Natural catastrophes are having an impact on areas all around the country, from floods in Texas to storms in the Southeast and wildfires in the West. Additionally, the frequency of catastrophic weather and climate events is rising due to climate change.
The National Centre for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at Columbia University's Climate School has recently updated a tool that intends to assist communities in better preparing for natural disasters by giving data-driven knowledge on the specific dangers that various geographic areas face. Extreme heat, earthquakes, landslides, tornadoes, and floods are just a few of the 14 different natural hazards that the Natural Hazards Index map application shows the hazard level of across the United States and Puerto Rico. In collaboration with the investment firm AllianceBernstein, the tool was improved.
The NCDP, which works to understand and improve the capacity to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters, saw a need to create a tool to help people better understand the risks that they face in their immediate environment. "We saw a need to develop a tool to help people better understand the risks that they face in their backyard," said Jonathan Sury, the project lead.
The application is intended to speed up efforts to decrease risks and vulnerabilities and give individuals and communities the data they need to create strategic plans for disaster response. Sury anticipates that this tool will be used by academics, emergency management teams, municipal organizations, health authorities, and other groups.
According to Sury, "This will help tell the story of a community and help raise awareness about what might happen locally." It is a tool for preparation, but it also serves as a communications and advocacy tool for the crucial investments and significant mitigation efforts that can help address climate and weather vulnerabilities.
The map provides a breakdown of each of the fourteen distinct dangers as well as an overall picture of the overall natural hazard risk within a geographic area, more precisely a census tract. Additionally, it offers access to useful resources to direct both little and major actions that can aid communities in lowering their risk of natural disasters and strengthening their preparedness.
Reducing combustible materials surrounding homes and businesses in fire-prone locations is one of these recommendations, as is investing in more resilient infrastructure, which is frequently more difficult to justify because of the upfront expense.
This tool was initially created by NCDP in 2016, however, the organization saw room for improvement by adding more accurate and localized data at the census tract level. The original tool's capabilities were constrained by county-level mapping data, but the updated version enables users to focus on more precise regions and observe the variances that can, and often do, occur within a county.
When you can zoom in on the sub-county level, you can learn so much more, according to Sury.
The tool is extremely user-friendly in design. It delivers information in a comprehensible way that anyone can use and interact with.
However, as Sury points out, the job involved was far but straightforward. The NCDP followed a meticulous procedure to create this tool, which began by choosing which threats to depict on the map. They conducted a review of the literature for each conceivable risk and spoke with important experts to gain their opinions on the applicability of each risk and the appropriate data and indicators to utilize for each risk. Additionally, they worked along with colleagues from the Columbia Climate School and weighed the information they received against the accessibility, dependability, and detail of the data. Terabytes of data are included in the map, which is equivalent to trillions of bytes of data.
This tool was created in collaboration with AllianceBernstein, a renowned worldwide investment management and research organization and steadfast supporter of Climate School. Over the course of more than a year, NCDP worked with AllianceBernstein investors to develop the tool by updating and improving databases and finding and incorporating new data. AllianceBernstein recognized a chance to employ the technology to more thoroughly analyze and assess the numerous risks to its investments.
It was evident that this relationship could potentially assist communities across the nation, according to Patrick O'Connell, senior vice president and director of fixed-income responsible investing research at AllianceBernstein. "We see a lot of potential to use this tool in our investment decisions," he added.
The team is enthusiastic about the release of this portion of the program, but they are already planning the next generation, which will include societal vulnerabilities and projections for climate change. Many current data points, such as hurricane data, are dependent on the existing environment and do not take climate change into account. In the future, the group wants to use better data to demonstrate how climate change will impact natural catastrophes and risks.
These maps contain excellent baseline danger information, according to Sury. "And now we want to better account for climate change projections and what hazards will look like in the future on a warming planet."
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