Disasterology: October 2022
This newsletter is a compilation of recent disaster ~things~ that I think are cool, important, or otherwise of interest to people who are intrigued with disaster (broadly defined).
There’s a little something for everyone!
If you haven’t listened to Midnights before you read this newsletter, that’s not my fault. You’ve had over a week to prepare to set the scene for the tale.
The State of Emergency Management
The month began with a horrible stampede in a soccer stadium in Indonesia and ended in a deadly crowd crush in Seoul. Flooding in Nigeria has displaced close to one million people and the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan continues. Tropical Storm Nalgae has led to at least 98 deaths so far in the Philippines. Also, the Mississippi River is low.
It’s Elon. Hi. He’s The Problem
Well, it finally happened. The planets and the fates and all the stars aligned, and Elon Musk bought Twitter. Obviously, I have some ~thoughts~ about what this means for disaster-world.
Most simply, it reminds us of the fragility of the platforms and systems we rely on in emergency management. With billionaires in charge, it’s smart to remember you’re on your own kid. And, we always have been.
People who work in emergency management use Twitter for all kinds of formal and informal uses. Arguably most important is the role Twitter plays in spreading lifesaving information during a response. It’s via Twitter that the world often first learns a disaster has even occurred. It’s where survivors can speak for themselves and share their experience and their needs. It’s where we come together to make sense of a disaster.
Operationally we use it to help spread warnings, share shelter information, and find where people are when they need to be rescued. It’s a way for people who have become displaced to reconnect with other members of their community and share information. It’s how we check on our family in the midst of a disaster. It’s where government agencies can explain where and how to get aid. In the absence of media coverage, Twitter is often the place where those of us from away can stay up to date on recovery progress. It’s where we share donation links and find the organizations we want to support. It’s how those organizations raise money and get connected to other opportunities for long-term recovery efforts. It is where small community groups advocating for mitigation can find an audience of supporters and see that they are not alone.
Admittedly, Twitter is an absolute hellsite. There are plenty of negatives. It certainly can help spread misinformation in disasters (though it can simultaneously serve as a tool to combat misinformation), can be used to platform people who shouldn’t be during a crisis (*stares in parts of pandemic Twitter*), and is surely not doing anything good for our collective mental health.
Despite that, it has become ingrained in our institutions, and our systems. I’ve often thought that people who aren’t on Twitter don’t appreciate how much it influences their daily lives, from the political to the cultural, because of how it so directly influences media. Twitter isn’t particularly effective for doing general public education campaigns, but it has, in my experience, been incredibly effective in helping to educate journalists about emergency management. That has a potentially huge influence when it changes how disasters are covered… and even if a disaster is covered.
I’ll share just one example. In the midst of COVID I was writing threads about how the Trump administration wasn’t using existing disaster programs within FEMA that could provide immediate and direct assistance to individuals in desperate need. Nearly no one was talking about this. One of the examples I wrote about was FEMA’s funeral assistance program. A journalist who follows me, Lisa Song, wrote the first article about it for ProPublica after seeing my thread. The next night Chris Hayes on MSNBC did the first national segment on the issue.
I joke a lot about how it feels like I’m tweeting into the void but having a platform where people who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice is fucking important.
As an academic, it has enabled me to cross paths with disaster researchers working in other disciplines, globally, who I would likely never have met in any other context. It also has allowed me to have a daily view into the issues of emergency management practice by following emergency managers around the world. It has brought endless connections for my students as they search for internships/ jobs. It led to someone letting me publish my book which has resonated with many.
Coincidentally I was asked to participate in a webinar for the European Geosciences Union a few days ago along with Dr. Samuel Mitchell. The topic was how to communicate sensitive science to non-experts. Sam and I both centered our talks largely around Twitter because that’s where scientists have the ability to speak directly to the public. I don’t want us to lose that.
It’s impossible to know how this will unfold but Elon’s purchase has lit the fuse. So far every idea he’s suggested for the site seems like it will simply lead to more people and advertisers leaving… and lose him and his investors a lot of money. Unfortunately, for once, it doesn’t appear Elon is motivated by money. I think we’re dealing with the consequences of no one wanting to play with him as a little kid.
Now look, you’ll have to take my Twitter account out of my cold dead hands, but still, there will be a chain reaction of countermoves. My countermove happened two years ago when I made this Substack for the exact purpose of having redundancy in reaching a broad audience. The wisest women had to do it this way because as we well know in emergency management if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
I am on Instagram too, btw. I’m still on the fence about TikTok. Everyone there is a sexy baby and I just know I’d be the monster on the hill.
Anyway, I’m off to pour more liquor in our cocktails until someone tells his white-collar crimes to the FBI.
I know you were expecting a Mastermind meme but it is Halloween.
National Disaster Safety Board
I have an op-ed in The Hill this month along with Dr. Scott Knowles and Dr. Njoki Mwarumba arguing for the creation of a National Disaster Safety Board. This is something our group Disaster Researchers for Justice has been focused on recently. You can watch an informational meeting we did with Anna Weber from NRDC and Robert Joyce from Senator Schatz’s office to learn more. If you’re on board (heh) it would be great if you could call your Senators and let them know!
Important Disaster Media Coverage This Month
I want to draw particular attention to this incredible story in High Country News which shows how gender, disaster, climate change, the failed pandemic response, long COVID, and the failure to build emergency management capacity are all deeply related. [TW for loss of a child]
I also wanted to draw your attention to this excellent documentary on the SS Eastland.
Why Many Homes and Buildings in This Florida City Still Stand, Even After Ian in The Washington Post
Florida’s Strengthened Electric Grid Mostly Withstood Hurricane Ian in The Wall Street Journal
Losing Ground: How One New Orleans Community is Sinking in The Guardian
Mississippi River Basin Adapts as Climate Change Brings Extreme Rain and Flooding for NPR
Government Worker Shortages Worsen Crisis Response in Governing
The Humiliating History of The TSA in The Verge
Protecting Our Elders From Hurricane and Ian and Beyond in Atmos
People With Disabilities Left Out of Climate Planning in AP
Ian is Florida’s Deadliest Hurricane Since 1935. Most Victims Drowned in The Washington Post
Hour-by-hour Analysis Shows Toll of County’s Delay Before Hurricane Ian in The Washington Post
Facing a Dire Storm Forecast in Florida, Officials Delayed Evacuation in the New York Times
Profit Drove a 30-year Boom. Ian Smashed It In A Day in Politico.
West Virginia, Kentucky Officials Ignored Plans for Catastrophic Floods in Grist
In One Fort Myers Neighborhood, Black Residents Feel Forsaken in Ian’s Aftermath for NPR
The Rogue Valley Was Set to Become a Food Paradise. Then It Burned in The New York Times
Hurricane Sandy Devastated Coney Island 10 Years Ago. So Why Has NYC Added Almost 2,000 Homes to the Area Since in The City
Post-Hurricane Sandy Projects Still Not Completed in NYC in The New York Daily News
Disaster Debris Is Pushing Puerto Rico’s Landfills to the Brink in Grist
Weird Disaster Thing
That scrambling sound you heard is everyone in emergency management trying to figure out how they can be an extra in the sequel to… TWISTER. That’s right, kids. We’re doing a Twister sequel, apparently titled Twisters. Bold move, honestly.
The End Bits
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In case you signed up for this newsletter without knowing who I am (a bold choice!) you can read my book Disasterology: Dispatches From The Frontlines of The Climate Crisis to catch up! You can read a USA Today review here, order it here, or get it as an audiobook here. You can also find more from me on my blog, listen to this episode of Ologies, or follow me on Twitter and Instagram where I impulsively narrate my every thought.
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