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AS SUMMER WINDS DOWN, thoughts often turn to the markers of fall: back-to-school rituals, leaf raking and the World Series. This season brings other preoccupations to many risk managers, though, since it represents not only the start of football season but the peak of hurricane season. In fact, these words come as Hurricane Bonnie just paid a visit to the Carolinas.

Perhaps more acutely than most other business professionals, risk managers realize that losses to hurricanes in the 1990s total more than those incurred in the 1970s and 1980s combined. This is true even after adjusting for inflation. This had led many to mistakenly conclude that severe hurricanes are becoming more frequent. A preoccupation with El Nino, global warming and the human impacts on global weather patterns fuel this perception.

In fact, according to recent research, the past few decades have seen a decrease in severe storm frequency. Further, the span of 1991 to 1994 was the calmest in the last 50 years. What it means, however, is that today's world is more vulnerable to hurricane damage than it has ever been. This poses a serious public policy problem and a huge risk management challenge.

A new book, "Hurricanes: Their Nature and Impacts on Society," defines and addresses the hurricane problem, focusing primarily on the United States, in order to lay a foundation for action.

Authors Pielke and Pielke comprise a father and son team. Roger A. Pielke Jr. is a researcher with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Roger A. Pielke Sr. is with Colorado State University, where he formulates models of small-scale weather patterns and disturbances.

Together in this book, they use the concept of vulnerability to integrate the societal and physical aspects of hurricane impacts. "Hurricanes: Their Nature and Impacts on Society" is unique in that it seeks to address both the scientific and societal aspects of hurricanes. While it focuses on the United States, it illustrates weather-related impact assessments that are applicable to other areas and to non-hurricane phenomena.

More broadly, "Hurricanes: Their Nature and Impacts on Society" illustrates the beneficial uses -- as well as limitations -- of hurricane science to society. Explicit consideration of the relationship between science and society is much needed in an age when scientific research is under public and political pressure to demonstrate stronger relevance to societal needs.

Though the book weighs in at about 280 pages, it is not a quick read or a tome that anyone will mistake for take-to-the-beach pleasure reading. Much of it is heavy sledding, replete with charts and graphs that might hold the interest of only the most ardent Weather Channel addict. But for risk managers for companies in hurricane zones -- and that category is broad -- the Pielkes' book is must reading.

Top 10 lists are popular, and the authors close out their book with "10 Important Lessons of Hurricanes." These include:

* A large loss of life is still possible in the United States.

* Society knows, in large part, how to respond to hurricanes.

* Hurricanes are the most costly natural disasters in the United States and worldwide.

* Better knowledge of hurricanes is, by itself, insufficient to change behavior.

This last point is key, not only to risk managing against the hurricane peril but risk managing in general. It isn't enough to know how to manage risks; there must be an emphasis on translating knowledge into action.

For risk managers seeking a better understanding of hurricanes and ways to cope with them, this book should be an essential part of their survival kits, along with flashlights, water and backup generators.

Kevin M. Quinley is senior vp-risk services for MEDMARC Insurance Co. Inc. and subsidiary Hamilton Resources Corp., both of Fairfax, Va. He holds the Chartered Property & Casualty Underwriter and Associate in Risk Management designations.