Days before Haiyan's landfall, the forecast models showed the threat. Uncertainty was low as the best models honed in on the solution. Some warnings went out, but the major players waiedt until death and destruction occured before initiating a major response. The storm hit, victims were injured and desperate, and help did not begin arriving in force until 3-5 days after the event. Many die, others sicken, looting begins, and the situation deteriorates until the second week after the storm.
Sounds familiar? This kind of scenario is SO familiar, from Katrina to Haiyan and a many storms in between.
We can do much better. Mankind, and particularly the U.S., needs to deploy on forecast, not deploy on disaster. We can do this now for the simple reason that weather forecasts are hugely better than even a decade ago. Sandy was a good example of our increased prediction prowess, and there are many more. So why begin to deploy relief AFTER the disaster strikes, but before? And have the capability to move in with massive resources immediately after the storm passes.
Consider Supertyphoon Haiyan. Forecasts for landfall on the Philippines of an intense typhoon were made days before. The best numerical weather prediction forecasts had stabilized on a very threatening solution early in the week. For example, here are the 48 and 96 hr forecasts of sea level pressure and 850 hPa (aournd 5000 ft) wind speed for 48 and 96 hr before landfall from the European Center models. Both forecasts had the right position for a very strong storm. The threat was clear.
To quote Dr. Jeff Master's WeatherUnderground blog on December 5th, three days before landfall:
"Both the GFS and European models predict that Haiyan will hit the central Philippines between 3 - 6 UTC on Friday, and Haiyan will likely be the most dangerous tropical cyclone to affect the Philippines this year."
With a high probability of a huge supertyphoon heading for the extremely vulnerable Philippine coast, the world waited when it should have acted.
The U.S. decided to deploy the carrier George Washington and its group, which was in Hong Kong, on November 11th, more than TWO DAYS after the storm hit. According to Pentagon information it should take 48-72 hrs to be on station. They should have deployed in the days before the storm's landfall, waiting a safe distance away until they could move in quickly. Deployment of other aid should have begun at a similar, pre-landfall time.
Better late than never.
In many ways, aircraft carriers are the perfect delivery system for help in such events. They are stand-alone cities with huge resources. Helicopters and VTOL aircraft that can get into the most difficult conditions. Large medical facilities. The capability to hold vast supplies of food, water, generators, and other necessary equipment. Unmanned and manned aircraft that can reconnoiter the damage and provide critical information.
Let me go even further. Imagine if three of the U.S. carrier groups were given the primary missions of providing relief for major disasters. Yes, they would retain substantial armaments to be available for the national defense, but they would be supplied with massive supplies and experienced personnel to deal with large disasters. To push this idea further, one might station these carrier groups in three positions that might be most useful for disasters: off of SE Asia, NW of Africa, and in the Caribbean (I put C's at the suggested positions). With two or more days warning for major storms, they could be in position in time. For earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions they would move immediately after disaster strikes. Europe and Australians can take care of themselves.
Can you imagine how many lives such an approach could save? Can you imagine the good will it would engender for the U.S.? Instruments of war being used as instruments to protect life and property around the world. Too idealistic? Perhaps. Possible to do? Without a doubt.
But carriers or not, my basic idea is simple. Weather forecasts (and ancillary forecasts like waves and water level) have gotten much better during the past decades. For most weather disasters, the 2-3 days forecasts will be very, very good. If meteorologists believe uncertainty is low, then the U.S. government, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other countries should begin deployment no less than 48h BEFORE weather disasters strike. Have the capability to rush in help and supplies as soon as severe weather clears.