APA is working with the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center and the National Integrated Drought Information System to connect mitigation resources with the planning practices of local, regional, and state governments.
Most hazards pose immediate dangers.
Tornado warnings inform us that we need to take shelter in a matter of minutes, not hours.
Hurricane warnings may give us hours, but evacuation can chew up precious time before the storm arrives.
Some hazards, most notably earthquakes, permit almost no warning whatsoever.
Drought is different. Drought is in that rare category of slow-onset disasters in which it is notoriously difficult even to decide when a drought has begun, how long it will last, and what the ultimate consequences may be.
At what point does a persistent lack of precipitation become a crisis?
Given this slow onset, it is small wonder that droughts have typically received less attention from emergency managers and planners than floods and wildfires. That lack of attention does not reduce their overall impact, however.
The National Climatic Data Center reports that there have been 15 droughts from 1980 to 2009 that have resulted in $185.2 billion in damages. One need look no farther than Texas in the summer of 2011 to see the impact that severe drought can have on a region's economy, health, and public safety. In that case, we also saw that one hazard — drought — can lead to others, such as the massive wildfires made possible by the hot, dry conditions that prevailed throughout much of the state. Nature added insult to injury.
But we need not be unprepared. Drought can provide a focal point for planning for adaptation to climate change in many inland areas, and climate change may well be a factor in some instances of drought. As average temperatures rise, more frequent and intense droughts may be expected in some areas, particularly those with already arid climates. It is a challenge that requires effective water management planning and conservation to ensure the safety and well-being of affected communities.
NOAA's Climate Program Office and Sector Applications Research Program previously funded a "Drought Ready Communities" project with a planning resources kit, ending in the summer of 2010 with "A Guide to Community Drought Preparedness." The need now is to connect those resources with the routine planning practices of local, regional, and state governments by integrating such concerns into all aspects of the local planning process.
By examining best practices, by facilitating a meaningful discussion between practicing planners and scientific experts such as climatologists, and by using dissemination methods familiar to most professional planners, APA can help move that process forward substantially. That is the goal of this 13-month, $120,000 project.
APA's Hazards Planning Research Center has created a PAS Report, Planning and Drought, on best practices and case studies in drought planning, working with the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center and the National Integrated Drought Information System.
The work will start with a preliminary characterization of the state of community, urban, and regional drought planning across the country and include a presentation at the 2013 APA National Planning Conference in Chicago.
In July 2012, APA's Hazards Planning Research Center hosted a symposium of experts on planning for drought mitigation. The summary and highlights of that event are available.
Explore drought mitigation and planning with APA's list of organizations and resources.