview the people who are "stretched thin" and actually dealing with a major tornado outbreak in both urban (Chattanooga) and rural areas? But, this wasn't done.

In order, the interviewees:
  • Delaware DM researcher
  • Nebraska DM researcher 
  • Hawaii DM researcher
  • Background statement from a PR person at Entergy, an electric utility in the affected area 
  • NYC DM researcher 
You might reasonably ask, "Why so negative?," which is an absolutely fair question. My concern about the article is twofold,
  • The people being interviewed are not in the field dealing with the storms. In our profession, I have found that -- too often -- researchers do not understand how practitioners handle things in the real world. I don't want to call any of the EM's in the South because they are too busy to speak to me as an individual. But, given Scientific American's giant platform, they would take that call and all of us could learn from their experiences.
  • Doctor Fauci and the others informing high governmental officials have spent their careers in the DC-NYC axis. Take a look at the map, below. The DC-NYC zone is unique -- nowhere else in the nation has anything like the concentration of cases in that region. 
Map made Thursday. Click to enlarge 
My second point is that the concerns over CV and reasonable plans of action for DC-NYC have little to do with the rest of the nation, especially in rural areas where there are few or no cases. There are increasing concerns about America's food supply in the coming weeks (see, here and here for just two examples) due to the continued, and I believe foolish, lockdown of food supply enterprises.
Screen capture of KSNW-TV story this evening about the challenges currently facing beef producers in southwest Kansas.
Both the actions and statements of those involved in national CV policy, to date, demonstrate a lack of understanding that different geographic areas with widely differing population densities would likely benefit from different strategies. The Scientific American article continues the deficiency produced by this narrow point of view. 

Researchers are beneficial and have a valuable role, but given we are nearing peak tornado season, I want to learn from the people who have been dealing with the Easter Weekend tornadoes in case there is a another tornado outbreak next week or the week after -- that way, say, Oklahoma can learn from the experiences of Mississippi or Georgia. 

The MSM frequently writes about "diversity." We must do a better job of getting more diversity into general and specialized journalism on the subject of coronavirus and how it relates to emergency management as well as other professions. Otherwise, I fear we are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over. And, that is something we just can't afford at this time

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