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Science During Crisis: New Report with Recommendations

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[Cambridge, MA / Washington, DC] – Major disasters are inevitable: earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, landslides, and tornadoes will be among the challenges ahead. What’s not inevitable is the role that science should play to improve how crises are understood and addressed. Scientific expertise should be a larger part of decision-making, communication, and crisis management and that will happen only if there is a collective effort toward that goal.

In Science During Crisis: Best Practices, Research Needs, and Policy Priorities, the newest publication from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, coauthors Rita R. Colwell and Gary F. Machlis offer insights and recommendations to increase the role of scientists in times of disaster that will result in better individual and institutional decisions.

“While there has been considerable research on the role of science in predicting and preparing for disasters, there has been less attention given to the application of science during disasters,” said David W. Oxtoby, the President of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. “Our recommendations for science during crisis are for changes in practice and policy that build on how scientists can contribute to the essential work of the emergency management community.”

An inherent challenge to the use of science during crisis is the array of disciplines – including biology, engineering, geochemistry, medicine, oceanography, and physics – that relate to both natural and human-caused disasters. The new publication sets forth a broad agenda that recognizes the range of expertise and the value of that knowledge to emergency managers, government leaders, policy-makers, business-owners, and the public. Together, they can increase society’s ability to manage the risks and damages of crises that threaten lives and communities.

“This report is a call to action for federal, state, and local agencies – along with academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and others – to increase the role of science in responding to disasters,” said coauthor Colwell, the former Director of the National Science Foundation and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland. “The urgency here is not simply that we know disasters are coming but that we should expect them to be more frequent, costly, and deadly in the future. The sooner we focus on what science can offer during crisis, and build that into our response, the better prepared we can be.”

“Fateful decisions are an inevitable part of environmental crises. We cannot decrease the significance of the choices that are made but we can increase the training, data, research, and coordination we rely on to make those decisions,” said Machlis, the former Science Advisor to the Director of the U.S. National Park Service and University Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson University. “If in the short-term we can identify best practices, initiate a research agenda, and implement new policies, then we can realize the benefits of greater integration of the best of emergency management with the best of science in the long-term.”

The report recognizes that advanced planning, full coordination, and important conversations about codes of conduct need to be in place prior to a crisis, so that once disaster is underway, responders can focus on sharing information, enhancing safety, and guiding recovery.

Science During Crisis: Best Practices, Research Needs, and Policy Priorities is part of the Academy's multi-year, multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary Public Face of Science project, which is supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The project is dedicated to exploring the evolving relationship between scientists and the public. More information on this project is available at www.publicfaceofscience.org.

 

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The Public Face of Science

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Richard A. Meserve