New Journal Publication Shows Paths Forward for Flood Early Action
(This story was first published by SERVIR Global here.)
Disconnects between forecasters and decision-makers worldwide can often result in less efficient or effective flood response. In a new paper, experts from SERVIR’s Science Coordination Office, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, NASA Headquarters, Columbia University IRI, and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre provide suggestions to help ensure satellite data and forecasts are used to their full potential.
Despite the growing accessibility and reliability of disaster forecasting and early warning systems, inefficient disaster management persists around the world. Some in the disaster science community have proposed a new program design framework that ensures early actions are consistently triggered by trusted forecasts and scientific input.
“Increasingly, we are seeing emerging opportunities and innovations across the suite of Earth observations for improving how we understand and visualize a variety of different environmental risks” says Shanna McClain, the Risk Reduction and Resilience Lead at NASA’s Earth Sciences Division. “Strengths exist now in forecasting hydrometeorological hazards, but on the horizon we are likely to see much more diversity in what we can anticipate with confidence - from volcanic eruptions to pandemics.”
“Forecast-based Action” (FbA) programs immediately trigger preparedness efforts when forecasts reach certain thresholds based on the probability and likely impact of an event. For example, sandbagging teams might be deployed if there’s above an 80% chance of a location receiving more than two inches of rain in three days.
The new article, published in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, provides suggestions for the Earth observations community to better support FbA efforts for flood management. Satellite imagery can provide not only historical flood data from which to define the threshold conditions for early action, but also observations during a flood that help decision-makers evaluate whether those thresholds were sufficient. When satellite imagery is paired with social and economic data, flood managers can define the threshold for action based on likely human impacts, rather than just magnitude alone. This enables FbA programs that are more directly relevant to community and humanitarian concerns.
“It is incredible that we can learn so much about the world from space, from clouds to rain to the location of population centres” says Erin Coughlan de Perez, a climate scientist with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. “Earth observations can also help us understand the accuracy of our weather forecasts. This kind of accuracy information is critical to discuss with humanitarians, to ensure they make appropriate decisions given how well the forecasts work.”
Still, expanding FbA programs is not without its challenges. When choosing how early of a forecast to use, decision-makers must strike a difficult balance between waiting long enough to have a reliable prediction, and acting early enough to be effective. The authors encourage sustained dialogue between the Earth observations community and humanitarian groups to ensure that all stakeholders understand how the forecasts are used and how those numbers translate to human impacts.
With collaboration between Earth scientists, humanitarian groups, and local agencies, the FbA framework has the potential to help flood-prone communities reach new levels of resilience.
“When it comes to collaboration, it can be hard to know where to begin” says lead author Claire Nauman, a recent graduate research assistant with SERVIR. “We hope, by bringing together voices from both the Earth observation and the humanitarian community, we can offer a starting place to seed conversations and spark new ideas to leverage EO for FbA.”
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