Solutions after Sandy: Engaging the Social Sciences for a Better Policy Outcome

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Thursday, 6 February 2014: 2:15 PM
Georgia Ballroom 2 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Melissa A. Wagner, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ; and N. Chhetri and M. Sturm

Socioeconomic burdens of disasters have been on the rise since the 1960s coincident with increasing wealth and exposure. Superstorm Sandy, one of the costliest hurricanes on record, serves as a reminder of how ill-prepared the United States remains to extreme weather events as economic losses surmounted to 65 billion USD. With the magnitude and frequency of such events projected to increase (IPCC 2007), questions arise as to how can we adapt in a harsher climate, if society is having difficulty coping now? This brings to light the importance of bridging knowledge with policy through the engagement of various stakeholders, including the public, if we are to reverse the current trend of disaster loss at the national and global scale. We argue that much of the damage sustained from Hurricane Sandy could have been prevented had policy-makers recognized the value of harmonious socio-ecological systems and preventable infrastructure as advised by urban planners, engineers, and climatologists. In this paper, we detail how the gap between knowledge and policy translated into the damages left in the wake of Sandy. To become a disaster resilient society, we argue that policy and infrastructure must take into account four essential elements: institutions, knowledge, resources and innovative technologies. We provide examples of other governments, like Great Britain and the Netherlands, that have successfully mitigated disaster threats as a comparison to US policy demonstrating the plausibility of escaping the current cycle of destruction and repair. Any disaster policy, to be sustainable and effective, must head caution to the knowledge-policy disconnect in order to dissipate biophysical impacts and social consequences of disaster. As extreme events continue to unfold, decision makers must embrace the possibility for knowledge co-production and the capacity of human ingenuity. In addition to achieving political priority, it is essential for disaster planning to engage diverse stakeholders including the public and incorporate place-based vulnerabilities into the discussion. Our approach to disaster preparedness demands restructuring; necessitating redundancy, flexibility, and reflexivity to not just keep up but get ahead of natural hazard planning that has historically plagued our nation.