FEMA's Former Chief Taps AI to Prep for Hurricanes and Rising Seas

The ability to forecast a major flooding event like Hurricane Florence has improved significantly. But understanding how such a storm will interact with the built environment and affect people living in a specific area is still quite limited.

The factors involved in predicting flood scenarios are changing faster than tools that help people prepare and adapt. For example, we know baseline sea levels made higher by climate change will mean bigger storm surges from hurricanes.

But human activity has intensified disasters in other ways, too. Population has exploded along U.S. coastlines, exposing far more people and infrastructure to related threats. Stephen Strader, an assistant professor of geography and the environment at Villanova University, calls this the “expanding bull’s-eye effect.”

“Societal growth is the biggest influence on disasters because it increases the potential for loss,” Strader says. It also means more of the environment has been paved over by human habitation, changing the hydrology of major floods in ways that are not well measured or communicated.

Craig Fugate thinks a lot about the interplay of these issues. He led the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from 2009 to 2017. And as a Floridian he sees the lingering effects of previous hurricanes, as well as how rising seas are making flooding more routine—and displacing certain populations in the process.

In his post-FEMA career, Fugate is now Chief Emergency Manager of a start-up called One Concern, whic....

read more from scientificamerican.com