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jerryking : disasters   44

Fossil Site Reveals Day That Meteor Hit Earth and, Maybe, Wiped Out Dinosaurs
March 29, 2019 | The New York Times | By William J. Broad and Kenneth Chang.

The Chicxulub impact and the global disaster it wrought are sometimes held up as the death stroke for the dinosaurs. But many scientists argue that an array of other factors, including volcanic eruptions and climatic disruptions, contributed to the demise of the giant reptiles.
asteroids  dinosaurs  disasters  evolution  existential  extinction  fossils  meteorites  meteors  natural_calamities  paleontology 
march 2019 by jerryking
Engaging with the world’s ills beats hiding in a bunker
OCTOBER 18, 2018 | Financial Times | Stephen Foley.

those with real ambition are not planning for a life underground down under. They are building philanthropic ventures to tackle the world’s ills, or striving to effect change through the political process, or starting new mission-driven businesses.

The bunker mentality is the polar opposite of the optimism displayed by the likes of Jeff Bezos, who set out his philanthropic credo in September alongside his plan to build a network of Montessori-inspired preschools across the US. He talked of his “belief in the potential for hard work from anyone to serve others”, from “business innovators who invent products that empower, authors who write books that inspire, government officials who serve their communities, teachers, doctors, carpenters, entertainers who make us laugh and cry, parents who raise children who go on to live lives of courage and compassion”.

“It fills me with gratitude and optimism,” he said, “to be part of a species so bent on self-improvement.”

Bezos has decided to focus his charity on children, as many of his peers have done. From Mark Zuckerberg promising to fund a technological revolution in the way kids are taught, to the slew of east coast hedge fund managers promoting charter schools as a way to shake-up public education, philanthropists know instinctively that childhood is their point of maximum leverage.....engagement trumps disengagement. Public service matters, even if one is only stealing apocalyptic proclamations from a presidential desk. It beats burying one’s head in the New Zealand soil.

Many of the world’s richest individuals are working to avert the war, pestilence or revolution that would make a withdrawal from society seem attractive in the first place. Philanthropists who are funding human rights campaigns, or drug research, or novel approaches to tackling inequality — these are the real survivalists.
apocalypses  bolt-holes  catastrophes  charities  childhood  children  disasters  disaster_preparedness  engaged_citizenry  hard_work  high_net_worth  Jeff_Bezos  mission-driven  moguls  Montessori  New_Zealand  novel  off-grid  optimism  Peter_Thiel  self-improvement  philanthropy  public_service  survivalists 
october 2018 by jerryking
Bolts from the blue test our fragile systems
Andrew Hill YESTERDAY

Resilience, a spokesman told me, was “built into the design”, just not enough resilience to soak up that one-off lightning strike, the original metaphor for everything that seems vanishingly unlikely to happen. Until it does.......Resilience used to be a low priority but only after the 9/11 attacks violently woke all Manhattan businesses and residents to the potential shortcomings of their back-up plans. For a time, we had our own family resilience plan, complete with pre-determined emergency meeting points, and supplies of duct tape, bottled water and canned food. Likewise, it took the financial crisis to galvanise many banks, regulators and governments to think about how to respond to, and protect against, previously unimagined threats [JKC: that is, heretofore "unthinkable"]. All this prepping for uncertainty and change is, of course, positive. But it is also easier than resolving some of the wider pressures that make resilience training essential......our obsession with efficiency.....has made economies more productive, cut poverty and improved living standards. But.....it has also become “the god that we worship unthinkingly”. Efficiency has led to (over)consolidation. Such monocultures are fragile and vulnerable to calamities.....resilient workers are better able to respond to such changes.....but deep down organisations might be hoping that their newly flexible, gritty managers & staff serve in the vanguard of another push for efficiency, without due regard to the system’s safety......Roger Martin’s solutions to such global weaknesses involve adding more friction to the system, from the top down. They include rules to oblige investors to hold stocks for longer, more active antitrust policies, and targeted trade barriers. This would require a degree of intervention and co-ordination that may be beyond most governments.....organisations cannot afford unlimited insurance. ....But in too many places, too many people are running a single, consolidated system, with little or no resilience.
9/11  co-ordinated_approaches  concentration_risk  disasters  disaster_preparedness  efficiencies  financial_crises  fragility  frictions  monocultures  resilience  Roger_Martin  rule-writing  stress-tests  top-down  uncertainty  unexpected  unimaginable  unthinkable 
june 2018 by jerryking
We can only tackle epidemics by preparing for the unexpected
MAY 28, 2018 | FT| Anjana Ahuja.

"[Chance] Fortune favors the prepared [mind]"

Other pathogens on the WHO’s hit list for priority research include Ebola and the related Marburg virus; Lassa fever; Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever; Mers coronavirus; Sars; Rift Valley fever; Zika; and Disease X.

Many of these are being targeted by the billion-dollar Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, with a mission to develop “new vaccines for a safer world”. Cepi is backed by several national governments — including those of Japan and Norway — the Wellcome Trust, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The coalition has just announced that, following events in Kerala, it will prioritise a Nipah vaccine.

Disease X, incidentally, is the holding name for a “black swan” — an unknown pathogen that could glide in from nowhere to trigger panic. Preparedness is not all about facing down familiar foes. It is also about being ready for adversaries that have not yet shown their hand. [expand our imaginations. The next catastrophe may take an unprecedented form----Simon Kuper]
black_swan  catastrophes  chance  disasters  disaster_preparedness  epidemics  flu_outbreaks  panics  pathogens  preparation  readiness  unexpected  unknowns  viruses 
may 2018 by jerryking
The best way to solve a problem is to wait a while
May 25, 2018 | Financial Times Tim Harford YESTERDAY.

The world is full of risks. Can anyone guarantee that over the next 300 years both the UK trust fund and country will survive asteroid strikes, thermonuclear war or a deliberately engineered pandemic?

Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. The imminent threat to the trust fund is the British government itself, which has decided that a tiny advantage is worth seizing now, since the costs will fall to someone else. (You may supply your own analogy at this point.)

All democratically elected governments struggle to see past the next election, but this one struggles to see past next Tuesday. In fairness, it often feels as if the next election may come sooner than that. And it is hard to take a truly long-term perspective, whether contemplating the future of human life or the prospect of cheesecake.

As long as the [UK] debt stays roughly in proportion to national income — not an outrageous assumption — then the trust fund would be sufficient to pay off the debt a mere four centuries after the original bequest

The Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees wrote a book titled Our Final Century, warning of the existential threats arising from complex, interconnected modern systems. The book was renamed Our Final Hour in the US, perhaps because a century seemed like too much time to kill.

Economists and moral philosophers argue among themselves over how to account for the interests of future generations. The answer is far from obvious. It turns out to be crucial in pondering a rational response to slow-burning disasters such as climate change — assuming that anyone cares about a rational response, which seems a forlorn hope.
problem_solving  Tim_Harford  long-term  books  disasters  slowly_moving  short-sightedness  imperceptible_threats  existential  interconnections 
may 2018 by jerryking
Shopping for the apocalypse
Aug. 26, 2017 | The Financial Times | by Esther Bintliff.

Apocalyptic thinking has always been with us, but its power waxes and wanes. "We live in an extremely unstable and insecure time," says Ash Amin, a Cambridge University geography professor who studies urban culture. "Risks are much bigger and globally integrated."

The psychology of prepping rests on this sense of chaos, of needing to assert some control - any control - over an unpredictable reality. There is solace in practical, orderly steps you can tick off a list. Buy a three-day supply of non-perishable food, a few gallons of water, a torch, a multi-tool. Identify your family meeting place, evacuation route, shelter. These are achievable aims.

Many everyday catastrophes, in contrast, are unwieldy and intractable. Rather than arriving with the sudden bloom of a mushroom cloud, they unfold slowly, in quiet, unobtrusive ways. Some 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US in 2015, more than from guns or cars, or from HIV/Aids in the year the epidemic reached its height. Mothers, fathers, teens collapsing in shopping aisles and sports pitches is its own kind of Armageddon; most of us feel helpless in its wake.

Of course, calamities do occur. One morning in September 1859, British astronomer Richard Carrington was in his observatory when he saw a white-light solar flare - a huge magnetic explosion on the sun. It was followed by the largest geomagnetic storm ever recorded on Earth. Telegraphs were disrupted across Europe and the US. My husband's fear is of a repeat Carrington event - a severe geomagnetic storm that this time would take down the electrical grid, GPS and satellites. In 2012, scientists suggested that the likelihood of such a storm within a decade was as high as 12 per cent. Worst-case scenario: millions of people, hospitals, businesses without power for months.

Perhaps it's worth preparing for this one-in-eight possibility of chaos. So when is prepping not paranoia - but planning? Tom Martin, founder of the American Preppers Network, which has 35,000 forum members and 230,000 fans on Facebook, tells me: "The definition of a prepper is quite simply 'one who prepares'. So if someone stores extra food and emergency supplies in case of a -disaster, then by definition they are a prepper... It's all varying degrees."..........Amin points out that the emphasis on individual prepping may be misplaced. "Where you find really resilient populations, they often share responsibility with their families and communities. And the history of managing for apocalypse is the history of governmental and infrastructure preparedness."

I take this to mean that instead of building up supplies, we should invite the neighbours round for cake and pressure the government to invest in things such as transport and back-up energy. That's the kind of prepping I can get behind. But I might buy a wind-up radio as well, just in case.
apocalypses  catastrophes  chaos  disasters  disaster_preparedness  emergencies  evacuations  imperceptible_threats  natural_calamities  power_grid  preparation  readiness  resilience  risks  slowly_moving  survivalists  unwieldy  worst-case 
november 2017 by jerryking
Why we find it hard to imagine and plan for worst-case scenarios
SEPTEMBER 14, 2017 | The Globe and Mail | WENCY LEUNG.

When it comes to facing the risks of large-scale disasters, whether it’s the threat of nuclear war, a terror attack, a hurricane or raging wildfire, many people have a hard time envisioning – let alone preparing for – worst-case scenarios.

"grab-and-go" bag:

water, space blankets, flashlights and batteries, a hand-crank radio with a charger for her cellphone, a stash of garbage bags ("They can be used for keeping people warm as well, by cutting holes for the heads," she says), first-aid kits, a spare pair of glasses, food packages, waterproof matches, an extra supply of her husband's medication, hygiene products (deodorant, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, toilet liners, dental floss, toothbrush, toothpaste), tissues and two decks of cards..... a rope, a shovel and two or three blankets in the car......When it comes to facing the risks of large-scale disasters, whether it's the threat of nuclear war, a terror attack, a hurricane or raging wildfire, many people have a hard time envisioning – let alone preparing for – worst-case scenarios......New Yorker journalist Kathryn Schulz writes in her Pulitzer Prize-winning feature on the likelihood of a large-scale Cascadia earthquake. "Where we stumble is in conjuring up grim futures in a way that helps to avert them." .....research on the evacuation of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001....workers were concerned about leaving without the approval of their bosses.....delayed vacating the buildings to attend to last-minute tasks, such as gathering their personal items, making phone calls or shutting down their computers,.....people want to make a decision as a group, and then if some people can't join a group, they'll wait for that person, for example."......people can underestimate the danger they face and be overconfident in their ability to overcome it.......In their chapter of Risk Conundrums: Solving Unsolvable Problems...authors Howard Kunreuther, Paul Slovic and Kimberly Olson point out this kind of "availability bias" can make people underestimate the likelihood of a disaster before it occurs, and overestimate it afterward. Such thinking helps explain why people often buy insurance right after a disaster, but then cancel their policies after they've had several loss-free years. It's difficult to convince them that they should celebrate not having suffered any loss and still maintain insurance coverage......Socioeconomic or contextual factors, which include the level of an individual's trust in institutions, also play a role in how they perceive and react to risk..... there's no one-size-fits-all approach to encouraging the public to prepare for a disaster, he says. Warnings and preparedness efforts would be more effective if they were targeted to specific groups, based on the way they perceive risk.
worst-case  disasters  imagination  frequency_and_severity  9/11  denials  optimism_bias  availability_bias  books  one-size-fits-all  overconfidence  risk-perception  improbables  disaster_preparedness  conundrums  Pulitzer_Prize 
september 2017 by jerryking
Tornado-Ravaged Hospital Took Storm-Smart Approach During Rebuild - Risk & Compliance Journal.
Aug 30, 2017 | WSJ | By Ben DiPietro.

...................“Preparation for what these events can be–and belief they can actually happen–is important so you make sure you are preparing for them,” ....trying to undertake whatever is your organizational mission in the midst of a tornado or other devastating event is much harder, given the high emotions and stress that manifests itself at such moments.

“Understand the possibilities and pre-planning will make that go a lot better,”

===============================
As Hurricane Harvey has shown, extreme weather events can devastate a region’s infrastructure. Hospital operator Mercy had its own experience of this in 2011 when a tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., killing 161 people and destroying its hospital.

Hospital operator Mercy took the lessons it learned from that tornado experience and incorporated them into the design of the new hospital–and also changed the way it plans and prepares for disasters. The new facility reflects a careful risk assessment, as Mercy took into account not only the physical risk of tornadoes but the risks to power supplies and medical supplies.

“We always prepare, always have drills for emergencies, but you never quite can prepare for losing an entire campus,” ....“Now we are preparing for that…it definitely changed the way we look at emergency management.”

** Protecting What Matters Most **
Mercy took the lessons it learned from that devastating weather event and applied them when it was time to build its latest hospital, which was constructed in a way to better withstand tornadoes while providing more secure systems infrastructure and adding backup systems to ensure operations continued unimpeded, ......Even the way medical supplies were stored was changed; instead of storing supplies in the basement, where they were inaccessible in the immediate aftermath of the tornado, they now are kept on each floor so staff don’t need to go hunting around for things they need during an emergency.....“The first priority is to save lives, the second is to minimize damage to the facility,”

** Focus on the Worst **
many companies worry about low-severity, high-frequency events–those things that happen a lot. They instead need to focus more on high-severity events that can cause a company to impair its resilience. “....identify and work on a worst-case scenario and make sure it is understood and the company is financially prepared for it,”

work with its key vendors and suppliers to know what each will do in the face of a disaster or unexpected disruption. “...large companies [should] know their key vendors prior to any major incidents,” ...“Vendors become partners at that time and you need to know people will do what you need them to do.”

A company needs to assess what is most important to its operations, map who their vendors are in those areas and engage them in various loss scenarios .... It should review its insurance policy language against possible weather events, identify any gaps and either revise policies to fill those holes or to at least make sure executives understand what the risks are of leaving those gaps unattended.
==================================
See also :
What to Do Before Disaster Strikes - WSJ.com ☑
September 27, 2005 | WSJ | By GEORGE ANDERS.
start by cataloging what could go wrong. GM, for example, has created "vulnerability maps" that identify more than 100 hazards, ranging from wind damage to embezzlement. Such maps make it easier for managers to focus on areas of greatest risk or gravest peril.
low_probability  disasters  Hurricane_Harvey  extreme_weather_events  hospitals  tornadoes  design  rebuilding  preparation  emergencies  lessons_learned  worst-case  natural_calamities  anticipating  insurance  vulnerabilities  large_companies  redundancies  business-continuity  thinking_tragically  high-risk  risk-management  isolation  compounded  network_risk  black_swan  beforemath  frequency_and_severity  resilience  improbables  George_Anders  hazards  disaster_preparedness  what_really_matters 
september 2017 by jerryking
A Texas Farmer on Harvey, Bad Planning and Runaway Growth -
AUG. 30, 2017 | The New York Times | By SEAMUS McGRAW.

Seamus McGraw is the author, most recently, of “Betting the Farm on a Drought: Stories From the Front Lines of Climate Change.” He is at work on a new book about water issues in Texas......Haskell Simon...is a man who has, in nine decades in Texas, developed a deep appreciation for the complex interplay between nature and the world we create......The cycles of storms and droughts are...an inevitable fact of life in Texas..... those storms and droughts are still more destructive than they ever were before, simply because there is more to destroy......in the 16 years since Tropical Storm Allison deluged Houston, that city, which famously balks at any kind of zoning regulation, and the surrounding region, which encompasses all or parts of 15 counties, have undergone a period of explosive growth, from 4.8 million people in 2000 to more than 7 million today. Harris County alone, which includes the city of Houston, has grown to 4.6 million, up from 3.4 million.....That’s millions of people guzzling water when times are dry.....A century’s worth of unchecked growth has brought prosperity to many. But it also has altered the landscape in ways that have made both the droughts and the floods more destructive and made that prosperity fleeting. Much of the region sits atop the overtaxed Gulf Coast Aquifer, and though efforts have made over the last 40 years to limit withdrawals from it, enough water has been sucked out of it that the ground still subsides in some places, altering runoff patterns and allowing flood waters to gather.

What’s more, those more than 2 million newcomers to the region are living in houses and driving on roads and shopping in stores built atop what once was prairie that could have absorbed at least some of the fury of this flood and the next. What once was land that might have softened the storm’s blow is now, in many cases, collateral damage in what could turn out to be a $40 billion disaster.....take a moment to consider how best to rebuild, to pause and rethink how and where we build, to reflect not just on whether we’re altering the weather, but whether there is a way to make ourselves less vulnerable to it. Perhaps we could build differently, or set aside land that would both help recharge the dwindling water supplies in times of drought and slow the floods when they come.
adaptability  climate_change  extreme_weather_events  floods  water  resilience  sustainability  Texas  Houston  natural_calamities  disasters  Hurricane_Harvey  land_uses  droughts  books  collateral_damage  buffering  zoning 
september 2017 by jerryking
Disaster and the Wealth of Nations - WSJ
By The Editorial Board
Aug. 27, 2017

The costs will be enormous in losses to property as the region dries out, but the good news is that a rich country like the United States has the resources to respond. The means to cope with disaster, natural or man-made, is one reason that we put so much focus in these pages on policies that promote sustained economic growth and the wealth that flows from it.

Immunity from nature’s fury is an illusion that humans cultivate until we are forced to confront that fury again. We forget the damage that storms and earthquakes can do. Complex societies can better cope with the damage if they have a reservoir of accumulated wealth that governments and private sources can devote to alleviating the suffering and helping communities rebuild.
disasters  natural_calamities  illusions  optimism_bias  man-made 
august 2017 by jerryking
Mental bias leaves us unprepared for disaster
August 14, 2017 | Financial Times | Tim Harford.

Even if we could clearly see a crisis coming, would it have made a difference?

The 2004 storm, Hurricane Ivan, weakened and turned aside before striking New Orleans. The city was thus given almost a full year's warning of the gaps in its defences. The near miss led to much discussion but little action.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the city, evacuation proved as impractical and the Superdome as inadequate as had been expected. The levees broke in more than 50 places, and about 1,500 people died. New Orleans was gutted. It was an awful failure but surely not a failure of forecasting.

Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther in The Ostrich Paradox argue that it is common for institutions and ordinary citizens to make poor decisions in the face of foreseeable natural disasters, sometimes with tragic results.

There are many reasons for this, including corruption, perverse incentives or political expediency. But the authors focus on psychological explanations. They identify cognitive rules of thumb that normally work well but serve us poorly in preparing for extreme events.

One such mental shortcut is what the authors term the “amnesia bias”, a tendency to focus on recent experience (i.e. "disaster myopia" the human tendency to dismiss long-ago events as irrelevant, to believe This Time is Different and ignore what is not under one’s nose). We remember more distant catastrophes but we do not feel them viscerally. For example, many people bought flood insurance after watching the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina unfold, but within three years demand for flood insurance had fallen back to pre-Katrina levels.

We cut the same cognitive corners in finance. There are many historical examples of manias and panics but, while most of us know something about the great crash of 1929, or the tulip mania of 1637, those events have no emotional heft. Even the dotcom bubble of 1999-2001, which should at least have reminded everyone that financial markets do not always give sensible price signals, failed to make much impact on how regulators and market participants behaved. Six years was long enough for the lesson to lose its sting.

Another rule of thumb is “optimism bias”. We are often too optimistic, at least about our personal situation, even in the midst of a more generalized pessimism. In 1980, the psychologist Neil Weinstein published a study showing that people did not dwell on risks such as cancer or divorce. Yes, these things happen, Professor Weinstein’s subjects told him: they just won’t happen to me.

The same tendency was on display as Hurricane Sandy closed in on New Jersey in 2012. Robert Meyer found that residents of Atlantic City reckoned that the chance of being hit was more than 80 per cent. That was too gloomy: the National Hurricane Center put it at 32 per cent. Yet few people had plans to evacuate, and even those who had storm shutters often had no intention of installing them.

Surely even an optimist should have taken the precautions of installing the storm shutters? Why buy storm shutters if you do not erect them when a storm is coming? Messrs Meyer and Kunreuther point to “single action bias”: confronted with a worrying situation, taking one or two positive steps often feels enough. If you have already bought extra groceries and refuelled the family car, surely putting up cumbersome storm shutters is unnecessary?

Reading the psychological literature on heuristics and bias sometimes makes one feel too pessimistic. We do not always blunder. Individuals can make smart decisions, whether confronted with a hurricane or a retirement savings account. Financial markets do not often lose their minds. If they did, active investment managers might find it a little easier to outperform the tracker funds. Governments, too, can learn lessons and erect barriers against future trouble.

Still, because things often do work well, we forget. The old hands retire; bad memories lose their jolt; we grow cynical about false alarms. Yesterday’s prudence is today’s health-and-safety-gone-mad. Small wonder that, 10 years on, senior Federal Reserve official Stanley Fischer is having to warn against “extremely dangerous and extremely short-sighted” efforts to dismantle financial regulations. All of us, from time to time, prefer to stick our heads in the sand.
amnesia_bias  biases  books  complacency  disasters  disaster_myopia  dotcom  emotional_connections  evacuations  financial_markets  historical_amnesia  lessons_learned  manias  natural_calamities  optimism_bias  outperformance  overoptimism  panics  paradoxes  perverse_incentives  precaution  recency_bias  short-sightedness  single_action_bias  Tim_Harford  unforeseen  unprepared 
august 2017 by jerryking
Flood. Rinse. Repeat: The costly cycle that must end
May 07, 2017 | The Globe and Mail |GLENN MCGILLIVRAY, managing director, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction

Once again, homes located alongside a Canadian river have flooded, affected homeowners are shocked, the local government is wringing its hands, the respective provincial government is ramping up to provide taxpayer-funded disaster assistance and the feds are deploying the Armed Forces.

In Canada, it is the plot of the movie Groundhog Day, or the definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.....First, a homeowner locates next to the river, oftentimes because of the view (meaning a personal choice is being made). Many of these homes are of high value.

Then the snow melts, the ice jams or the rain falls and the flood comes. Often, as is the case now, the rain is characterized by the media as being incredible, far outside the norm. Then a scientific or engineering analysis later shows that what happened was not very exceptional.

These events are not caused by the rain, they are caused by poor land-use decisions, among other public-policy foibles. This is what is meant when some say there are no such things as natural catastrophes, only man-made disasters.

Finally, the province steps in with disaster assistance then seeks reimbursement from the federal government through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements. In any case, whether provincial or federal, taxpayers are left holding the bag.....So what is the root of the problem? Though complex problems have complex causes and complex solutions, one of the causes is that the party making the initial decision to allow construction (usually the local government) is not the party left holding the bag when the flood comes.

Just as homeowners have skin in the game through insurance deductibles and other measures, local governments need a financial disincentive to act in a risky manner. At present, municipalities face far more upside risk than downside risk when it comes to approving building in high-risk hazard zones. When the bailout comes from elsewhere, there is no incentive to make the right decision – the lure of an increased tax base and the desire not to anger local voters is all too great.

Reducing natural disaster losses in Canada means breaking the cycle – taking a link out of the chain of events that leads to losses.

Local governments eager for growth and the tax revenue that goes with it need to hold some significant portion of the downside risk in order to give them pause for thought.
floods  catastrophes  natural_calamities  design  insurance  public_policy  disasters  relief_recovery_reconstruction  sustainability  municipalities  skin_in_the_game  disincentives  Albert_Einstein  complex_problems  land_uses  moral_hazards  man-made  hazards  downside_risks 
may 2017 by jerryking
How to avert catastrophe
January 21, 2017 | FT | Simon Kuper.

an argument: people make bad judgments and terrible predictions. It’s a timely point. The risk of some kind of catastrophe — armed conflict, natural disaster, and/or democratic collapse — appears to have risen. The incoming US president has talked about first use of nuclear weapons, and seems happy to let Russia invade nearby countries. Most other big states are led by militant nationalists. Meanwhile, the polar ice caps are melting fast. How can we fallible humans avert catastrophe?

• You can’t know which catastrophe will happen, but expect that any day some catastrophe could. In Tversky’s words: “Surprises are expected.” Better to worry than die blasé. Mobilise politically to forestall catastrophe.
• Don’t presume that future catastrophes will repeat the forms of past catastrophes. However, we need to expand our imaginations. The next catastrophe may take an unprecedented form.
• Don’t follow the noise. Some catastrophes unfold silently: climate change, or people dying after they lose their jobs or their health insurance. (The financial crisis was associated with about 260,000 extra deaths from cancer in developed countries alone, estimated a study in The Lancet.)
• Ignore banalities. We now need to stretch and bore ourselves with important stuff.
• Strengthen democratic institutions.
• Strengthen the boring, neglected bits of the state that can either prevent or cause catastrophe. [See Why boring government matters November 1, 2018 | | Financial Times | Brooke Masters.
The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, by Michael Lewis, Allen Lane, RRP£20, 219 pages. pinboard tag " sovereign-risk" ]
• Listen to older people who have experienced catastrophes. [jk....wisdom]
• Be conservative. [jk...be conservative, be discerning, be picky, be selective, say "no"]
Simon_Kuper  catastrophes  Nassim_Taleb  black_swan  tips  surprises  imagination  noise  silence  conservatism  natural_calamities  threats  unglamorous  democratic_institutions  slowly_moving  elder_wisdom  apocalypses  disasters  disaster_preparedness  emergencies  boring  disaster_myopia  financial_crises  imperceptible_threats 
january 2017 by jerryking
Shelters from the storm: Preparing cities for a changing climate – before it’s too late - The Globe and Mail
ALEX BOZIKOVIC
The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jul. 17, 2015

Rising sea levels, epic droughts, massive flooding: the effects of climate change are already here. How do we adapt? From the Netherlands to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Alex Bozikovic explores the cutting-edge engineering – and cultural shifts – that could help
New_York_City  climate_change  cities  Hurricane_Sandy  floods  future-proofing  insurance  public_policy  disasters  Dutch  relief_recovery_reconstruction  FEMA  sustainability  natural_calamities  sea-level_rise 
july 2015 by jerryking
The Earthquake That Will Devastate Seattle - The New Yorker
JULY 20, 2015 ISSUE

The Really Big One
An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.

BY KATHRYN SCHULZ
disasters  earthquakes  natural_calamities  Seattle  tragedies  tsunamis 
july 2015 by jerryking
As Coasts Rebuild and U.S. Pays, Repeatedly, the Critics Ask Why - NYTimes.com
By JUSTIN GILLIS and FELICITY BARRINGER
Published: November 18, 2012

Across the nation, tens of billions of tax dollars have been spent on subsidizing coastal reconstruction in the aftermath of storms, usually with little consideration of whether it actually makes sense to keep rebuilding in disaster-prone areas. If history is any guide, a large fraction of the federal money allotted to New York, New Jersey and other states recovering from Hurricane Sandy — an amount that could exceed $30 billion — will be used the same way.

Tax money will go toward putting things back as they were, essentially duplicating the vulnerability that existed before the hurricane.... Lately, scientists, budget-conscious lawmakers and advocacy groups across the political spectrum have argued that these subsidies waste money, put lives at risk and make no sense in an era of changing climate and rising seas.

Some of them contend that reconstruction money should be tightly coupled with requirements that coastal communities begin reducing their vulnerability in the short run and that towns along shorelines facing the largest risks make plans for withdrawal over the long term. ... local governments have tried to use the money to reduce their vulnerability to future disasters, but they complain that they often run into bureaucratic roadblocks with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For instance, after flooding from Hurricane Irene washed out many culverts in Vermont last year, many towns built bigger culverts to handle future floods. But they are still fighting with the agency over reimbursement.

W. Craig Fugate, the agency’s administrator, acknowledged in an interview that “as a nation, we have not yet figured out” how to use federal incentives to improve resiliency and discourage excessive risks.
floods  floodplains  flood-risk  insurance  public_policy  Hurricane_Sandy  disasters  relief_recovery_reconstruction  FEMA  sustainability  sea-level_rise  coastal 
november 2012 by jerryking
Business continuity: Making it through the storm
Nov 10th 2012 | The Economist |Anonymous.

Hurricane Sandy was another test of how well businesses can keep going when disaster strikes...GOLDMAN SACHS’S latest shrewd investment was in sandbags and back-up electricity generators. As Hurricane Sandy approached New York, the bags were stacked around its headquarters. It was one of the few offices in downtown Manhattan to remain dry and well-illuminated as “Frankenstorm” battered the city.

Meanwhile, a block farther down West Street, the headquarters of Verizon were awash with salty flood water, soaking cables delivering phone and internet services to millions of customers. The firm was able to reroute much of the traffic through other parts of its network, but local service was disrupted....Sandy is the latest catastrophic event to test the readiness of the world’s leading firms to cope with disaster. Most firms have improved “business continuity” preparations over the years. The Y2K scare at the turn of the century moved IT risk high up the list of worries. The attacks of September 11th 2001 warned firms of the danger of putting all their computers (and staff) in the same place (jk: concentration risk; SPOF)....“Firms are increasingly reliant on networks, but often fail to understand the risks that networks bring,” says Don Tapscott, a management guru. Global supply chains, just-in-time and shifting to the “cloud” tend to bind once unrelated activities ever closer together, making them more prone to failing at the same time. The current fad for moving data to the “cloud” may appear to reduce risk because there is so much spare capacity in the web. Yet some firms offering cloud services have more concentrated operations than (jk: concentration risk).

Firms are starting to recognise their vulnerability to cyber-attack, but few have much idea what they would do if it happened. Mr Tapscott thinks boards should have a committee explicitly focused on understanding IT and network risks and ensuring they are properly managed....Dutch Leonard, a risk expert at Harvard Business School, says that the best-prepared firms use a combination of planning for specific events and planning to cope with specific consequences, such as a loss of a building or supplier, regardless of the cause. He also recommends copying an approach used by the armed forces: using a group of insiders to figure out how the firm could be brought down [ jk: white hats]....Firms should make lobbying government to invest heavily in upgrading that infrastructure a core part of their risk-management strategy, argues Irwin Redlener of the National Centre for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

Goldman Sachs has long been a leader in disaster planning because it understands that the situations in which it might not be able to function are exactly the sort of events when very large changes in the value of its investments could occur, says Mr Leonard. Yet too many firms underinvest in planning for disaster because they don’t think it will pay, at least within the short-term timeline by which many now operate, reckons Yossi Sheffi of MIT.
beforemath  boards_&_directors_&_governance  business-continuity  catastrophes  compounded  concentration_risk  crisis  cyberattacks  cyber_security  disasters  disaster_preparedness  Don_Tapscott  Goldman_Sachs  Hurricane_Sandy  isolation  natural_calamities  networks  network_risk  New_York_City  optimism_bias  preparation  readiness  red_teams  resilience  risks  risk-management  short-term  SPOF  step_change  supply_chains  surprises  underinvestments  valuations  vulnerabilities  white_hats 
november 2012 by jerryking
Special Delivery
September 2004 | Robb Report Worth | by Lynn Fritz, founder of Fritz Institute.

How does the aid get to where it is needed? Does it arrive complete? Where does the money come form?
logistics  disasters  relief_recovery_reconstruction  Africa  high_net_worth  philanthropy 
june 2012 by jerryking
What to Do Before Disaster Strikes - WSJ.com
September 27, 2005 | WSJ | By GEORGE ANDERS.

What's missing is a systematic way of approaching corporate self-defense. Each potential calamity is treated in isolation....Sheffi believes that companies need to start by cataloging what could go wrong. General Motors Corp., for example, has created "vulnerability maps" that identify more than 100 hazards, ranging from wind damage to embezzlement. Such maps make it easier for managers to focus on areas of greatest risk or gravest peril. He implies that normal budgeting -- which matches the cost of doing something against the risk-adjusted cost of doing nothing -- can determine which battles against vulnerability are worth fighting....Mr. Sheffi nods approvingly at some ingenious ways to mobilize for trouble before it arrives. Federal Express Corp., he says, puts two empty planes in the air each night, just so they can swoop into any airport with a grounded plane and take over delivery services as fast as possible. Wall Street firms have recently added similar redundancy with multiple data centers, so that a New York City crisis won't imperil their record-keeping.

Intel Corp. (post-Heathrow) gets a thumbs-up, too, for finding a sly way of outwitting airport thieves. It couldn't control every aspect of security in transit -- but it could change its box design. Rather than boast about "Intel inside," the company switched to drab, unmarked packaging that gave no hint of $6 million cargoes. The name for this approach: "Security through obscurity." (jk: security consciousness)
disaster_preparedness  risk-management  book_reviews  mapping  security_&_intelligence  redundancies  vulnerabilities  rate-limiting_steps  business-continuity  thinking_tragically  obscurity  cost_of_inaction  base_rates  isolated  GM  Fedex  Intel  risk-adjusted  self-defense  Wall_Street  high-risk  budgeting  disasters  beforemath  risks  George_Anders  catastrophes  natural_calamities  systematic_approaches  security_consciousness  record-keeping  hazards 
may 2012 by jerryking
Prepared for the worst?
May 14, 2011 | Stabroek News | Editorial.

Natural disasters are, by definition, unforeseeable; but an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure. Better levees would have averted much of the worst damage when Katrina struck New Orleans; Japan could have placed its power plants further inland (and away from earthquake fault-lines); and deep-water drilling could have been better regulated in the Gulf. We should not discount the need to maintain sea defences (squatters and other hindrances notwithstanding) and undertake other necessary measures before we find ourselves in a crisis. The absence of disasters nearly always breeds complacency; budgets are slashed and worst-case scenarios dismissed, until the chance for preventive maintenance has passed. But none of that should obscure the fact that the worst time to prepare for a storm is when the clouds have already gathered.
natural_calamities  prevention  preparation  worst-case  disasters  disaster_myopia  disaster_preparedness  complacency  thinking_tragically 
may 2011 by jerryking
Crovitz: Tsunamis of Information - WSJ.com
MAR. 21, 2011 |WSJ| L. GORDON CROVITZ. Hayek spoke of the
'pretense of knowledge,' and why disasters are worse than expected. In
this information-saturated era, we expect no surprises. Yet we are
constantly surprised. We have huge amounts of data, so we assume that
risks can be calculated & avoided. But we also have exceedingly
complex systems. Just as weather is too hard to predict more than a few
days out because of how many variables interact, it's hard to predict
other complex systems. Consider credit instruments during the financial
crisis, the global warming debate, or global epidemics. Thus an
earthquake & tsunami, even in technologically advanced Japan, can
kill tens of thousands, wipe out entire villages, & re-open
questions about nuclear power....some physical systems turn out to be so
complex that they resemble unpredictable social sciences more than the
certainties of simpler physical science....We need to learn how to live
with both new technologies & new uncertainties.
disasters  complexity  Friedrich_Hayek  L._Gordon_Crovtiz  natural_calamities  information_overload  data  uncertainty  surprises  overconfidence  pretense_of_knowledge  earthquakes  tsunamis  social_sciences  certainty  psychology  unpredictability  compounded  risk-assessment  physical_systems  CDOs 
march 2011 by jerryking
Leading in the Indian Ocean - WSJ.com
* MARCH 10, 2011 Thomas Mahnken and Andrew Shearer:.leading in
the Indian Ocean
Australia and the U.S. need to organize allies to maintain freedom of
navigation as regional rivalries heat up.

As Robert Kaplan recently highlighted in his book "Monsoon," economic
ties are burgeoning across and around the Indian Ocean
region....Beijing's challenge to freedom of navigation in the
Indo-Pacific means that the U.S. and Australia should be thinking about
bringing together their proliferating bilateral maritime security links
in a collective arrangement, one that could pool resources to mount
rapid responses to natural disasters and other contingencies and work
together to keep Asia's vital sea lanes open.
maritime  U.S._Navy  Australia  collective_intelligence  disasters  China_rising  rivalries  Robert_Kaplan  Indian_Ocean  Indo_Pacific  bilateral  rapid-response  natural_calamities 
march 2011 by jerryking
Obsessed to a Fault - WSJ.com
APRIL 18, 2006 | WSJ | By LIAM PLEVEN. GeoVera, among the
largest sellers of quake insurance to homeowners on the open market in
California, is trying to buck the trend and make a profit at the same
time. About 40% of its business -- worth roughly $100 M in annual
premiums -- comes from selling quake insurance there. "What sets us
apart is our focus on catastrophe underwriting. That's all we do,"...The
company is a case study in the broader economics of disaster
insurance...GeoVera executives believe they can use their brains -- by
devouring data on the homes it insures, and keeping a close eye on the
location of its customers and the type of coverage they're buying -- to
make the company profitable. They analyze mounds of information about
the 115,000 homes the company insures: What are they made of? When were
they built? What types of foundations do they stand on? How solid is the
soil beneath them? Are they on a slope? How close are they to
California's 200-odd active faults?
catastrophes  insurance  disasters  GeoVera  underwriting  data_driven  risk-management  competingonanalytics  massive_data_sets  haystacks 
october 2010 by jerryking
Make Disaster Relief Sustainable - Ideas Special Report
Jul 6 2010 | The Atlantic | J.J. Gould. What if being
overweight in "local" means using workers who are ill-equipped for the
task at hand which slows the overall recovery effort?
disasters  relief_recovery_reconstruction  sustainability  local 
july 2010 by jerryking
The man who’s tutoring Bill Gates
June 19, 2010 | The Globe and Mail | Margaret Wente. Discusses
Vaclav Smil at the University of Manitoba. Prof. Smil’s 24th book,
Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years, has just been
published in Canada. It offers a numbers-heavy but compact guide to all
the main things we should be worrying about (or not), from natural
disasters to population trends.
billgates  books  Canada  catastrophes  catastrophic_risk  disasters  energy  environment  Margaret_Wente  natural_calamities  politics  worrying 
june 2010 by jerryking
Spillonomics - Underestimating Risk - NYTimes.com
May 31, 2010 |NYT | By DAVID LEONHARDT. The people running BP
did a dreadful job of estimating the true chances of events that seemed
unlikely — and may even have been unlikely — but that would bring
enormous costs....We make two basic — and opposite — types of mistakes.
When an event is difficult to imagine, we tend to underestimate its
likelihood. This is the proverbial black swan...On the other hand, when
an unlikely event is all too easy to imagine, we often go in the
opposite direction and overestimate the odds.
unimaginable  BP  risk-taking  risk-assessment  oil_spills  mistakes  black_swan  underestimation  underpricing  unthinkable  overestimation  dual-consciousness  frequency_and_severity  improbables  disasters  disaster_preparedness  imagination  low_probability 
june 2010 by jerryking
In Small Steps, New Approaches to Managing Disaster - NYTimes.com
January 18, 2010 | New York Times | by HENRY FOUNTAIN. There
are new innovative approaches being reviewed to building or rebuilding
infrastructure in developing countries, to help forestall disasters or
to recover from one. Among them are new ideas and projects to supply
quality housing, clean water, proper waste treatment and affordable
energy, in addition to health care. Pass to Engineers Without Borders
disasters  infrastructure  relief_recovery_reconstruction  developing_countries 
january 2010 by jerryking
Haiti's Tragedy - WSJ.com
JANUARY 14, 2010 | Wall Street Journal | Editorial. Thousands
of people urgently need medical help, and many more will soon require
tenting, clean water, food, toilets and other necessities if a secondary
disaster is to be prevented. U.S. military assets are likely to play a
crucial role in these efforts, as they did after the tsunami and the
2005 earthquake in Kashmir—a fresh reminder that the reach of America's
power coincides with the reach of its goodness....The earthquake is also
a reminder that while natural calamities do not discriminate between
rich countries and poor ones, their effects almost invariably do.


Haiti's Tragedy
Haiti  earthquakes  tragedies  natural_calamities  disasters 
january 2010 by jerryking
What, me worry? (1)
September 30, 2005 | Globe & Mail | by Doug Steiner.
Tsunamis, asteroids, central bankers - how do you protect one portfolio
against all those risks? Systemic versus personal risk.

"Unfortunately, risk is rarely that clear cut. It comes in many forms, and we all think of it in different ways. Many of us have trouble putting risks into appropriate categories. We often mash all of them together or worry too much about spectacular calamities. To get a handle on things, you need to create a proper hierarchy of anxieties and then deal with them in an orderly fashion.

Many academics split risks into two buckets. Systemic risk is general risk--risk that affects large groups of people, such as the stock market crashing or a hurricane wiping out a city. Personal risk relates to individuals making choices, such as trying to balance on a balcony railing after downing three or four martinis."
Doug_Steiner  category_errors  risk-assessment  systemic_risks  personal_risk  insurance  panics  natural_calamities  risk-mitigation  risks  disasters 
march 2009 by jerryking
reportonbusiness.com: Disaster relief
November 28, 2008 at 2:46 PM EST G&M article by DOUG STEINER
Rules for post-disaster investing.
Step 1: Cope and gather new data. Smart people in hurricane-prone areas build defences into their homes and businesses, then watch the weather. Do you do that with your investments?.... Don't invest aimlessly assuming that you'll be able to avoid a crash, then buy at the bottom. I don't know when the next market plunge will happen or how deep it will be, but I'm fortifying my investment castle against disaster by spending less and saving more....Look for new sources of information.
Step 2: Analyze the data. I'm not smart, but I looked at historic data and made a connection-what happens in the U.S. usually happens here, too. We worried enough to sell our house in 2007, but I wasn't disaster-hardened enough to rent, so we bought a smaller house.
Step 3: Consider what country you're in
Step 4: Identify the worst thing that could happen right now. You think Canada's economy is grim? How about the city of Detroit, where the median price of a house or condo dropped to $9,250 (U.S.) in September from $21,250 (U.S.) just a year earlier? Could things get that bad here? Almost certainly not.
Step 5: Act when things stop getting worse (there's an element of "next play" here). Don't wait till they start getting better. If you wait for positive signs, it will be too late. I like hotpads.com, the U.S. real estate search engine with information on foreclosures from RealtyTrac. It lets you swoop across a map of the country like a vulture, looking for distressed properties. I'm not looking in Detroit, but I am interested in Longboat Key, Florida. I'm also combining the online information on foreclosures with updates from a local real estate agent who's desperate for buyers, and who forwards me every property listed in the area.
Step 6: Find out who's ahead of the curve and learn from them. The most interesting financial analysis these days isn't in stock and bond markets-it's in the markets for things like natural disaster insurance. A 2007 study, led by Laurens Bouwer from the Institute of Environmental Studies at Vrije University in Amsterdam (remember that Dutch people living below sea level are keenly interested in floods), includes estimates of the costs of future weather-related disasters. By 2015, potential financial losses from disasters in the world's 10 largest cities will likely climb by up to 88%. Three recommendations: 1) Get more and better data. 2) When adapting to surroundings, take precautions to reduce disaster risk. 3) Find new financial instruments or innovations to spread risks among investors.
Step 7: Invest where the potential returns are highest relative to the risks. Even though stock markets have plunged due to panic, they may not be the most profitable place to put your money in the future. The worst mispricing of assets will almost certainly be in the real estate market, so that's where you may find some of the best bargains. Detroit might turn into a mecca for artists, where $9,000 buys you a house in a neighbourhood that may rebound and thrive. You just have to have the courage to look at the disaster data and act.
ahead_of_the_curve  crisis  dark_side  de-risking  defensive_tactics  disasters  Doug_Steiner  extreme_weather_events  financial_instruments  financial_innovation  first_movers  hacks  historical_data  information_sources  instrumentation_monitoring  investing  lessons_learned  measurements  mispricing  next_play  precaution  risk-sharing  rules_of_the_game  smart_people  thinking_tragically  tips  worst-case 
february 2009 by jerryking

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