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Marqusee and Titley: Learning Security Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

Soldiers_assist_residents_displaced_by_Hurricane_Sandy_in_Hoboken,_N.J.There is a lot we can learn from what went right and what went wrong in our preparation and response to Hurricane Sandy. Two former Department of Defense officials, Jeff Marqusee, former executive director of the DOD’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, and retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State, recently penned an op-ed for the Virginian-Pilot highlighting what we can learn from the military. Their points are specifically in regards to Hurricane Sandy, but the lessons they draw demonstrate how the “military planning community” is and will be a vital actor in preparing and responding to climate change-associated risks of all kinds.

Outside the security community there is sometimes a sense that “climate security” involves the military and other security institutions “taking over” a traditional environmental challenge and ‘securitizing’ it – which usually implies that the security community is addressing climate change as a mere means of achieving other national or international security goals. Marqusee’s and Titley’s article strikes at the heart of this misconception, particularly as they identify climate change, and the attendant uncertainties that stem from it, as a security threat in and of itself. In other words, there’s no need for an ulterior motive. Marqusee and Titley outline how the military, in cooperation with existing humanitarian and aid organizations, has the capacity to significantly advance our ability to prepare for and respond to climatic change.

Some particularly salient points from the article about planning for climate events amid uncertainty:

Our experience has taught us that uncertainty about potential high-impact events must be embraced and consciously factored into planning decisions.

Do we know the future? No. But to ignore the possibility is the same as assuming we have high confidence there will be no change – and that is simply not true. The military has a long history dealing with large uncertainties in its strategic planning. What is sometimes termed “deep uncertainties,” where one cannot assign probabilities to future events, are systematically considered and managed.

The military planning community has used many methodologies: exploiting rich scenario planning, using assumptions-based planning and similar methodologies. Fundamentally, they involve identifying all plausible vulnerabilities and ensuring that decision-makers see the potential impacts.

For extreme events like Sandy, which disproportionally constitute the bulk of future risk, we should exploit the lessons of military strategic planning.

Given the breadth of Marqusee’s and Titley’s combined experience dealing with risk and strategic planning, New York, Virginia, and other vulnerable locations in the United States and globally, could certainly benefit from their advice.

Read the full article here.

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