The eye of Hurricane Irma passing the eastern end of Cuba at about 8:00 am (eastern) on September 8, 2017, as captured by the NOAA GOES-16 infrared satellite. Source: NOAA/NASA GOES Project, 2017.
Unprecedented. Unbelievable. Historic. Catastrophic.
By Lori Peek
These are just a few of the words used by the media and others when attempting to describe recent disasters that in many ways seem beyond description. Hurricane Harvey dumped more than four feet of rain in southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. All summer, wildfires have raged across Europe, Canada, and the United States. Tens of millions have been directly affected by massive flooding in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Hurricane Irma, still churning over warm waters as of this writing, has already flattened most of Barbuda and has wreaked havoc across several other Caribbean islands.
These and the numerous other events unfolding across the globe have claimed lives, destroyed infrastructure, and will leave entire regions uninhabitable for long stretches of time. It is true that, according to many measures, these extreme events are record-breaking. But in other ways, they are not without precedent.
Hazards and disaster researchers have consistently and systematically studied the causes and consequences of such events for more than seven decades. This research community has amassed an enormous amount of knowledge regarding everything from the root causes of disaster to the long-term ramifications of unjust recovery policies.
Make no mistake, with each fresh catastrophe comes new questions; new opportunities for learning. But there are also important commonalities that have been documented time and again across disasters.
The research that is already available matters and we must make it count. In this era of the mega-disaster, the stakes are too high for these empirical insights to sit on a shelf. The decisions that are being made are too important for evidence-based findings to be sidelined in the process. Facts matter. Research counts.
The Natural Hazards Center is committed to uplifting the work of others and to bringing it to new audiences. To that end, we are launching a new initiative called Research Counts. This series will serve as a platform for hazards and disaster scholars to provide insights regarding major research findings and enduring lessons. It will also provide a forum for raising new questions worthy of exploration. The pieces in the series are brief and intended for broad consumption. We want to work with our community to get this knowledge into the hands of those who need it most.
We are launching the series with original briefs from experts in a variety of disciplines, ranging from anthropology to engineering. These scholars are lending their voices to help us understand the catastrophes that are disrupting lives and livelihoods the world over, and to place them in broader context.
Our community of hazards and disaster researchers has long shown a deep and abiding commitment to working with practitioners, policy makers, and the private sector to help reduce hazards risk and to ameliorate the terrible suffering caused when disaster strikes. If you are interested in contributing to this new series, please contact me directly. We want to hear from you and to share your knowledge and ideas. As all of humanity confronts the reality of climate change, it is all the more critical that our research community respond in kind by sharing the lessons learned from prior and ongoing work to a larger audience. Thank you for all that you do.
Please take care of yourself and others.
Lori Peek, Director
Natural Hazards Center