Friday, September 3, 2010

Bye Bye Hurricane Earl

So another hurricane false alarm (or so it looks like). Hurricane Earl drops out of the headlines before it got its chance to make a splash.  Probably one of the hardest jobs of forecasters and emergency managers is deciding when the risks of a hurricane are sufficient to justify major, hugely disruptive, actions such as mass evacuation, balanced against the consequences of "crying wolf" on future hurricanes. The problem as always is that most alarms are false alarms, so when "the big one is hitting" we don't realize it's something different. This surely was the problem of Katrina: everyone thought it would be just another dud. In fact not everyone did: to their credit, the bulletins the National Hurricane Center and local offices put out before the storm started to border on the hysterical (at least for official information sources), using words like "potentially catastrophic" (I seem to remember some stronger wording than this but can't find it). This really seems like something for a research project in emergency management, getting the right balance. Any thoughts?

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