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The importance of synthesis to disaster planning and response

Deepwater Horizon oil spill, 2010. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
Deepwater Horizon oil spill, 2010. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

The U.S. government spends billions on disaster relief every year—$136 billion between 2011 and 2013 alone—but one crucial area tends to be overlooked. There are often major gaps in the scientific understanding of the environments in question.

When disasters hit, responders must often play catch up, using valuable time assessing prior ecological conditions or pulling together scattered sources of information.

In a recent paper in the Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Center for Urban Waters Distinguished Scientist in Residence Usha Varanasi proposes a new model for disaster-planning and response, in which baseline ecosystem data and syntheses are collected in advance of possible incidents. She calls it “frontloading the science,” and you can download the paper at the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.


Varanasi, Usha (2013), Making Science Useful in Complex Political and Legal Arenas: A Case for Frontloading Science in Anticipation of Environmental Changes to Support Natural Resource Laws and Policies, Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Vol. 3, Number 2.