European Windstorm: The Name Game

Tanja Dallafior – Modeler, Event Response, RMS

Michèle Lai – Product Manager, Model Product Management, RMS

Tom Sabbatelli – Manager – Event Response, RMS

A typical European windstorm season usually spans from October to March, with a peak of activity during the winter months. But with a quiet and sunny February, due to a strong blocking situation in Western Europe, had spring arrived? No, Mother Nature decided differently, and March came with its series of windstorms, and although March is not over yet, let’s look at what has happened so far.

What’s in a Name?

March 2019 started with the formation of a westerly weather pattern that prevailed until March 16-17, and an unstable atmospheric situation that brought a series of eight spring storms passing through Europe in just over two weeks. This series of storms brought damage and disruption across Europe, with uprooted trees, power outages, transport interruptions on road, rail, and in the air, injuries and even fatalities were reported.

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The Age of Innocence

Professor Ilan Noy holds a unique ”Chair in the Economics of Disasters” at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He has proposed in a couple of research papers that instead of counting disaster deaths and economic costs, we should report the “expected life-years” lost, not only for human casualties but also for the life-years of work that will be required to repair all the damage to buildings and infrastructure.

The idea is based on the World Health Organization’s Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost through disease and injury (WHO 2013). The motivation is to escape from the distortion introduced by measuring the impact of global disasters in dollars, as loss from the richest countries will always dominate this metric. Noy’s proposal converts injuries into life-years lost, based on how long it takes for the injured to return to complete health, while also factoring the degree of permanent disability multiplied by its duration. This is topped up by a “welfare reduction weight” for all those exposed to a disaster. The final component of the index attempts to capture how many years of human endeavor is lost to recovering the buildings and assets destroyed in the disaster.

There is plenty to argue over in terms of how deaths, injury and damage should be combined. In particular, the assumption that additional work to rebuild a city, is the same as a shortened life, seems somewhat reductive.

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Comprehending America’s Far Right Terror Groups

A surge in right wing populism, rooted by the effects of globalization has energized a series of extreme right political movements across the world. Many such groups have resorted to acts of terrorism violence to express their objectives. Some have even committed mass shooting events such as the recent tragic events in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Unfortunately, the United States has not been an exception to this trend. According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, right wing inspired terrorist acts in the U.S. have grown from six percent to 35 percent from 2010 to 2016. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also reported that between 2016 and 2017, right wing inspired violence had also quadrupled in the U.S. – a terrifying trend. This blog will attempt to address this threat of far-right terror groups in the U.S.

The threat from far-right terrorism in U.S. is not a monolithic one. While it is true that far-right terrorism is very vibrant and structurally diverse, the groups do still fall under two categories: White supremacist and anti-government extremists.

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Impact Trek 2019: Destination Philippines

Many of us in the catastrophe risk management industry actively help communities in need after natural disasters – through donations, working with organizations to promote resilience, or through on-the-ground assistance. Our intimate understanding of the power of these catastrophes makes us acutely aware of the need to act.

RMS and Build Change

Every year, a team of RMS employees and clients work together to help support our longstanding partner, Build Change, on how to ensure vulnerable communities benefit from safer housing, retrofitting and sound construction methods. The skills that both our employees and clients bring are very complementary to these tasks, and knowledge of risk modeling and analytics, and how to use this knowledge to develop resilience is highly valued.

Following successful visits to Haiti and Nepal in recent years, this year’s RMS Impact Trek visits the Philippines for the first time, with the team (including myself) on the ground in the country from March 17–25.

Build Change have been active in the Philippines since 2013. They have worked on a range of long-term projects from helping to rebuild schools, pre-disaster retrofitting of homes in poorer areas of Manila, through to training technicians in disaster-resistant construction skills in Guiuan in southeast Samar.

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Exposure Trending

A postcard from Manila…

Situation: rapid, uncontrolled urbanization and limited enforcement of building codes.

Complication: unwieldy administrative procedures, limited funding, a lack of technical expertise and #NIMTOO.

Result: an alarming rise of building vulnerability in hazard-prone communities putting millions of low-income people at extreme risk.

While many local government officials recognize this problem, progress is painfully slow. Housing vulnerability continues to rise. What to do?

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Meet the RMS Impact Trekkers

In our previous blog, we introduced the RMS clients who will be joining this year’s RMS Impact Trek, heading off to the Philippines on March 17 to help support the work of our longstanding partner, Build Change. Now it’s time to meet some of the RMS employees who they will work together with on a 10-day trek with Build Change to learn more about how to ensure communities benefit from safe housing, through the use of retrofitting and sound construction methods. For more insight, watch the video below from the 2018 Impact Trek in Nepal.

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Terrorism in Christchurch

Since 9/11, there have been sporadic attacks on Muslims in Western countries, perpetrated by right-wing terrorists, but none has been more horrific and shocking than the coordinated assault on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, after Friday prayers on March 15, 2019.

Anniversaries have a special significance in the terrorist calendar. This act of wanton religious violence took place several weeks after the 25th anniversary of the most infamous mosque shooting, in Hebron, Israel, on the morning of February 25, 1994. Baruch Goldstein, a doctor raised in U.S., entered the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, pulled out an assault rifle, fired 111 shots, killing 29 Muslims, injuring 125 others. It looks as if this carnage was surpassed in Christchurch.

Terrorist lone-wolves, like Baruch Goldstein, are hard to track because they leave only a small plot planning footprint. The Christchurch attack appears well coordinated and executed, and would have left a sizeable plot planning footprint, that security officials might potentially have detected.

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NHS Funding and the Hope of Living Longer

On March 13, 2019, the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, warned in the House of Commons during his Spring Statement, that a “… cloud of uncertainty was hanging over the U.K. economy.” Reminiscing of a sunnier time for the U.K. economy, in the Budget speech in March 2000, Gordon Brown announced a substantial increase in government spending on healthcare. The Chancellor’s ambitious plan was that health spending would rise by more than a third in real terms over a five-year period, by 6.1 percent per year over and above inflation.

To inform and support this program, he commissioned a review of the long-term trends affecting the U.K. National Health Service (NHS). Based on wide-ranging academic research, this review, which was published in April 2002, had a long-term time horizon of twenty years, extending to 2022. The author of this review was Sir Derek Wanless, a professional banker, who was also a highly gifted mathematician – an important attribute for reaching robust quantitative conclusions on long-term NHS funding.

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Cutting Out Wildfire Risk from the California Electricity Grid

On January 30, Judge William Alsup, district judge for the Northern District of California presided over a hearing to discuss the inclusion of wildfire prevention in a 2016 Probation Order mandated to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in the aftermath of the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion that left eight dead.

An order to add conditions to their existing probation, filed on January 9, aimed to “…protect the public from further wrongs by the offender, to deter similar wrongs by other utilities, and to promote the rehabilitation of the offender…” The order included the determination from CAL FIRE that PG&E caused 18 wildfires in 2017, with CAL FIRE continuing its investigations into the causes of the more recent Camp Fire last year.

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Meet the Trekkers

This year’s RMS Impact Trek, to help support the work of our longstanding partner, Build Change, heads off to the Philippines on March 17. A team of RMS employees and RMS clients will work together on a 10-day trek with Build Change to learn more about how to ensure communities benefit from safe housing, through the use of retrofitting and sound construction methods. The skills that both our employees and clients bring are very complementary to these tasks, and knowledge of risk modeling and analytics, and how to apply this knowledge to develop resilience is highly valued. For more insight, watch the video below from the 2018 Impact Trek in Nepal.

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