What will the next decade of natural disasters look like?


The beginning of a new decade offers time for reflection on the events of the past and what is to come in the 21st century. Singling out any one story or particular narrative across an entire decade is difficult — and yet at least one notable, related series of events does stand out: the global impact of severe weather and natural disasters. 

According to The Economist, disasters worldwide have more than quadrupled since the 1970s, increasing to around 400 per year. More natural disasters come with a bigger price, both in terms of hard costs and lives lost or permanently altered. Every region of the world is affected in some way by extreme weather, and globally, it has cost trillions of dollars. One estimate places total worldwide deaths attributed to natural disasters at 60,000 people per year. Fortunately, a recent report in the National Academies Press confirms that “stressing prevention and preparedness while sustaining and enhancing essential disaster response, relief, and recovery capabilities” can lessen the impact of natural disasters.

Innovations and technological developments have played a large part in our global ability to save lives and property and will continue to do so in the coming years. Beginning in the 1940s, military “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft were first deployed to assist in gathering storm data and to provide a visual understanding of a hurricane’s size and scope. Seeing severe weather became critical to forecasting, preparing and remediating the catastrophic impact of disasters. Thankfully, our ability to foresee and forecast the consequences of severe weather and natural disasters has made leaps and bounds since then.  There is more work to do, and global imaging groups like Planet are at the forefront when it comes to providing the world with the benefit of sight — and near-real time sight at that

Technology has evolved rapidly: satellites are now designed, built and launched at a faster pace than ever seen before. For the first time, we have the ability to image the entire Earth on a daily basis to monitor and track large-scale environmental changes. This daily, high-resolution imagery has helped accelerate disaster response by mitigating risk, providing situational awareness and improving recovery with imagery before, during and after a disaster, anywhere on Earth.

Satellites have been capturing the Earth’s major events every day for almost a decade — from hurricanes, typhoons and flooding, to the effects of tornadoes. They have worked to track the path of the Amazon wildfires and provided valuable insights in predicting the fires’ path. Our technology has given us the ability to step outside of our own ecosphere and view the planet as an outsider might.

Standing at the brink of the 2010s just 10 short years ago, we could not have imagined we would have such a valuable resource. From the ability to continuously monitor the impacts of earthquakes, landslides, or even man-made disasters, Planet has created tools to better understand our world. 

We have never entered a new decade with as much knowledge about the natural world as we have now, nor have we had such valuable tools. We must use this knowledge to more clearly see our way through the next decade. 

Rich Leshner is Executive Vice President Operations for Planet Federal at Planet Labs Federal Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Plant Labs Inc. (Planet). He holds a master of science in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in public policy and public administration from The George Washington University.

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