April 23, 2024

Lessons from Disasters: Amy Myers Jaffe and Saskia Salak on Preparing Novel Extreme Weather Events in the United States

Amy Myers Jaffe, CGA's research professor and Director of the SPS Energy, Climate Justice and Sustainability Lab, along with Saskia Salak, lab's research scientist, co-authored the recent policy brief "Preparing for Novel Extreme Weather Events in the United States: Lessons from Disasters." This paper provides an overview of emergency preparedness, disaster risk reduction, and climate adaptation policies in disaster-affected communities in the United States and explore the gaps in policy and practice.

The United States experienced 28 billion-dollar disasters in 2023 — far exceeding the previous record of 22 billion-dollar disasters in 2020. All told, these events led to an estimated $92.9 billion in damages. Without significant community preparation, the costs of extreme weather events may be exacerbated in the coming decades, as climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme events. The stakes are high, with broad ranging community impacts, especially on socioeconomically vulnerable populations. Of the 3.3 million people in the United States who were forced to evacuate their homes in 2022 due to hurricanes, floods, fires, and other disasters, the lowest income households had the highest evacuation rates. Extreme weather events can also exacerbate energy inequality and worsen health outcomes for already vulnerable people, including those with lower levels of education, without English proficiency, home air conditioning, or transportation access. Adequate community preparedness can mitigate the impacts of extreme events on individuals, communities, and infrastructure, yet policy change often happens in the wake of disasters. Studies show that disasters serve as focusing events which grab the attention of the public, media, and policymakers and allow governments to make changes based on new knowledge and past mistakes. But this type of ‘reactive’ policymaking will become increasingly inadequate due to climate change. Instead, scenario planning — a process in which governments or community groups conduct policy response exercises based on possible future climate scenarios — can enable updated, proactive policies that integrate scientific assessments of unprecedented weather extremes before those events occur.

Read the full policy brief here.


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