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“Heads Up! Early Warning Systems For Climate-, Water-, and Weather- Related Hazards”

We have all experienced it—that pause in our television viewing where the screen goes blank and a “test alert” flashes across the screen to ensure that, if in the event of a true emergency, our televised warning would work. Televised early warning systems are just one way that our government warns us about an encroaching, dangerous weather event, and those events range from typhoons to hurricanes to flash floods to droughts. Here, by cataloguing every conceivable natural disaster and illuminating the specific early warning systems that work (or don’t) to prevent loss of life, the contributors to “Heads Up” have clearly proven to have done their research. They present two general hypotheses: First, that in order for early warning systems to work, they must be broadcasted effectively to an informed and compliant public by a prepared, conscientious, and proactive government. Second, that although the weather hazards that merit early warning systems are at times terrifying and fatal, they don’t compare to what might be in store once the larger effects of global warming begin. Indeed, in a rather coy way, the authors imply that many of the infamous disasters we have experienced stand metaphorically as the early warning system for global warming itself. The goal of the authors seems to be to encourage the public to be more responsive to early warning systems (EWS’s), to be more proactive in rallying for government efficacy in protecting citizens, and to be aware of the growing weather threats posed by global climate change.

This book has a dual voice, combining the complex vernacular of environmental and weather sciences with the easily read language of short case studies in natural disasters. In the book, the authors carefully go over the science of each weather hazard, explain the existing methods of early warning for each, and give an interesting case study of an ineffective EWS. (They cover hurricanes, cyclones, severe winter storms, heat waves, tornadoes, vector- borne diseases, fire, metropolitan air pollution, dust and sandstorms, floods and flash floods, and droughts). The compilers are very careful to spark reader attention too by using some of the natural disasters that plague our recent past, such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 European heat wave, and the 2005 Avian Flu outbreak, and they liken these events to terrorism. They also expose myths, give survival tips, and highlight societal changes that have lead to ineffective EWS’s.

In all, “Heads Up” is a refreshing approach to the climate change and weather studies because it uses illustrative and fascinating case studies to make its point, and captivatingly scary photographs of each weather event accompany each disaster’s description. Although we wouldn’t exactly call it light reading, “Heads Up” will certainly interest those who study the environment, are interested in their area’s weather patterns, and who want their government to be more proactive in protecting people like them.

“Heads Up!” is edited by Michael H. Glantz, Ph.D. and is a product of United Nations University Press. Michael Glantz is the Director for the Consortium for Capacity Building at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he is also an international relations professor.

by M. Molendyke

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