Greater predictive capability? Not always the answer.
Delano, Helen L., DCNR, Pennsylvania Geological Survey, 3240 Schoolhouse Road, Middletown, PA 17057, and ADAMS, William R. Jr., Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation, 45 Thoms Run Rd., Bridgeville, PA 15017
Although Greater Predictive Capability is an admirable thing for scientists to strive for, in many cases it is a non-productive goal for establishing effective public policies. Many thousands of dollars worth of technical reports are sitting on shelves, unused, because geologists find it easier to select a new technical detail to research than to address the really difficult problems of getting existing information translated into effective public policy. Dealing with the social, economic, and political realities of developing regulations requires hard work and time spent on subjects with which we as geologists are usually uncomfortable. It is essential however, if our work is to have any meaning and utility in terms of public policy.
One example of this situation is landslide hazard in western Pennsylvania. Reasonably good landslide inventory maps at 1:24,000 scale have been available for many affected areas since the mid-1970's. All land-use regulation in Pennsylvania is done at the municipal government level and only a very few municipalities have adopted any requirement to consider slope stability in development plans. Landslides causing millions of dollars in damages have occurred while useful information which could have helped prevent them has gone largely unused. Several analyses have suggested that the public is unaware of the magnitude of the problem, and that local governments are struggling to provide more basic services. Several efforts at establishing state-wide landslide mitigation policies have failed to gain legislative support. In these circumstances, more detailed geological work on prediction is not likely to help prevent future landslide damage.
There are certainly situations and issues where developing greater predictive capability is an appropriate approach to more effective hazard policy. We suggest that analysis of the social, economic, and political decision process must be a part of planning any work on geologic hazards. Where the geologic information is a limiting factor, do more geology. Where other factors limit effective policy-making, geologists may need to step out of their comfortable field boots and into the decision makers' world if we are to see the results of our work make a difference.
Poster paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, Denver, CO, November 1999.
Helen L. Delano and William R. Adams, Jr., 1999, Greater Predictive Capability? Not Always The Answer; Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America. v 31 No 7 , Page A-436.