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2017 Hurricanes: Military Increasingly Getting Its Feet Wet

Loading Water Navy (Puerto Rico)

Sailors load water near San Juan, Puerto Rico, as humanitarian relief following Hurricane Maria. Navy photo, Petty Officer 3rd Class Danny Ray Nunez Jr.

By Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett, United States Navy (Retired), Senior Research Fellow

Admiral Keating, Commander of U.S. Northern Command from 2004 to 2007, remarked that “The energy Katrina released was the equivalent of 1,000 Hiroshima explosions.” In responding to the aftermath of the hurricane, U.S. Northern Command units – in conjunction with the National Guard – providing tens of thousands of military personnel, search and rescue resources, and humanitarian supplies.

Though the combined destructive energy and impact of the 2017 Hurricane triumvirate, Harvey, Irma and Maria, have yet to be conclusively framed and assessed, it’s worthwhile even now to look at some of the ways that the military is increasingly being drawn into the kinds of battles that can’t be won with weaponry. Such conversations are especially relevant since the military (particularly, Combatant Commands, their components, and National Guard units) is increasingly being called upon to significantly augment civil emergency agencies after big storms events. (more…)

Puerto Rico and Climate Security Planning

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U.S. Navy conducts search for people in distress after Hurricane Maria (U.S. Navy photo by Liam Kennedy)

Guest post by Chad Briggs, Strategy Director, GlobalInt LLC

News of the unfolding humanitarian disaster in the US territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria have been disquieting, to say the least. Critics have accused the Trump administration of slow response to the hurricane impacts, while defenders of the White House claim that such responses take time, and that things are going as well as could be hoped. Coupled with the damage to Florida and Texas following Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the US and its Caribbean neighbors have experienced the most intense month of hurricane activity in history.

Although conditions are far from stable and it is too early to draw full conclusions from current events, two important points should be made in reference to the September 2017 hurricanes. First, despite the complicated nature of disaster response and the difficulties in aiding an island with millions of people, planning techniques exist that allow effective mitigation and response- it is a matter of political will as to how well they are employed. A related point is that such disasters may well become more severe due to climate change, and it is incumbent upon the US government and its allies to plan for such events and their impacts well in advance. (more…)

How a Hurricane Could Paralyze the U.S. Government and Jeopardize National Security

Photographic copy of an historic photograph (From the Navy Yard Historical Center). AERIAL VIEW OF THE NAVY YARD DURING THE 1936 FLOOD. VIEW LOOKING NORTHWEST. BUILDING 36, JUST HABS DC,WASH,74-F-35

Aerial view of the Navy Yard during the 1936 flood. Photo by Library of Congress

How a Major Hurricane Could Paralyze the Government and Jeopardize National Security or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Preparedness (cheesy reference to Dr. Strangelove for those who missed it).

Last week, Rolling Stone Magazine’s Justin Nobel wrote a lengthy article that asks a question not many people are asking: What Happens When a Superstorm Hits D.C.?. Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board Member, Brigadier General Gerry Galloway, U.S. Army (retired), one of the nation’s premier experts on flood risks to critical military and civilian infrastructure, was interviewed for the story. From the article:

When the big storm hits D.C., the resulting disaster may not kill as many as Katrina, or flood as much physical real estate as Harvey, but the toll it takes on American institutions will be unfathomable. The storm will paralyze many of the agencies that operate and defend the nation, raising the specter of national-security threats. Imagine, says Gerald Galloway, a disaster and national-security expert at the University of Maryland who served 38 years in the military, “the world waking up some morning to see an aerial photograph of Washington, D.C., with everything from the Lincoln Memorial to the grounds of the Capitol under-water – that certainly does not speak well for the United States’ preparedness.”

(more…)

U.S. National Guard Chief: Climate change “part of our job jar”

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Soldiers with the Texas Army National Guard move floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Zachary West)

Over the last month, the US National Guard has activated thousands of members from across the country to help put out wildfires and respond to three severe hurricanes. It is no wonder then that when asked by a reporter on Tuesday how the climate was affecting National Guard activities, General Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, went into detail on why he takes it seriously (see below). General Lengyel also emphasized that the impacts of climate change are felt around the country. As the wildfires and hurricanes demonstrate, natural disasters in one region of the United States are often responded to by National Guard members from all across the country – sometimes from states thousands of miles away.  Secretary of Defense James Mattis has stated that preparing for climate requires a “whole of government” response. Gen Lengyel’s comments suggest it will also require a “whole of country” response.  (more…)

Lake Chad: Tackling Climate-Fragility Links

Lake ChadBy Stella Schaller, adelphi

The state of emergency in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon continues – residents around Lake Chad struggle with extreme food insecurity and are severely impacted by widespread violence. The crisis is often cited as a living example of the security threats climate change can pose, but in fact many pressures interact to create a perfect storm of risks. A new short film by adelphi investigates the root causes of the crisis, the role of climate change, and possible entry points to tackle climate-fragility risks in the region and beyond. (more…)

Alice C. Hill Joins the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board

Hill_Alice Alice C. Hill is the newest distinguished member of the Center for Climate and Security Advisory Board. Alice is also a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where her work focuses on catastrophic risk, including the impacts of climate change. She previously served at the White House as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Resilience Policy on the National Security Council.  Hill led the creation of national policy regarding resilience to catastrophic risk. Her work spanned development of the first ever federal flood risk standard, creation of a national drought plan, expanding federal focus on the Arctic and addressing national security and climate change. (more…)

Military Times: Pentagon still preparing for climate change

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BEAUMONT, Texas (Sept. 3, 2017) U.S. Army Soldiers and U.S. Navy Sailors load water for delivery to victims of Hurricane Harvey, Sept. 3, 2017.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.,/Released)

There’s a great article in the Military Times today by Tara Copp detailing the degree to which the U.S. military continues to prepare for a changing climate, and the attendant impacts on its mission. In the piece, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr Patrick Evans states:

“As Secretary Mattis has said, the department evaluates all potential threats that impact mission readiness, personnel health and installation resilience, then uses that information to assess impacts and identify responses,” Evans said. “The effect of a changing climate is one of a variety of threats and risks, but it’s not a mission of the Department of Defense.”

Though this approach by the Department of Defense is not surprising, given the military’s long history of attention to the issue stretching back to 2003, and the unequivocal statements on the subject from at least four senior Pentagon leaders in the current Administration (Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva; Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer; and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment, Lucian Niemeyer) the article provides an important look into the very real and practical risks climate change and related weather events pose to military infrastructure and operations. This is especially in focus for the Department of Defense in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which have had a significant impact on the military in a number of ways, both in terms of its role in the relief effort, and the exposure of its infrastructure and assets. From the article: (more…)