Was Typhoon Haiyan the Most Intense Storm in Modern History?

Hurricane Camille in the Gulf.

Hurricane Camille in the Gulf. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guest essay by Patrick J. Michaels

Global warming buffs have been fond of claiming that the roaring winds of Typhoon Haiyan were the highest ever measured in a landfalling tropical cyclone, and that therefore (?) this is a result of climate change. In reality, it’s unclear whether or not it holds the modern record for the strongest surface wind at landfall.

This won’t be known until there is a thorough examination of its debris field.

The storm of record is 1969 Hurricane Camille, which I rode out in an oceanfront laboratory about 25 miles east of the eye. There’s a variety of evidence arguing that Camille is going to be able to retain her crown.

The lowest pressure in Haiyan was 895 millibars, or 26.42 inches of mercury. To give an idea, the needle on your grandmonther’s dial barometer would have to turn two complete counterclockwise circles to get there. While there have been four storms in the Atlantic in the modern era that have been as strong or a bit stronger, the western Pacific sees one of these approximately every two years or so.

Camille’s lowest pressure was a bit higher, at 905 mb (26.72 inches). At first blush it would therefore seem Haiyan would win the blowhard award hands down, but Hayian had a very large eye around which its winds swirled, while Camille’s was one of the smallest ever measured.  At times in its brief life, Camille’s was so small that the hurricane hunter aircraft could not safely complete a 360 degree turn without brushing through the devastating innermost cloud band, something you just don’t want to be near in a turning aircraft. In fact, the last aircraft to get into Camille, which measured 190mph sustained winds, lost an engine in the severe turbulence and fortunately was able to limp home.

Haiyan’s estimated 195mph winds were derived from satellite data, rather than being directly sensed by an aircraft.  But winds over the open ocean are always greater than those at landfall because of friction, and the five mph difference between the two storms is physically meaningless.

The chance that an onshore anemometer (wind-speed and direction sensor) will survive such a storm isn’t very high, so the winds are inferred by scientists and engineers from the texture and distribution of what’s left behind.

Every year, our National Hurricane Center summarizes the Atlantic hurricane season in painstaking detail in article published in the prestigious journal Monthly Weather Review. Describing Camille’s destruction,  it said:

Maximum winds near the coastline could not be measured, but from an appraisal of splintering of structures within a few hundred yards of the coast, velocities probably approached 175 k[nots].

That’s 201 mph.(Higher winds have been measured on small islands. With Haiyan and Camille, we are talking about storms running into large landmasses, where friction takes place.)

Camille killed 143 along the Gulf Coast, while Haiyan’s toll is currently estimated to be more than 2,500.

The difference, which is more than an order of magnitude, is largely (but not completely) due to poverty. Despite experiencing roughly five landfalling tropical cyclones per year, Philippine infrastructure simply isn’t as sound as it is in wealthier countries. As a grim example, a number of Haiyan’s casualties actually occurred in government-designated shelters that collapsed in the roaring eyewall.

In addition, the transportation infrastructure simply couldn’t handle a mass evacuation. If a similar situation applied to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Camille would have killed thousands at landfall, a fact noted in the Hurricane Center’s report on the 1969 season. Where Haiyan hit in the Philippines, there simply weren’t any roads capable of evacuating the citizens of Tacloban City safely inland, forcing them to ride it out dangerously close to the invading ocean and exposed to winds that pulverized most structures.

So, while we really don’t know which storm had higher winds, we do know that more affluent societies are much less affected by even the strongest storms. As Indur Goklany, (who writes frequently for Cato) has pointed out, if left to develop, the entire world will be much more resilient to climate change than it would be if the ineffective policies to “stop” it slowed economic growth.

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56 thoughts on “Was Typhoon Haiyan the Most Intense Storm in Modern History?

  1. What we need is a new characterization of hurricanes. Haiyan was only a category 4 typhoon at landfall, but its eye and size was enormous.
    May I suggest a number-letter system where Haiyan would be a 4E typhoon, Sandy would be a 0E hurricane and Camille a 5B hurricane. The letter signifies total energy in the system, the number maximum wind speed.

  2. The Philippine national weather bureau, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, or PAGASA, showed that Typhoon Haiyan’s intensity – measured by the wind strength at its center and the speed of gusts at landfall – Haiyan ranks at number 7 among the strongest storms ever to have hit the Philippines.

    http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.com/2013/11/was-haiyan-strongest-storm-ever-no.html

    Haiyan is 58th Super Typhoon since 1950 to reach central pressure of 900 mb or lower from historical records.

    50 of 58 Super Typhoons with pressure of 900 mb or lower occurred from 1950-1987 — only 8 in past 25 years.

  3. It’s a poor counterargument, tactically, to debate whether Haiyan was the strongest cyclone. The issue is the number and fierceness of cyclones in these days of global warming, and on that score we can confidently state that we have seldom had so few cyclones that did so little damage. If global waming is resposible for the cyclonic activity these past few years, then we should be quite happy with the state of our planet’s temperature.

  4. “It’s a poor counterargument, tactically, to debate whether Haiyan was the strongest cyclone.”

    Agreed completely. Engaging in this silly debate only lends credence to the hopeful fantasy from the warmists, that global warming caused/worsened this particular storm.

  5. Anyone read UK’s Independent front page? States the 17 year non-warming is untrue – Arctic figs diferent…. Could this be followed up? Quickly…

  6. Just imagine if we took all the money from the IPCC and anything related to climate change and invested in infrastructure improvements in poorer countries. But, of course, the bureaucrats would be forced to *gasp* work for a living, the scientists would be forced to *gasp again* perform actual science, and people’s lives would be improved. I will start believing in CAGW when those who promote the belief live the way they tell us we have to live. Lead by example.

  7. Where’s that hidden heat now? Hiding in the ocean depths? Hiding in the Attic (Ed. ITYM Arctic)?

    Its got to be hiding somewhere – anywhere – we haven’t looked yet.

    Waiting to jump out and go ‘boo!’.

    We know this must be so because Global Warming Due to CO2 is Settled Science!

    We all say it, so it must be true*

    *Cf Kiplings Jungle Book: The Hunting of Kaa, where Mowgli gets kidnapped by the Money People (Bandar Log) who consider themselves to be the wisest people in the jungle as confirmed by the above statement. They never achieve anything however except incessant chatter.

  8. Is 895 Mb pressure an estimate or actual reading and from where? I see the number tossed about, but cannot find it actually verified and documented.

    TIA

  9. Not only is the transportation infrastructure of the Philippines inadequate to a mass evacuation, and the structures incapable of withstanding typhoon-strength winds, but many if not most residents have no autos.

    As for high levels of damage, death and destruction, Goklany and others have continued to point out that in many cases population and investment in coastal areas subject to these kinds of events continue to grow, and existing investments (hotel and other property values, for example) continue to appreciate in value. That will always serve as a complication that is not easily separate out in the post-mortem assessments, and easily twisted to suggest a conclusion that is not so clear and often WRONG.

  10. “As Indur Goklany, (who writes frequently for Cato) has pointed out, if left to develop, the entire world will be much more resilient to climate change than it would be if the ineffective policies to “stop” it slowed economic growth.”

    Perhaps, but this still maintains the position that the climate is changing for the worse. It cannot be determined by counting casualties or property damage as neither are constant and have been increasing at a significant rate. So that if storms appear exactly the same with the intensity there would be an increase in destruction as population increases.
    In addition much has been made of rising global sea levels which have supposedly risen 7.7in since 1870 (wikipedia). so if sees hadn’t risen 7.7in then the 20 foot storm surge would have only been 19 ft 4 in. Is that an improvement.
    Poverty in a growing population is the main issue as it is in Haiti or anywhere subject to the full force of nature. .

  11. Joseph Adam-Smith says:

    Anyone read UK’s Independent front page? States the 17 year non-warming is untrue – Arctic figs diferent…. Could this be followed up? Quickly…

    The very simple answer is that GISS do infill all the gaps in the Arctic with their 1200km smoothing. And they still come up with a pause, just the same as the other datasets.

    http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/missing-heat-has-left-the-deep-ocean-last-seen-in-arctic/

  12. Everyone wants to be, or survive “#1″. Eventually sanity returns and the real scientists do their work and categorize each of the storms. Right now, no one wanting to believe Haiyan was the strongest, will be pursuaded of anything else.

  13. Typhoon Tip had a central pressure of 870 mb but it did not hit any consequential landmass at that level. Pressure measured by airborne dropsondes. Haiyan’s was inferred from satellite imagery. Clearly the difference in radial velocity in the eyewall between Haiyan and Camille was easily enough to negate the 10mb pressure difference. Whether or not it actually did will be determiined by Haiyan’s debris fields.

  14. Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in 2008

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Nargis

    “and there have been allegations that government officials stopped updating the death toll after 138,000 to minimize political fallout.”

    I wonder how many people remember this disaster?

    .If Typhoon Haiyan had hit Burma with its government it may have been forgotten by now.

  15. Patrick Michaels
    This won’t be known until there is a thorough examination of its debris field.

    Monthly Weather Review
    Maximum winds near the coastline could not be measured, but from an appraisal of splintering of structures within a few hundred yards of the coast, velocities probably approached 175 k[nots].

    Q) What does this mean?

    Is it compared to the previous debris / splinters in the Philippines or another country like the USA? If structures, then poorly build homes would fair badly compared to structures in Tokyo?

  16. A totally obsolete article that doesn’t point out that the “Biggest Typhoon” ever was only a PR stunt in support of COP 19 in Warsaw.

    In Warsaw the hard core ECO NAZI’s who already saw all their catastrophic claims debunked not only by sane scientists, skeptic blogs and ClimateGate I and II but also by mother nature have undertaken another attempt to put the shackles on our Global Populations and kill our economies for good.

    Ryan Maue has the exact rank and classification of this storm and put it on number 58 since 1950.

    Case closed

  17. Compare the 1970 Bhola cyclone that hit East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). While only a category 3 cyclone, some 300,000 to 500,000 people perished for lack of civil action to prepare and lack of cyclone shelters.
    Adaptation, by building cyclone shelters and improving civil defense warnings has drastically reduced the death toll in subsequent cyclones. More are needed.

  18. “This won’t be known until there is a thorough examination of its debris field”
    If this were most other fields, we might have some confidence that the examination would provide information that led examiners to objectively determine wind speeds. However, in this particular field, bias, politics and ego’s rule. Why wouldn’t examiners with a preconceived notion and number in mind in their head, look for evidence to support that?

    In this case, we couldn’t get any actual measurements but an assessment of damage and debris fields would seem to have plenty of room for subjective interpretation.

    Is this concern legit or have my learned experiences in the real world of climate science made me overly skeptical of related fields?

    I

  19. Joseph Adam-Smith says:
    November 18, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Anyone read UK’s Independent front page? States the 17 year non-warming is untrue – Arctic figs diferent…. Could this be followed up? Quickly…

    I wouldn’t pay attention to the Independent.

    Independent – 20 March 2000
    Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
    Independent – 27 June 2008
    Exclusive: Scientists warn that there may be no ice at North Pole this summer

    The funny thing is that in the front page of today’s independent I see this news story.

    Britain is set to see the first low-level snow of the year this week as bitter arctic winds bring plummeting temperatures accompanied by rain, sleet and snow

    …..In recent years Britain has seen its fair share of snow, but nothing to really compare with the awful winters of the past……

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-10-worst-british-winters-ever-8945584.html

  20. The short answer: No.

    The long answer: It does not matter one jot what you or anyone else writes here. The Global Warmingists have spoken. With no evidence they have claimed the connection between this devastating typhoon and global warming. They have already stated that this storm is the harbinger of doom and we should all pay for our carbon sins to the church of globull warming. The MSM will not even question one word of any pronouncement of the scamitists of the church of globull warming.

    No doubt some of them will soon be saying tornadoes are the end result of your carbon sins as well…

  21. Too poor to evacuate? Really? How about just getting the people one mile further inland and above the expected (5m) storm surge. A lot of the deaths were from people in low lying areas swamped by the storm.

  22. Joseph Adam-Smith says:
    November 18, 2013 at 9:14 am
    Anyone read UK’s Independent front page? States the 17 year non-warming is untrue – Arctic figs diferent…. Could this be followed up? Quickly…
    —————————————————————————————————-
    Its not the subject of this thread ! but given the “emergency”:
    The quick retort is that the Antarctic ice coverage disagrees and is at record extent.

  23. I agree with the idea that we should help them rather than study them. Invest in warning systems not warn them from investment. Evacuate them before tragedy not exploit them after for political points. Let them develop their economy not prevent their progress. This, not just for the Philippines, but for all people, if we really cared.

  24. Joseph Adam-Smith says:
    November 18, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Anyone read UK’s Independent front page? States the 17 year non-warming is untrue – Arctic figs diferent…. Could this be followed up? Quickly…
    ————————————————————————————————————–
    OK just looked at the article in the Independent.
    I hope Anthony wont mind the disruption to this thread but Joseph this issue was covered here in WUWT:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/11/14/curry-on-the-cowtan-way-pausebuster-is-there-anything-useful-in-it/#more-97437

  25. In Oz Cyclone Tracy is always etched in the modern consciousness for blowing away Darwin on Xmas Day in 74′ but she had a far more wicked stepsister in Trixie that year around Onslow the cyclone capital of Australia-

    http://www.bom.gov.au/cyclone/history/trixie.shtml

    In the absence of modern weather instruments to gauge any of those storms on that copious breadandbutterscience list it’s impossible to rank any of them and even with instruments they often blow away or are caught short like with Trixie-

    ‘ at Mardie station a mean wind of 204 km/h was reported with
    gusts of at least 259 km/h (the limit of the Synchrotac anemometer in use) being noted
    on numerous occasions.’

  26. Leo Smith says:
    November 18, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Maybe the heat is in the Earth. Hey, it’s hot down there. And then the AGW scammers could claim global warming will increase the frequency and intensity of volcanic eruptions. There are plenty of gullible science illiterates who will gobble that up.

    I actually got hits on the idea, with one that isn’t completely wacky (except it is very clearly wrong):

    http://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Global-Warming-Causes-Volcanic-Eruptions.html

    http://e360.yale.edu/feature/could_a_changing_climate_set_off_volcanoes_and_quakes/2525/

  27. And while we’re at it all the worryworts and catastrophists can sleep easy with at least one continent in the world-

    http://www.bom.gov.au/cyclone/climatology/trends.shtml

    In particular-
    ‘Trends in tropical cyclone activity in the Australian region (south of the equator; 90–160°E) show that the total number of cyclones appears to have decreased to the mid 1980s, and remained nearly stable since. The number of severe tropical cyclones (minimum central pressure less than 970 hPa) shows no clear trend over the past 40 years.’

  28. So, while we really don’t know which storm had higher winds, we do know that more affluent societies are much less affected by even the strongest storms. As Indur Goklany, (who writes frequently for Cato) has pointed out, if left to develop, the entire world will be much more resilient to climate change than it would be if the ineffective policies to “stop” it slowed economic growth.

    And that’s what crunchies and smellies don’t want to [hear].

    affluent societies

  29. And don’t you just love that qualifier….’and remained NEARLY stable since.’
    How those post-modern science BOM folk have to choke on reality data sometimes eh?

  30. —-
    Why wasn’t the Philippines better prepared for the typhoon?
    Corruption, shoddy buildings to blame

    History of government corruption

    President Benigno Aquino III, known as “Noynoy,” the scion
    of two political families some compare to the Clinton or
    Bush dynasties, was elected in 2010, above all, to eradicate
    the endemic corruption that drains some $50 billion a year
    from state coffers.

    http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/11/16/21477014-why-wasnt-the-philippines-better-prepared-for-the-typhoon-corruption-shoddy-buildings-to-blame

  31. So let me get this straight,,,,,,,,,,, there is discussion of the strongest storm “ever” to make landfall and we don’t have any instrument readings on pressure or wind speed.

    I would really like to know the exact person or persons who called out the 195 mph winds based upon the sat info and understand their positions on several subjects. I think the public deserves to know who they are and why we have such a deltaas compared to the Japan based information.

    I can justify a small difference, but not a nearly 50 mph(33%) variation in estimates.

    I smell a CAGW rat in the house!

  32. ” I rode out in an oceanfront laboratory about 25 miles east of the eye”

    I am thinking that you were in Ocean Springs, MS. My cousin worked there, but maybe after 1969.

  33. Anthony, as a developer and purveyor of weather stations, you might be just the genius to develop a typhoon/hurricane-proof anemometer.

  34. I rode out Camille also. Was 19 years of age. My Dad’s home had good elevation in being around three blocks from the Gulfport airport (KGPT). So, we didn’t have to go swimming that night. Difficult times for a long time.

  35. I like to follow the combination of private and gov’t run stations on weatherunderground.com and also weatherlink.com. The disparity at times is interesting. If you check the nearest station still running on wundermap at weatherunderground it is in Cebu City. Almost exactly 100miles SW from Tacloban. Maximum winds there on the 8th were 60mph. If you check nearest station 200miles NW at Naga City that only recorded 25mph. Not sure if a station was running closer to Tacloban but is now offline. Would be interesting to see what that recorded. I would like to see someone conduct a study using the data from all of the Weatherlink or WeatherUnderground stations to see if there is a temp trend and in what direction. Of course siting bias and a short time frame need to be noted, but it is such a larger sample size and at least the private stations should be insulated from anyone’s agenda as long as they don’t message the data like we have seen occur far too often.

    http://www.wunderground.com/weatherstation/WXDailyHistory.asp?ID=ICEBUCEB5&day=8&year=2013&month=11&graphspan=day

  36. Thanks for your responses, folks. BBC Radio 2 lead with it as their newspaper review. And perople STILL believe BBC LOL

  37. Bob you are right. I was at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, also 19 years old and on my first paying science gig, doing some quite cool work for Frank Barnwell (ultimately Zoology Chairman at Minnesota) on niche division of circadian timing in sympatric species of fiddler crabs. He had to teach in Costa Rica so I got the then-very princely sum of $600/month to make my own hours and be at a teaching lab that cycled all the cute Marine Biology undergrads from the big southern schools on two week rotations. Even without Camille, it was a memorable summer! Armstrong walked on the moon and Ted Kennedy drove off the bridge and Ocean Springs was really lax about underage partying.

    My equipment was in the Antebellum mansion near the entrance. I rescued it on the Sunday afternoon, made sure my data was intact, and brought it into the top story of the “new” dormitory where I was housed. Shortly after sunrise on the 17th, my friend Carl Thurman knocked on my door and said “Michaels you are not going to believe what is outside the door”, and there was a pretty substantial debris dam containing the contents of pretty much every other building shoreward of the dorm. All the onshore structures were completely destroyed–and many were pretty solid brick and designed to withstand what was estimated to be the worst-case scenario. The mansion, of course, was just gone, and the only thing I found from it was my fishing rod, broken in half.

  38. Well, the facts are that the suggested wind speeds were based on satellite imagery alone. All the stations that record wind speed either went offline or were destroyed. From the physical damage that is clearly evident there is no doubt that this was a significant typhoon. However, I will use an SkS style response in Latin with CAPITAL LETTERS TO EMPHASISE MY POINT – it is a NON SEQUITUR that it was caused by man made climate change. Oh, breaking news as I type – Just seen the cyclone in Sardinia – that will be due to man made climate change too as well I suppose SkS? Meanwhile, tornado and Hurricane activity has been low in the US and Caribbean this year. But we won’t talk about that like we don’t talk about Antarctic sea ice increase if you are a Climate Change Propagandist.

  39. I’m confused by premise; are we limiting this to, “at landfall,” or, at the peak of the storm?

    AP has widely reported that at landfall, Haiyan had sustained winds of 147 mph, with gusts of 170 mph. Is there a pressure reading at landfall?

    Like Patrick, we have our well earned personal biases. I experienced the weather from Camille up in Northern LA at the time; but in Sep’t 1988, I caught the fury of Hurricane Gilbert, on the island of Cozumel. Gilbert hit it’s peak roughly 12 hours +/- prior to landfall, w/ a reading of 888 mb. Sustained winds (depending on where you look) were in the 185 mph range. Cozumel got most of this, and recorded gusts at the airport were in excess of 225 mph (yep – before it broke).

    Gilbert was a massive system (hurricane force winds extended out 115 miles from the center. At one point, TS force winds covered 500 miles (eat your heart out TS Sandy). Gilbert’s eye was also extremely small and tight, down to 5 mile diameter at some point. Notable, was that at landfall, Gilbert was cycling through a massive double eyewall – that was about 50 miles wide; i.e., a very long period of the most extreme sustained winds as it passed by. We were just on the inside of the southern edge of the eye wall – couldn’t see the blue sky – but the winds did cease for a good 20 minutes or so. Actually, we had not a clue that we were in the eye (so little information/comuncation back then), and got caught a few blocks from relative safety, when it roared back to life – a rather intense effort to get back.

    Still, for comparison, Carla, in 1961, had hurricane force winds 253 miles wide ( was a 1st grader in Corpus Christy, TX at the time). Compact systems like Andrew had hurricane force winds which were 75 miles wide, and Haiyan some 85 miles wide.

    Typhoon Tip still has the record low central pressure at 870 mb (winds at 190), with Wilma coming in second at 882 mb (winds 185).

    Off the top of my head (as much of this was) a cyclone in Australia holds the record storm surge – over 40 feet.

    Mitch was also a monster storm – which caused well over 10,000 deaths from intense rainfall as it meandered off shore for days.

    Plenty of competetion out there and numerous ways of comparing them. The personal experiences are remarkable indeed.

  40. Having experienced both Camille and Katrina the damage was definitely more confined for Camille instead of Katrina. Katrina was a more severe storm because of it’s physical size than Camille. Camille had much higher winds that were not properly recorded because the wind anemometers all failed or so is the story. The damage done by both in the Waveland , Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian Ms. area was similar but actually more extreme for Katrina. Camille did much more damage in a smaller area in Gulfport and Biloxi than what was experienced in Katrina. The old homes along the beach that made it through Camille did not make it through Katrina. Katrina caused storm surge damage all the way from Grand Isle La to Mobile Al. So how much energy is in a storm as opposed to wind speed should definitely be part of the ranking system. We can do that now since we have satellite feeds that show it and we can compute it. The bottom line is a tropical system hitting an area with long expanses of shallow coast line will always be at risk. There is no way for the storm surge to dissipate except in someones home. The Gulf Coast around the mouth of the Mississippi River has long shallows of silt particularly for the home state and just as much for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. At least Louisiana has the marshes to dissipate some of the energy, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has only a few barrier islands with the same no means of water to escape which makes it exceptionally vulnerable to storm surge. The central Philippines is very much like our Gulf Coast and it suffered just as much. Unfortunately many people live on the coast and was not able to leave everything they own and died for it. We live in a wealthy country and I know people who died because they thought the same thing. We had almost 30′ storm surge that we know is now possible. I would hope that anyone thinking that they are imune would think otherwise.

  41. Generally since the start of thorough research (c. 1950) until today, Haiyan (895 hPa and 315 km / h) is the fourth most intense tropical cyclone ever observed. Ahead of it: Tip (870 hPa, 315 km / h) from 1979 (took half of the United States!), Camille in 1969 and Nancy in 1961 (12 September has reached today, unbeaten record speed: 345 km / h). Haiyan had a relatively high pressure in its center. In this regard Haiyan not is located even in the first 12-ties strongest typhoons (875 – 885 mbar)! What is interesting, the first 11 in this classification of the most intense typhoons, has happened between 1953 and 1984. It (mainly) was a cool phase of the PDO (http://www.climatedata.info/resources/Forcing/Oscillations/04-Pacific-Decadal-Oscillation-index.gif). Between 1984 and 2010, in the positive phase of the PDO, was not any typhoon from the list of 12 most intense – if we take into account the measured intensity of the low pressure at its center. 9-12 ex aequo “took” place, here, Megi – 2010. And about 2008 years slowly began to start again cool PDO phase …

  42. An interesting piece in today’s WSJ about recovery efforts after Haiyan.

    [Red Cross official Richard Gordon] works from a bland, windowless conference room as red-vested volunteers and boxes of relief goods clog the hallways outside. Around the table, yellow legal pads, scribbled dry-erase boards and glowing computer spreadsheets are meant to keep track of assets heading to the disaster zone. The scene recalls the quip, attributed to U.S. Gen. Omar Bradley, that amateurs talk strategy while professionals talk logistics. It also offers lessons for handling future disasters.

    Red Cross staffers here don’t speak of generalized “relief efforts” but of many separate responsibilities, each with numerous component parts: search-and-rescue operations, field medicine, food and water distribution, construction of shelter, electricity production. Items mentioned by Mr. Gordon in a short briefing for visitors from the South Korean Red Cross include ambulances, firetrucks, rubber boats, lights, earthmovers, blood banks, medicine, satellite phones, cots, showers, tents, blankets and mosquito nets. Right now supplies are more important than personnel, he says, citing a case when 68 volunteers went out to clear debris with only 13 chain saws.

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304791704579212050096489722

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