Sandy reminds us science plays a role in safety too

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst

As noted in a previous EcoTone post, science plays an important role in hurricane monitoring efforts. The collaborative work of the US Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) help to monitor water levels in our nation’s waterways, landscape changes and warn local communities of impending natural disasters. As Hurricane Sandy, the most recent violent weather event to hit the nation highlighted, the livelihoods of millions of Americans are dependent upon these agencies to function quickly and effectively. This rapid response capability would severely be jeopardized by impending discretionary spending cuts set to take effect in January. The White House recently released a report outlining the likely impact these cuts would have on these programs. Overall, critical non-defense discretionary programs would receive an across-the-board 8.2 percent cut.

USGS funding would be cut by an estimated $88 million. These cuts would severely hamper the agency’s ability to monitor land and water changes before and after an extreme weather event. Prior to Sandy’s landfall, USGS deployed over 150 storm-surge sensors along the mid-Atlantic coast that measure water elevation at 30 second intervals. The information gathered from these sensors will help the agency assess storm damage and forecast future coastal change. Just this week, the agency issued a landslide alert for parts of DC, Maryland, Southern Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia.

For NOAA the cuts could mean a $182 million reduction for its weather satellite programs, which could exacerbate the potential for serious gaps in weather collection data. According to a recent report spearheaded by the Wilderness Society, the cuts would also lead to reductions in NOAA’s coastal management program, resulting in layoffs for coastal management practitioners and scientists, which would impede habitat restoration efforts for our nation’s coasts and wetlands.  Data collected by NOAA’s National Weather Service help inform disaster response efforts, coordinated at the national level by FEMA.

We sometimes overlook the fact that many non-defense environmental science agencies like NOAA and USGS also play critical roles in protecting Americans.

Photo credit: David Backes

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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