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Today, more than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 mi of the coast, and this trend is increasing. Many of these coastal areas will be in the direct path of future hurricanes. On October 28, 2005, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hosted a congressional briefing on how science can help reduce America's risk from hurricanes and their aftermath.
"Experts tell us we're entering a 20-year period of increased severe-storm intensity," said Senator Jim DeMint, Chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction and one of the sponsors of the briefing. "Hurricane Katrina was likely the worst natural disaster to ever hit America, and it is likely just the beginning. The fact is that we're only in the first inning of a nine-inning game, and we need to do everything we can to maintain and improve accurate predictions of natural disasters."
The briefing was kicked off by U.S. Representative James Moran, another sponsor of the event, who complimented the USGS on the immense amount of scientific information it provides. Moran noted that leaders on Capitol Hill "desperately need this kind of information" to make decisions that will help keep natural hazards from becoming national disasters.
Next came a presentation by USGS Acting Director P. Patrick Leahy, who emphasized the value of having scientists on site to work with emergency responders. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, for example, USGS scientists used satellite and aerial imagery to create maps linking 911 calls to locations where people needed to be rescued. Other examples included real-time monitoring of floodwaters and testing of sediment and water quality to assess the safety of water for human contact.
The Department of the Interior's Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget, P. Lynn Scarlett, briefly outlined DOI's response to the extreme storms of 2005 and stressed the need to plan for future hurricanes.
Asbury "Abby" Sallenger, a hurricane expert from the USGS St. Petersburg Science Center in St. Petersburg, FL, gave a presentation on the extreme coastal changes caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He used striking before-and-after photographs and lidar (light detection and ranging) images to show how the recent hurricanes had altered coastal landforms. He noted that the degradation of barrier islands leaves the mainland even more vulnerable to future storms, and he showed maps ranking the relative vulnerability of Gulf of Mexico coastlines. Sallenger pointed out that knowledge gained from hurricane studies can be used to assist evacuation by forecasting coastal changes as hurricanes approach, and to rebuild hurricane-damaged areas more safely.
Leahy, Scarlett, and Sallenger fielded numerous questions from a wide range of attendees, which included congressional staffers and representatives of government agencies, scientific societies, civil-engineering groups, and environmental organizations.
Congressional sponsors for the briefing were U.S. Senator Jim DeMint and U.S. Representative James Moran. Other sponsors were the Geological Society of America, the American Geological Institute, and the American Geophysical Union.
in this issue:
USGS Briefing Reveals Lessons from Katrina and Rita
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