Monday, May 24, 2021

Breaking News: President Biden: $1 Billion For Disaster Mitigation


President Biden announced in the last few hours that he is going to redirect $1 billion of federal spending toward disaster mitigation (more money for FEMA plus reinforcing bridges, etc.). He cites global warming as the underlying need for the money. Biden is also requesting an improvement in NASA's earth monitoring from space. 

I've read several news articles along with the White House's own description of the plan. My conclusion is that the plan is well-intended but -- typical of Washington -- it is "a little of this and a little of that" and probably won't make much of a difference. After all, there are lots of bridges, ports, sea walls, FEMA staffing, etc., etc., and that amount money will make very little real difference. 

Curiously, NOAA isn't even mentioned. The primary agency we rely on to warn us of weather/climate disasters is left out. I draw two conclusions:
  • Sadly, yet another NOAA administrator (awaiting Senate confirmation) who knows nothing about weather is not what the nation needs now. Without meteorological and political expertise, no one is advocating for the agency's important role. 
  • If independent confirmation of the need for a National Disaster Review Board was needed, this is certainly it! 
A National Disaster Review Board's (NDRB) function, among other things, would be to highlight priorities to avert the human and economic costs of disasters. Assume for a moment that a billion dollars 
for disaster mitigation becomes available. President Biden or some future president could go to the NDRB (as some have gone to the NTSB in the past) and ask, "How could this amount be best spent?"

Vaisala

If I were asked today about the weather part of the equation, rather than giving the money to (too often) hapless FEMA (which manages rather prevents disasters), I would recommend:
  1. The NWS should get money for state-of-the-art gap-filler radars
  2. NWS should also get part of the money to re-locate WSR-88D radars where the original sites have become compromised because of trees and buildings built near the radar sites in the last 25 years. 
  3. Communications for any independent radars (University of Missouri, CASA, University of Louisiana - Monroe) for which the owners wish to make part of the national network.
  4. Finally, I would include replacement of the aging (20+ year-old) FAA Terminal Doppler Radars which are vital adjuncts to the WSR-88D network of primary radars.
  5. Add automatic rawinsonde equipment (e.g., here) and/or profilers to sample the atmosphere in data-sparse areas. Essential in an era of mesoscale models which are increasingly important in the forecasting of extreme weather conditions.
All of that would make a measurable difference in disaster mitigation and would leave roughly two-thirds of the one billion dollars left over. It would also have day-to-day economic and safety benefits for aviation, surface transportation, snow removal and others related to the "nation's economy" part of the National Weather Service's mandate. 

Again, this is just my opinion. I'm providing it only as an example. Put together 4-5 true experts (like the members of the NTSB) in meteorology, earth science (earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.), human factors, social science, engineering, applied economics and technology (along with a small, but expert, staff) and their consensus would be extremely valuable guidance to an administration, to Congress and to the nation as a whole. 

Important Note: The NDRB should not get into the "climate war." The USA already has agencies that handle it. The job of the NDRB should be to assist the government and private sector prevent disasters (whenever possible) and to mitigate them.

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