The Environmental Disasters Conference will address the increasing occurrence of environmental disasters and the science and decision-making needed to more effectively prepare, respond, and make our communities more resilient. The goal of the conference is to develop actionable outcomes that constructively advance decision-making on environmental disasters. It will engage 1,200 leaders from the emergency response, scientific, policy, conservation, and business communities, as well as federal and local government officials, who will work across traditional boundaries to develop strategies and launch new partnerships and initiatives.
• Cascading Disasters: As evidenced by the 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant, environmental disasters can be comprised of a series of devastating events with complex interrelationships. Disasters are often sudden events such as storm surges or fires, occurring on top of slow moving events like sea level rise or droughts driven by climate change. The conference will "unfold" the underlying relationships of environmental disasters and develop strategies to address them in more effective, holistic ways.
• Intersection of the Built and Natural Environment: As seen along the Gulf Coast of the United States, where and how society builds, and how it manages natural resources like wetlands, can minimize or magnify the impacts of natural disasters. The conference will explore ties between the built and natural environment in responding to environmental disasters.
• Disasters as Mechanisms of Ecological Change: Some types of disasters, like severe fires, floods, and droughts, can cause profound and lasting ecological change, particularly when the underlying ecosystem has been stressed by other occurrences such as inadequate fire and flood control systems, deforestation, and a warming climate. The conference will explore the ecological consequences of disasters and their impact on ecosystems and the critical services they provide.
• Rethinking Recovery and Expanding the Vision of Mitigation: Benjamin Franklin's observation that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is profound relevant to the consideration of environmental disasters mitigation and recovery. Automatic rebuilding in flood plains and fire zones are common and recurring examples, but there are deeper issues when the act of recovery from a disaster offers unique opportunities to achieve more resilient communities. Actions that reduce the severity of environmental disasters can become "no regrets" mitigation measures resulting in societal benefits even if a disaster never strikes. The conference will challenge participants to rethink and re-envision the concepts of mitigation and recovery and what they mean in terms of practical actions.
• Human Behavior and its Consequences: As evidenced by those who chose to leave New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached and those who chose to stay, human behavior before, during and after an environmental disaster can make the difference between tragedy and mere inconvenience. How can the public become more prepared before a disaster occurs and be able to make the best decisions? How can they be equipped to help themselves, their friends and families, and their neighbors when disaster strikes? The conference will confront contradictions and trade-offs in human behavior and explore many opportunities to save lives.
• "No Regrets" Resilience: The word "resilience" at this conference will capture the ability of a community confronted by environmental disasters to resist damage and to recover rapidly. "No regrets" resilience embodies the concept that there are actions which make a community resilient to environmental disasters and result in positive societal benefits even if a disaster never strikes -- hence, "no regrets."
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