November Meeting Review (and Book Review): Dr. Sam Montano

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By Joe Smith

Cover of Disasterology, featuring white-topped waves

Dr. Samantha Montano
Disasterology: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis

In the November general meeting of Minnesota Atheists, the featured speaker was Dr. Samantha Montano who gave a presentation on Disasterology: Managing Disasters in the Climate Crisis. The lecture was an informative outline of the shortcomings we face with our current disaster management efforts and how FEMA, plus local relief agencies, are ill prepared to grapple with the volume of human misery which can be caused by climate change. Dr. Montano has seen disaster relief shortcomings firsthand during her volunteer efforts for hurricane Katrina relief and the British Petroleum oil spill. Those experiences inspired Ms. Montano to get a Ph.D. in Emergency Management in order to study crisis management of all types, with the goal of improving how we prevent, respond to, and recover from large scale crisis.

In Dr. Montano’s view, the scientific study of emergency management in relation to climate change can broadly be broken down into two problems:

  • Problem 1: Mitigating climate change, which is something that as individuals we seem to have little control over.
  • Problem 2: Managing the consequences of climate change, which is something we, as individuals, are affected by and have some degree of input into.

Dr. Montano says that when a climate crisis does occur, such as a hurricane, drought, or electrical grid freeze out, then there are multiple responders including governmental agencies, non-profits, business, media and individuals. These agencies are often working without coordination between the various groups with the effect of complicating relief efforts. The end result is that after all the media attention has left the area, the remaining residents struggle for long periods of time to make their lives whole again. Additionally, some areas like the Lake Charles area in Louisiana find themselves in a perpetual state of recovery, as one hurricane after another has hampered their efforts to rebuild. Some formerly livable areas have been lost due to climate change, and buyout programs have been attempted on a small scale. Relocation of families is taking about 5 years on average due to the bureaucratic hurdles which must be overcome. There is much uncertainty in the process with poor people and minorities disproportionately affected.

Dr. Montano’s goal is to raise awareness of how woefully underfunded emergency management is in the United States, and how little funding there is to study methods of improving, and better preparing our emergency response in the light of climate change. Her immediate concerns range from a National Flood Insurance program that relies upon outdated flood zone maps which do not compensate for enlarged flood zones caused by climate change, to a lack of disaster mitigation leadership and preparedness at the community level. Dr. Montano would like to see more community engagement by having individuals contact our local representatives concerning the level of emergency preparedness in our communities.

I found the information presented by Dr. Montano to be concise and well laid out with little, if any, conjecture. As Dr. Montano also has a B.S. degree in Psychology, an interesting sequel to this may be in identifying how certain religious beliefs hamper our ability to mitigate climate change, and respond to climate change events, because the supplicants believe climate change is God’s will.

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