Arlington, Va. - As insurers scramble to minimize risk and make the most of business opportunities related to climate change and other severe weather-related losses, the National Science Board, Arlington, Va., is asking for $300 million in additional funds to help fund a multi-agency effort to improve hurricane science and engineering research. In a draft report released yesterday, "Hurricane Warning: The Critical Need for a National Hurricane Research Initiative (NHRI)'' the report calls for "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 states." And while no individual weather event can be attributed to global warming, a growing body of new scientific data show that rising temperatures are likely increasing the intensity of hurricanes, and other extreme weather events in the U.S. and globally. Hurricane-related losses in the U.S. totaled $168 billion in the last two hurricane seasons, and 1,450 storm-related deaths were reported, according to the report. Analysis performed by the science board found that most hurricane-related funding is focused on short-term forecasting efforts, with less than 2% aimed at improving structural design and engineering for buildings. Annual funding for the government's "focal point'' for storm analysis, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division, has never exceeded $5.1 million, states the report, and its staff has declined by 30% in the past decade. "Billions of tax dollars have been provided for rescue, recovery, and rebuilding after hurricanes strike," notes the board. "Also important is national investment in the creation of new knowledge, and more effective application of existing knowledge to reduce these enormous public outlays, loss of life, and the associated societal disruption caused by hurricanes." The National Science Board, the governing board of the National Science Foundation (NSF), was established in 1950 to promote the progress of science, advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare, and secure the national defense. One lawmaker, referencing the report, has introduced bipartisan legislation to implement a national research initiative designed to better research, predict and prepare for hurricanes. U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, R-Fla., crafted the proposal working from recommendations presented by the National Science Foundation's new draft report. The bill's original cosponsors include Senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., David Vitter, R-La., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla. "Hurricanes, by far, cause more economic damage to a more widespread area than any other natural disaster. This bill takes sound, scientific recommendations and builds from them a foundation for better, more coordinated research," said Martinez. "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." The legislation would place responsibility for implementing and overseeing the NHRI on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill sets out specific goals for NHRI research, including predicting hurricane intensification, storm surge, rainfall, and inland flooding, improved observations, assessment of vulnerable infrastructure, interaction of hurricanes with engineered structures, improved computational ability, improved disaster response and recovery, and evacuation planning. The proposal also would establish a National Infrastructure Data Base in order to provide a baseline for developing standards, measuring modification and loss, and establishing public policy to better understand hurricanes and tropical storms. A Science Board task force has studied the issue of nationwide investments in hurricane science and engineering since December 2005. Its report warns that relative to the tremendous damage and suffering caused by hurricanes, the federal investment in hurricane science and engineering is insufficient, and as the board document exclaims, "Time is not on our side." Sources: Sen. Mel Martinez, The National Science Board, and Insurance Networking News Archives      

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