Category: Disasters

Disaster Lessons Unlearned

COSTAS SYNOLAKIS, professor of civil and environmental engineering, USC Viterbi.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 12.

The human tragedy of Super Typhoon Haiyan is unprecedented for the Philippines and possibly for the region. Thousands are dead and tens of thousands displaced. As the relief effort builds, the question to ask is whether the human impact was predictable and preventable.

The disaster bears striking similarities to the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami two years ago. In each case, local scientists did not expect the depth of the floods or the strength of the water current

Deconstructing the Sandy Relief Numbers

LARRY HARRIS, professor of finance, USC’s Marshall School of Business.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 11.

President Obama asked Congress for $61 billion for various relief programs following Hurricane Sandy. The Senate approved the full request late last month, but so far the House has approved just $9.7 billion, for flood-insurance claims. The House will soon vote on the remaining $51 billion in proposed aid.

Sandy was an unusually large storm that did substantial damage to the Eastern Seaboard. More than eight million people lost power and perhaps as many as 100,000 were left homeless. Thousands of buildings were destroyed or damaged along the coastline from Maryland to Maine.

Many people don’t appreciate how large these numbers are, in particular the size of the proposed relief. Consider some simple comparisons. The $61 billion aid package represents:

Science the Messenger Gagged

COSTAS SYNOLAKIS, professor of environmental enginering, Viterbi School of Engineering.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

It is impossible to predict earthquakes with the precision that would have helped the 300 people who died as a result of the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, on April 6, 2009. It is equally difficult, apparently, to predict court decisions.

After a 13-month trial, six scientists and one government official were sentenced to six years in jail Monday for giving authorities information that was “too reassuring” about the possibility that an earthquake would take place in the wake of a series of small earthquakes. The defendants will also have to pay compensation to the families of 29 of the 309 victims who, swayed by government reassurances, did not evacuate their homes, according to relatives.

How to Prevent Another Titantic

COSTAS SYNOLAKIS, professor of civil and environmental engineering, USC Viterbi.

his op-ed originally appeared at the HuffingtonPost.

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is now with us. Dozens of events have been planned and the story keeps enthralling us, despite the fact that so few of us travel by large ocean liners anymore. For the record, the beginning of our fascination with disasters of titanic proportions started with the great Lisbon tsunami of 1755, which changed the way Europeans viewed nature and God, as candidly described by Voltaire over two centuries ago.

Recent events provide clues why ship disasters captivate us. In January’s sinking of Costa Concordia off Isola de Giglio in Italy, 30 died, a surprising number given that the ship was only 5 years-old, and the accident occurred within a few hundred feet off the nearest port. Survivors described harrowing scenes before evacuating, conflicting