DOE Should Address Lessons Learned from Previous Disasters to Enhance Resilience

Natural disasters, such as cyclones, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, and severe storms—and the power outages resulting from these disasters—have affected millions of customers and cost billions of dollars. The growing severity of wildfires and extreme weather events in recent years has been a principal contributor to an increase in the frequency and duration of power outages in the U.S. Federal agencies, such as DOE and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, play a significant role in disaster response, recovery, and resilience.

This report (1) identifies lessons learned from federal, state, and other entities' responses to selected disasters that affected the electricity grid from 2017 to 2021; and (2) examines federal agency actions to address those lessons learned. GAO selected a nongeneralizable sample of 15 of 35 disasters that affected the grid from 2017 to 2021. The 15 selected were among the most severe events across a range of types, locations, and years. GAO also examined agency and industry responses; reviewed relevant reports, policies, and documents; and interviewed federal, state, and local officials, as well as selected industry stakeholders.

Power outages caused by natural disasters have affected millions of customers and cost billions of dollars. The Department of Energy plays a key role in disaster response and long-term electricity grid recovery.

DOE has taken some steps to improve its workforce and training, tools and technology, and local capacity to respond to disasters. But, DOE doesn't have a comprehensive plan for coordinating response and recovery responsibilities within the agency. In addition, DOE hasn't used lessons learned from previous disasters to prioritize recovery efforts.

In responding to selected disasters occurring between 2017 and 2021, federal, state, and other stakeholders identified lessons learned in the areas of planning and coordination, workforce and training, tools and technology, and local capacity. In the area of planning and coordination, agency officials and reports highlighted that disaster responses were more effective when strong working relationships existed between federal, industry, and local stakeholders. Regarding workforce and training, a Department of Energy (DOE) report emphasized the importance of having a dedicated pool of responders with expertise in grid reconstruction and recovery, especially when responding to multiple, concurrent or successive disasters.

Federal agencies have taken steps to address lessons learned by improving workforce and training, tools and technology, and local capacity. For example, to address workforce lessons, DOE began deploying a Catastrophic Incident Response Team to quickly bring responders with subject-matter expertise to affected areas. However, DOE does not have a comprehensive approach for coordinating its broader grid support mission that includes disaster response, grid recovery, and technical assistance efforts. Specifically, roles and responsibilities within DOE for transitioning from response to recovery are unclear, as are how lessons learned from previous disasters are used to prioritize recovery and technical assistance efforts. GAO's Disaster Resilience Framework states that bringing together the disparate missions and resources that support disaster risk reduction can help build resilience to natural hazards. By establishing a comprehensive approach that clearly defines roles and responsibilities, and acting on lessons learned across DOE, the department could better target resources and technical assistance. This approach, in turn, can lead to enhanced grid resilience and reduced disaster risk.


ADPC and UNDRR Sign a Statement of Cooperation to Promote Climate and Disaster Resilience

The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) have signed a Statement of Cooperation to strengthen the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Sendai Framework), promote climate and disaster resilience, encourage knowledge sharing for informed decision-making, and improve risk governance across Asia and the Pacific.

ADPC and UNDRR reaffirmed their commitment to promote climate and disaster resilience as core components of risk-informed sustainable development. Both organizations will work together to enhance the dissemination of regional knowledge on disaster risk, address disaster damage and loss data challenges, and strengthen the analytical and evidence base for regional cooperation to implement the Sendai Framework and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

They will collaborate in scaling up the support to countries for the development and implementation of national and local disaster risk reduction strategies in line with national climate change adaptation and national development plans.

The Statement of Cooperation will also strengthen existing collaboration between ADPC and UNDRR in many areas, such as developing online courses on Sendai Framework Monitor, devising a COVID-19 Small Business Continuity and Recovery Planning Toolkit, and the development of disaster risk reduction status reports of countries in Asia and the Pacific.

Promoting transboundary disaster risk management is one of the key points of this Statement of Cooperation, thus both organizations will leverage their existing networks to promote transboundary risk management and fortify collaboration with other regional organizations.

The collaboration will in turn strengthen the implementation of the four Sendai Framework priorities for action and enhance the science-policy-practice interface in disaster risk reduction and climate resilience in Asia-Pacific and beyond.

Natural hazard triggered industrial accidents: Are they Black Swans?

A recently published JRC study examines whether technological accidents caused by natural hazards (Natech accidents) are real “Blacks Swans” (unpredictable and hence unpreventable events), identifies their possible causes and discusses effective strategies to manage extreme risks.
The study concludes that the Black Swan metaphor is overused for technological accidents in general and Natech accidents in particular, whose recurrence raises questions about the effectiveness of corporate oversight and the application of state-of-the-art knowledge in managing risks.
What are Natech accidents?
Natech accidents occur when the natural and technological worlds collide, wherever hazardous industry is located in areas prone to natural hazards. Past Natech accidents have often had significant impacts on public health, the natural and built environment, and the local, national or even global economy.
Major technological accidents considered unpreventable are occasionally called Black Swan events. Three features characterize a Black Swan:
- it must be an outlier with respect to normal expectations, making it unpredictable;
- it has to have a major impact;
- it can be explained in hindsight, making it appear predictable.
Inadequate risk management and organisational risk blindness
A closer look at past Natech accidents shows that the vast majority of these events, if not all, could have been foreseen and prevented using available information and knowledge prior to the disaster. They can therefore not be considered inevitable or Black Swans.
The JRC study provides a detailed analysis of the reasons for why Natech risks are often underestimated:
- Risk management traditions and the Act-of-God mindset - The focus for managing natural risks has traditionally been on the response side and hence on disaster management, rather than on prevention and risk management, whereas the technological-risk community has always focused on risk- rather than disaster management. Natech risk is sandwiched between these two worlds, and neither community feels very much at ease with taking ownership of the risk;
- Complexity of Natech risk scenarios - Natech risk analysis would need extensions to traditional risk-analysis methodologies in order to cover the multi-hazard nature of the risk and the multitude of possible simultaneous scenarios;
- Risk governance and risk management problems due to the multi-stakeholder and multi-hazard nature of Natech risks, and the multitude of possibly conflicting issues that are usually on a manager’s radar screen;
- Socio-economic context, including group interests and power, economic pressure, and public or media indifference; and
- Human fallacies and cognitive biases that can corrupt the experiences we draw on for estimating risks.
Managing extreme risks
Building organisational resilience is key to managing risks effectively, in particular in high-risk industry. The JRC study discusses possible strategies to reduce extreme risks, prepare better for their consequences, and make Black Swans more accessible:
- Risk-based versus precaution-based strategies
- Disaster incubation theory and warning signals
- Mindfulness
- Resilience engineering
- Scenario planning
- Red teaming
While the JRC study is centered on Natech risks, it is generally applicable to managing also other types of extreme or low-probability risks.

Report First 3 months of 2021 brought billion-dollar disaster, warm start to spring for U.S.

Since January, conditions across the U.S. have been running warmer and wetter than normal. The nation also recorded its first billion-dollar weather and climate disaster of 2021 — the deadly deep freeze that enveloped much of the central U.S. in February — and two tornado outbreaks in late March.
The month of March turned out a bit warmer and drier than average, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
Here are more highlights from NOAA’s latest monthly U.S. climate report:
Climate by the numbers
Year to date | Billion-Dollar Disasters
The average U.S. temperature for the year to date (January through March) was 36.9 degrees F (1.8 degrees above average), which ranked in the warmest third of the record.
The contiguous U.S. also kicked off the year a little on the wet side, with a year-to-date average rainfall of 6.55 inches — 0.41 of an inch above average.
Most notable, the U.S. saw its first billion-dollar disaster of 2021 that had a devastating death toll: At least 125 people died as a direct or indirect result of a mid-February blanket of arctic weather that dropped temperatures to historic lows across the central United States. Texas experienced the majority of the property and infrastructure losses that were incurred by more than a dozen states. The preliminary total damage estimate for this extreme event — in excess of $10 billion — makes it the most costly winter weather disaster on record for the U.S., surpassing the so-called “Storm of the Century” that struck the Gulf Coast all the way up to Maine in 1993.
March 2021
The average monthly temperature across the contiguous U.S. was 45.5 degrees F (4.0 degrees above the 20th-century average) and ranked in the warmest third of the climate record.
Above-average temperatures were observed across much of the country, from the Northwest to the Northeast, as well as from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. North Dakota, for example, had its fourth-warmest March on record.
The average precipitation in the contiguous U.S. last month was 2.45 inches (0.06 of an inch below average), ranking in the middle third of the climate record.
Below-average precipitation fell across the Northwest, northern Plains, and Northeast, as well as portions of the Southeast, Deep South and West. Both Montana and North Dakota saw their second-driest March in 127 years.
More notable climate events in March
Deadly tornado outbreaks: In March, two rounds of deadly severe weather and tornadoes raked the U.S. South. More than 100 tornadoes were reported during the two outbreaks (March 17-18 and March 25-27). One particularly violent EF3-tornado struck Calhoun County, Alabama, on March 25 and caused five deaths.
A chilly, wintry month for Alaska: The state shivered through its coldest March in four years. The average March temperature for Alaska was 7.2 degrees F, 3.6 degrees below the long-term average. The capital city of Juneau reported its snowiest March since 2007.
Drought improved slightly: By the end of March, the U.S. Drought Monitoroffsite link reported that nearly 44% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down from 46.6% at the beginning of the month. Drought improved across parts of the central Rockies, central Plains, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

WMO boosts regional cooperation in Asia-Pacific

The Typhoon Committee, which symbolizes the successful cooperation between WMO and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, holds its 53rd annual session, woth participants from the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and national Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) agencies who will exchange information on achievements of the past session, review activities of the Members, as well as operational and research collaborations, with the clear focus on reducing the number of lives lost and damage to property caused by tropical cyclones and typhoons.
On top of the disruption and catastrophic impacts caused by COVID-19, the Asia-Pacific region was hit by successive hazards in 2020, including tropical cyclones, floods, droughts, sand and dust storms and heatwaves. 23 named tropical cyclones of tropical storm intensity or above formed over the western North Pacific and the South China Sea.
The strongest tropical cyclone of the season was Super Typhoon Goni (2019). It made landfall over northern Philippines on 1 November and caused catastrophic damage. A minimum pressure of 912.1 hPa was reported in Virac and a maximum gust of 198 km/h was reported in Legaspi City. 25 people died and 399 injured, and the social and economic loss was estimated to be over 17 billion Philippines Peso, according to a report from the Philippines national meteorological and hydrological service PAGASA.
Two major tropical cyclones hit the Korean Peninsula within a few days in early September, with Typhoon Maysak making landfall near Busan on 3 September, followed by Haishen on 7 September. Maysak brought 1037 mm of rainfall over two days to a site on Jeju Island, and wind gusts on the island up to 165.6 km/h, with high waves of more than 8 m. The damage costs of Mayask and Haishen reaches over 200 million USD, with a possible recovery cost of 548 million USD, according to a report submitted to the Typhoon Committee by the Korea Meteorological Administration. Both tropical cyclones led to significant flooding on the Korean Peninsula and in western Japan, and 41 lives were lost when a ship sank off western Japan during the passage of Maysak.
Sustainable Development
Although countries across the region have committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 — to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ – this will remain a challenge if their populations remain susceptible to disasters that threaten to reverse hard-won progress towards the SDGs.
Building on the success of the Typhoon Committee, WMO continues to work with countries in the region, often in partnership with other United Nations entities, to build greater resilience to natural disasters that wreak a heavy economic and human toll.
In particular, WMO and UNESCAP in 2020 focused on implementing collaborative activities under their Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). These activities highlight the synergistic benefits that are derived from both organisations’ work on building resilience to climate and disaster risks and the promotion of impact-based early warning services and systems.
This MoU was renewed by Ms Armida Salsiah-Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of UNESCAP and Prof. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of WMO on 21 September 2019 during the UN Climate Summit held in New York, based on their aligned values and objectives and desire to work together in areas of mutual interest.
A Joint Workshop on Strengthening Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems and Early Actions in Southeast Asia was organized by WMO and hosted by UNESCAP in Bangkok, Thailand from 18 to 20 February 2020. Participants reached a consensus on developing a coordinated Southeast Asia-wide framework for strengthening the hydro-meteorological disaster risk management and capacity development of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.
The Regional Climate Outlook Fora (RCOFs) have been guided and supported by WMO and its partners to promote collaboration, knowledge and information sharing on seasonal climate prediction and its likely implications for the most impacted socio-economic sectors since the late 1990s. The potential to add further value to the outputs of RCOFs through impact-based products was introduced by UNESCAP during the South Asian Seasonal Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF), the Forum on Regional Climate Monitoring, Assessment and Prediction for Asia (FOCRAII) and the East Asia winter Climate Outlook Forum (EASCOF).
Looking ahead, with its official membership in the United Nations’ Regional Collaborative Platform in Asia and the South-West Pacific, WMO will build on the achievements of 2020 and further expand regional cooperation in the broader context of sustainable development. In 2021, the partnership will continue its critically important mission to build resilience to climate and disaster risk; and promote the social and economic benefits of impact-based early warning services in the Asia Pacific region. WMO’s longstanding and manifold regional initiatives and capacity development programmes in Asia-Pacific will now be further enhanced.

Fujitsu Leverages World's Fastest Supercomputer and AI to Predict Tsunami Flooding

A new AI model that harnesses the power of the world's fastest supercomputer, Fugaku, can rapidly predict tsunami flooding in coastal areas before the tsunami reaches land.
The development of the new technology was announced as part of a joint project between the International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IREDeS) at Tohoku University, the Earthquake Research Institute at the University of Tokyo, and Fujitsu Laboratories.
The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami highlighted the shortcomings in disaster mitigation and the need to utilize information for efficient and safe evacuations.
While tsunami observation networks in Japanese coastal waters have been strengthened since then, using the data produced from those networks to predict a tsunami's path once it hits land has gained greater urgency. This is especially true since a major earthquake is likely to hit Japan's densely populated east coast sometime in the near future.
Tsunami prediction technologies will allow authorities to obtain accurate information quickly and aid them in effectively directing evacuation orders.
Fujitsu, Tohoku University, and The University of Tokyo leveraged the power of Fugaku to generate training data for 20,000 possible tsunami scenarios based on high-resolution simulations. These scenarios were used to streamline an AI model that uses offshore waveform data generated by the tsunami to predict flooding before landfall at high spatial resolution.
Conventional prediction technologies require the use of supercomputers and make rapid prediction systems difficult to implement. The current AI model, however, can be run in seconds on ordinary PCs.
When the model was applied to a simulation of tsunami flooding in Tokyo Bay following a large earthquake, it achieved highly accurate predictions with a regular PC within seconds. The results matched tsunami flooding of the tsunami source models released by the Cabinet Office of Japan.
The research team will continue to make use of Fugaku's high-speed performance in the future by training the system with additional tsunami scenarios. Doing so will help realize AI that can predict tsunami flooding over even wider areas.