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Another day, another horror.

For those who don't remember, back in the late 1990's, Al Gore championed something called the Global Disaster Information Network. It's purpose was to help disaster managers deal with sudden events like...tsunamis.

But Al Gore was expected to run for president. And lord knows, nothing is more important than politics. So...the repubs killed it. And god knows how many people they killed too.

First, you have to understand what the GDIN was. Here is the best study on its application.

But the strongest statement about the damage caused comes from Gore's chief advisor on this issue,

He wrote this just after the tsunami in Asia. It is frighteningly prescient.

Looking for the Next Tsunami


PERHAPS the most distressing aspect of the Asian tsunami disaster is that thousands of lives could have been saved if people in coastal areas had been told that the deadly wave was approaching. Now, as politicians and scientists start discussing ways of improving early warning systems, a history lesson may be of some help.

During the second Clinton administration, officials from the Central Intelligence Agency and other government departments approached me with a good idea: to establish a "fusion center" for information about natural disasters that would not only compile data but also stimulate research on forecasting. My boss, Vice President Al Gore, was interested, and after a great deal of informal interagency discussion, we began developing the Global Disaster Information Network. It called for a secure, Internet-based system to help disaster managers around the world plan for calamities and respond more effectively.

We set up a low-tech test model of the network and used it to coordinate information about Hurricane Mitch, which devastated Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998. This helped us compile a list of the villages that were most severely hit by the storm and get it to governmental relief agencies. We also tested the system with the Russians, in a simulated earthquake and environmental disaster in the Sakhalin oil shelf.

Encouraged by the results, we sought to make the network a permanent budget item, but colleagues at several agencies soon told me that the plan's association with the vice president, who was expected to run for president in 2000, made it a political target on Capitol Hill. Even so, enough discretionary money was scraped together to hold an international conference in Washington in 1998, where the idea was welcomed by foreign representatives.

It was also our hope that the global disaster network would build on work already under way in two environmental initiatives. The first of these was known as Medea and operated out of the C.I.A. It was started during the George H. W. Bush administration at the instigation of Mr. Gore, then a senator, and its purpose was to discover whether intelligence archives and collection systems might provide clues to important issues in environmental science. Medea did extremely interesting work, both classified and unclassified, related to geological issues and natural disasters. But it too drew hostile attention in Congress, and lost its financing.

The other initiative, begun early in the second Clinton administration, was the Environmental Intelligence Center. Although technically inside the C.I.A., it operated independently, off the C.I.A. campus. It did some path-breaking experiments by applying intelligence systems to disaster management. But like its predecessor, it was eventually extinguished for political reasons.

Today, the Global Disaster Information Network survives, but it is essentially a Web site serving as a discussion forum for a large number of disaster managers. It does good work, but lacking substantial United States support, it has not developed into what was intended: a powerful force for informing emergency planning worldwide, and for advancing the science of disaster prediction.

It is painful to think of what might have been if, seven years ago, Congress had strongly supported our plan for the network. For one thing, it is possible that high-quality tsunami sensors would have been developed and placed on the floor of the Indian Ocean. Thus when the earthquake off Sumatra occurred on Dec. 26, scientists at a monitoring hub would have understood the risk of tsunami, and used the Web to activate an international alarm system. Disaster managers with responsibility for Asian coastal areas could have used preset links to send automated Internet, fax and phone messages to officials in the endangered countries. By the time the tsunami arrived, several hours after the earthquake, tens of thousands of people might have been able to flee to higher ground.

In addition, in the aftermath of the killer wave, the global network's disaster-control systems would have kicked in, with experts making quick damage assessments, getting emergency aid and rescue teams to the most crucial places more quickly. Yes, thousands would have perished in any event, but many others might have had a fighting chance.

The earthquake and tsunami were uncontrollable natural events. But the worldwide failure to anticipate and prepare was not just a technical failure, but also one of political vision. There are going to be more calamities, and we must look at them as opportunities to do better.

Congress and the Bush administration should expand the Global Disaster Information Network along the lines of the original plan. Research into disaster forecasting - by the government, academics and nongovernmental groups - should be intensified. More warning systems, such as ocean-bottom earthquake detectors, should be put in place. In a natural disaster, we can save lives locally if we have a warning and response system that connects globally.

I hate the republicans. Tax cuts for the wealthy? "Absolutely!" Science and protection of the world's population? "Why do that when we can cut taxes for the wealthy"

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Comment Preferences

  •  Fatalities and injuries from tsunamis don't count (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Louisiana 1976

    if the dead and injured are not in R districts. And then not if the area is safely enough R that as with Haley Barbour, he has no fear of not being reelected, and can swipe off Katrina money intended for indiiduals in his state and apply it instead to business development.

  •  not that GOP cuts to disaster response aren't bad (0+ / 0-)

    but japan and most of the pacific has something like this in place already. the indian ocean didn't, which is why that letter made sense in the wake of the boxing day quake. applying it to the north pacific, OTOH, doesn't.

    when an 8.9 quake hits just offshore of your country, and a historic tsunami is barreling at you, even a good alert system won't save you if you're far from high ground. this is not to say that it's not a good idea to constantly be improving our alert and response systems (japan is one of the best, if not the best, in the world at this), but let's be realistic about the nature of severe natural disasters.

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