20 August 2009


I've had several requests for a copy of my talk yesterday given at the ANZIF Claims Conference in Sydney. I've posted a copy here in PDF (warning ~1.0 mb). Comments welcomed. Papers on which it is based can be accessed here.


  1. Hi Roger,

    The presentation is excellent. I do have a couple comments about these statements:

    * "What we build, how we build, where we build are the most important factors in shaping future disasters."

    What we have ALREADY built is an important factor in shaping future disasters, particularly with regard to hurricane storm surge. Many economically important areas (e.g. Miami, Long Island) ALREADY have assets valued at hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars that simply cannot be defended from storm surge using *conventional* techniques (i.e. levees and storm surge gates comparable to those that are protecting London, Venice, and Rotterdam).

    Notice that I put emphasized "conventional" techniques. That's because I think that a portable storm surge protection system can be built to protect those areas, and all areas along the Gulf and East Coasts.

    * "Societal factors drive the long-term increases in disaster losses"

    This pre-supposes that disaster losses will increase (presumably after adjusting for inflation). I don't think that *necessarily* needs to be the case, particularly for hurricane damage (from storm surge, inland flooding, and wind).

    I think it's possible to design portable systems that can mitigate all those aspects of hurricane damage sufficiently to actually *lower* decadal-average hurricane damages, adjusted for inflation.

    My goal over the next year or so is to assemble a "dream team" of hurricane disaster specialists and convince them that portable hurricane damage prevention systems are the way to go, as opposed to simply hoping further development will not occur near the ocean, or that systems should be designed specifically for "chosen" cities (like New Orleans).

    I'd like you to be on that "dream team." Specifically, I'm hoping you can start the discussion by giving estimates of the damage that will occur from hurricanes over the next 3-5 decades, in the *absence* of portable hurricane damage prevention systems.

    That's very important. It's only from knowing the damage that can be expected in the *absence* of portable hurricane damage prevention systems that some estimate can be made for the amount of money that would be reasonable to allocate for portable hurricane damage prevention systems. For example, if the total hurricane damage in the U.S. can be expected to be $30 billion per decade for the next 3-5 decades, it would not be unreasonable to spend, say, $10 billion for portable systems that could reduce the amount of damage by 50% That would be a savings of $45-$75 billion over 3-5 decades, for an investment of $10. (Much better return on investment than, say, Cash for Clunkers.)

    I know this idea sounds like a fantasy. But I've thought about it quite a bit. It really makes sense, compared to the alternatives of simply hoping for the best, or trying to stop or reverse coastal development, or trying to make "chosen" cities safe, while leaving others to be signficantly damaged.

  2. Roger, on this map and the one on slide 9 of your presentation, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties in California are in red.. since they are "mostly desert with some mountain" kinds of counties, it seems odd that they have that many flood disaster declarations (as many as the wet Pacific Northwest). I wonder why?