Political science

October 9, 2006

The National Science Board, an independent advisory body to the president and Congress on national science and engineering policy, is currently advising President Bush and Congress that the government needs to do more to understand and protect against hurricanes.

The National Science Board’s draft report, “Hurricane Warning: The Critical Need for a National Hurricane Research Initiative,” decries how fragmented and under-funded current research into hurricanes is — despite the fact hurricanes cost citizens and the economy billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Hurricanes caused $168 billion in losses and close to 1,500 lives in the past two years alone.

The board is recommending a more coordinated government effort to improve hurricane science and engineering research. It also is recommending about $300 million per year in additional funds be used to assist with the research.

Current hurricane research and funding concentrate on short-term forecasting rather than on longer-term issues of engineering and structural design, according to the report.

“We urgently need a determined effort to maximize our understanding of hurricanes and ensure the effective application of science and engineering outcomes for the protection of life and property,” the report stated.

Hopefully, the politicians in the White House and Congress will listen to the advice of the scientists and engineers.

One person who appears to be listening is Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. Martinez immediately introduced legislation, the National Hurricane Research Initiative (NHRI), incorporating the National Science Board suggestions. The legislation would assign the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which currently runs the nation’s U.S. Hurricane Research Division, with joint responsibility for coordinating hurricane research. The legislation also would appropriate $435 million per year for research projects through 2017.

Martinez is not alone in pushing for the initiative — it is a bipartisan bill. Bill cosponsors include Senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., David Vitter, R-La., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

“Given the enormous cost associated with hurricanes, we ought to better coordinate research and information about hurricane prediction, observation, the vulnerability of structures and how we might develop better evacuation plans,” Martinez noted.

Now politicians have the sound advice of scientists and engineers, along with a legislative vehicle, to improve how the nation protects its citizens and economy from future hurricanes.

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