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Old 05-21-2019, 09:10 AM
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Arrow How to Plan for Disasters in the Face of Uncertainty

Environmental Security Risks: How to Plan for Disasters in the Face of Uncertainty
By: Chad M. Briggs & Miriam Matejova - NewSecurity Beat - 5-21-19

How do we plan for disasters that have never occurred before?

One million species are at risk of extinction in the near future from environmental changes. The frequency of historic tropical storms is increasing. The rapidly melting permafrost in the Arctic is placing unprecedented pressures on northern infrastructure. Given the overwhelming and unpredictable nature of new disaster risks, it is not clear what the appropriate responses should be. Our book, Disaster Security: Using Military and Intelligence Planning for Energy and Environmental Risks, addresses how to assess unique environmental hazards and disaster risks, based on tools used by the U.S. intelligence and military communities. The book draws on lessons learned from developing, applying, and translating scenarios and simulations (or wargames) to plan for future environmental security risks.

The military and intelligence communities have warned of the security risks posed by global environmental changes since the mid-2000s—for example, through the 2007 CNA Corporation report or subsequent assessments from the National Intelligence Council and the U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The assessments reflect real concerns over the strategic and operational risks posed by shifts in energy and environmental hazards. What happens to military bases when the sea levels rise? Will droughts or floods place energy production at risk? What happens to a country’s security when food supplies run short or when much of the population leaves for safer ground?

Scenarios and Simulations

In Disaster Security, our aim was to provide a relatively simple means of assessing emerging risks, given the complexity of environmental systems. We view disaster planning as a process of identifying and engaging with uncertainty in complex systems. We argue that scenarios and simulations are some of the most effective ways to assess environmental security risks in systems with intricate interrelationships, critical nodes (or components of a system without which the system would cease to function), and possibilities for cascading impacts. Scenarios and simulations can also help with overcoming some cognitive and organizational obstacles to effective planning, and they are especially effective in assessing risks associated with new technologies.

The scenario work is rooted in lessons from the intelligence and military world that have been imported into risk assessment. Our traditional institutions are not well equipped for dealing with rapidly shifting conditions and having to make decisions under conditions of high uncertainty. Scenarios are an attempt to handle those changing landscapes.

Scenarios test our assumptions. For example, exploring the potential impacts of abrupt climate change on scarce water resources in Peru, we found that inefficiency may be a form of resilience. Water use in the Peruvian capital of Lima is extremely inefficient (250 liters per capita daily compared to 120-140 liters in the European Union), but this inefficiency has created incentives for implementing changes in water usage and infrastructure. This has helped Lima adapt to climatic changes such as the glacial melt by implementing new water efficiency policies.

Forward planning, also known in the U.S. military as “Phase Zero” planning, can test our predefined time horizons. In some cases, the future comes much more quickly than originally assumed, and we often focus on the wrong risks. Abrupt environmental changes can uncover vulnerabilities that would be ignored or neglected under “normal” conditions, but suddenly leave a society open to new and overwhelming disaster risks. One of the earlier scenarios on methane clathrates in Japan played out in the real world much earlier and faster than originally suggested, highlighting Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy sources. This scenario helped us understand the fragility of Japanese energy security prior to the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Draw Upon Local Expertise

Scenarios and simulations presented in Disaster Security also highlight the invaluable role of local experts and scientists who substantially improve the ability to learn about hidden vulnerabilities, hazards, and people’s responses. Local experts can, for example, determine more precise locations of impacts or the degree of resilience of local communities. Engaging with scientists and local experts also allows for exchange of pre-publication material as well as information that, owing to levels of uncertainty, does not make it into peer-reviewed journals. This informal knowledge can sometimes be much more important than published data.

In 2012, for example, scientists at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology warned the U.S. Air Force team of new constellations of risks. They saw that a 0.5゚C increase in sea surface temperature, combined with a typical, seasonal tropical storm, could be catastrophic for Hawaii. The ocean currents could shift, changing historical storm tracks. The warning allowed time for simulating a storm’s potential impacts on Hawaiian infrastructure before such storms began occurring in late 2013.

To be useful, scenarios must be packaged for specific audiences. Generic warnings are ineffective, partially because they may not resonate with people’s own knowledge and experience. Unbelievable risk assessments therefore require an identification of critical nodes that can bring the disaster risks closer to home. Crucially, effective disaster planning hinges on reducing political barriers as much as on experiential learning.

Looking Ahead

The book also warns of new potential risks from both environmental factors and human actions. From hybrid warfare, where enemies can undermine community cohesion in the face of outside risks, to emerging technologies such as geoengineering, we lack historical experience that can help promote resilience well in advance. The combinations of risks formed by food insecurity, energy production, water resource availability, migrant flows, and disinformation campaigns can trap us into focusing on the most immediate and obvious risks—and thereby miss the most critical nodes in how societies sustain themselves. Nature won’t wait for us to be ready.

About these writer(s)
Chad Briggs is Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Alaska-Anchorage and was formerly Minerva Chair and Professor of Energy and Environmental Security at the U.S. Air Force (Air University).
Miriam Matejova is an Economic Advisor at Canada’s Ministry of the Environment, and formerly a lecturer at the University of British Columbia and visiting researcher at the University of Oxford.  

Source: BBC, Climate Central, CNA Corporation, “Disaster Security: Using Intelligence and Military Planning for Energy and Environmental Risks” by Chad Briggs and Miriam Matejova, Global Security Review, Office of Director of National Intelligence,, Taylor & Francis Group, The Center for Climate and Security.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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