Climate and Major Disasters: Lessons from an Emergency Management Expert


In an October article for the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Bulletin, Eric Holdeman, senior fellow at Emergency Management Magazine, addressed the relationship between climate and large-scale disasters. Holdeman writes, “Most major disasters are weather-related. Climate change is making these disasters more frequent and much more destructive.”

He adds, “The biggest problem we have is that people, individually and as families, are not making wise choices when it comes to where they choose to live and build.” Holdeman points out that people continue to prefer to retire, for example, to locations with warm climates, on hills with views, and near the water. These places, however, are the ones hardest hit by climate change. These are the places most likely to be affected by a lack of drinking water, rising sea levels, landslides, and severe storms.

Holdeman writes, “No one is looking beyond their nose at the hole they are digging for their community when disasters come calling.”

So what are we to do? Holdeman argues that, as we continue to address carbon reduction, we must practice climate adaptation, or what he describes as “taking what measures are possible to avoid having people and property impacted by a disaster.” He warns that as climate-related disasters become more frequent, insurance companies will pull back on insurance, charge much higher rates for less coverage, or go out of business. The federal government is already paying vast amounts for disaster recovery efforts; Hurricane Ida, Holdeman says, is estimated to have cost $70 billion. Eventually, we will be unable to rely on institutions to save us.

Living as we do in an earthquake zone, climate-related disasters may not be our biggest concerns, but we can certainly take steps to adapt to our new reality and reduce the effects of these new (or more frequently occurring) problems facing us in the Pacific Northwest. One of the climate-related issues we will certainly face is wildfire. Another is landslides. Still another is windstorms.

Wildfire Mitigation

The Bainbridge Island Fire Department advocates following the Firewise Program to reduce the potential property damage from wildfire. They also offer a checklist to help you assess your property.

Landslide Mitigation

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has warned that Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, and Alaska are threatened by “severe landslide problems.” Factors contributing to landslides are, according to a report by FEMA Region 10 and Portland State University, oversteep slopes, heavy rainfall or rapid snowmelt, overload at the top of a slope, and water damage to the slope from irrigation, roof downspouts, broken sewer and water lines, and “poor stormwater drainage.”

Landslide mitigation includes, according to GovPilot, building retaining walls and other protective structures, designing “debris pathways,” and ensuring proper drainage.

Windstorm Mitigation

The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI) has created a wind mitigation document to help you identify potential concerns on your property relating to wind damage.

The winter months are a good time to plan for changes you can make in the spring and summer months. We all have responsibility to make sure that our behaviors do not contribute to the problems we already face. This includes preparing an emergency supply of two to three weeks of food and water, as well as mitigation of potential weather-related damage to the place we call home.

Eric Holdeman has professional experience at local, state, and national levels and is Past President of the Washington State Emergency Management Association (WSEMA). He serves on the Advisory Board for the University of Washington’s Masters in Strategic Planning for Critical Infrastructures. Read his article here on p. 14.

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