Aside: Current Event Exemplifies our Need of New Logic

As I write this, Hurricane Harvey is pouring multiple FEET of rain over a huge swath of Texas.  It is Monday, August 28th, 2017.  Flooding devastates all of southeast Texas; Houston is literally inundated.

The fourth largest city in America has no safe, passable highways.  Residents are without power, running out of food and supplies; houses and businesses are taking on water.

Just two weeks ago, DJT “reversed President Obama’s executive order from 2015, “Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.”  Obama’s order raised elevation standards for new federally funded projects to better withstand flooding, but now, federal dollars for repairing Harvey’s damage will require building standards that disaster-risk experts consider too lenient.”  See article from Grist Magazine.

Fortunately, residents of a Dickenson, TX retirement home were rescued by helicopter after sitting patiently in water up to their waists and rising.

Thousands of rescues have been achieved thus far; hundreds are in the queue as rescue workers collapse from fatigue.

As torrential rains continue, water pressure is threatening the security of upstream reservoir dams and must be relieved.  In unprecedented events, decision makers must guess at what is the best of all the worst-case-choices.  Their decision to do a controlled release of thousands of cubic feet of water per second may save the dams but will surely add to the already devastating flooding around the Bufflao Bayou, which runs right through downtown Houston.

Recovery from this epic catastrophe will take years.

People interviewed on television are being asked to compare and contrast this hurricane to others they have endured.  Their answers are pretty much the same; in effect, no respondent has ever seen anything like this, nor could they have imagined it.

Herein lies the rub.

Days prior to Harvey making landfall, predictions were made of it stalling over the area, dumping record amounts of rainfall of two to four feet.  That’s right, FOUR FEET!

Here is a tweeted warning from Eric Holthaus from August 23rd, two days before the storm came ashore.  His full article in Grist is linked to his name:

The following quote is taken directly from Tropical Atlantic Update, author: Brian McNoldy, Senior Research Associate at University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science:

There have been the usual “this came out of nowhere” and “we didn’t think it would be this bad” statements from officials. This is very unfortunate and irresponsible… this event was very well forecast and advertised for several days in advance.  Forecasts of widespread 15-20″ totals with some areas seeing 40 inches or more will verify. 

As someone who tries to get this information out, it’s frustrating and infuriating when people who should know better claim they had no warning.

The general public seems to fear the category rating of a storm more than the rainfall forecast, yet rain is historically responsible for 3.3 times more fatalities than wind for hurricanes hitting the United States.  Storms like Harvey may help to make the public more aware that rain is a very big deal, even though it’s not a part of the Saffir-Simpson category rating.

Not only were dire warnings given in advance of Hurricane Harvey, but the potential devastation of a storm like Harvey has been known by officials in Texas for years.

The following is excerpted from the full text of Hell and High Water by Neena Satija and Kiah Collier for The Texas Tribune, and Al Shaw and Jeff Larson for ProPublica, March 3, 2016, 8:59 a.m.

State leaders had known the specifics of a worst-case hurricane years before Ike.

In the mid–2000s, then-Gov. Rick Perry’s office asked researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Space Research to imagine monster storms pummeling the Texas Coast. They predicted that such a storm hitting the Houston area could cause $73 billion in damage and harm hundreds of industrial and commercial structures.

“Very likely, hundreds, perhaps even thousands would die,” the Houston Chronicle wrote in 2005, describing the scenario. The storm would also flood the homes of about 600,000 residents of Harris County, home to Houston, the newspaper said.

Around the same time, Harris County hired a local firm to do similar work and engineers there reached much the same conclusions, the article noted.

Officials presented the research all across the state’s coast in 2005. Soon after, hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, prompting national discussions on storm preparedness and response. But all that work did not result in any concerted effort to build a storm surge barrier.

Inaction persisted even after Ike, some say.

“There was not a whole lot of support from the state as far as seeking — or even expressing the importance of seeking — funds” to study a solution, said Sharon Tirpak, project manager for the Army Corps’ Galveston District.

Similar stories were heard related to Katrina.

People procrastinate and mighty organizations have inertia, likely for similar reasons:

  • Baseline: We regard the future as less concrete/real and therefore we are less emotionally connected to the future and care less about ourselves as they might be in the future.
  • Add a Stressor: When we have fear or anxiety about a potential in the future, these emotions happen in the present.
  • Attempt Relief: A handy strategy that makes us feel better in the present is to simply distract our attention from the worrisome future possibility with a more pleasant current actuality.
  • Reinstate Routines: We fear the unknown and crave stimulus that will reorient us in the familiar.  We get a snack, watch tv, surf the net, commiserate with a friend, take a nap or busy ourselves with our usual routines.
    • Ironically, worrying and/or complaining may be the routine of people who prefer the kind of attention derived from sniveling to the kind of attention they get when being assertive or trying to recruit others to help with substantial preparedness efforts.
  • Feedback Loop:  Worrying uses the same part of the brain that is needed for solving problems.  While worrying, the problems continue and worsen, which leads to more worrying.
  • All Hell Breaks Loose:  “Do or die” is a succinct way of explaining to someone that they have only two remaining options: attempting a last-minute escape or facing mortality.

Some of those Houstonians who held out until their options clarified into the simple binary choice, “do or die”, were scooped from their homes by rescuers before they could even put on their shoes.

Why did the officials of Texas years ago refuse to believe that it would eventually come to “do or die”?

Why did the residents in the path of Harvey not think “do or die” when they heard that widespread inundation was imminent?

Because the innate logic upon which they rely is defunct and needs an immediate upgrade!