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Monday, 16 January 2017

George Kourounis - Keynote Speaker at CatIQ's Canadian Catastrophe Conference

(George Kourounis, Storm Chaser, Adventurer, Host of Angry Planet)

I have a rather unique job that I never thought was possible when I was a kid, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. As a matter of fact, my “job” never even existed as a career path until I carved out the niche for myself as I got older, and it has been a wild ride.

As a professional explorer, storm chaser & TV presenter, it’s my job to travel the world and document the most extreme places, with the intent of sharing what I’ve seen with as many people as possible. What started out as a hobby that combined photography and storm chasing, has slowly grown to the point where I’ve hosted several television programs, led an expedition for National Geographic that was deemed “impossible,” addressed the United Nations Environmental Emergencies Forum, and traveled to over 60 countries on all seven continents.

A large part of what I do is filming from the middle of natural disasters which include: hurricanes making landfall such as Katrina and Sandy, tornadoes ripping through the heartland of the Great Plains, even lava flows steamrolling through towns off the coast of Africa. As you might imagine, it can get dramatic and exciting at times. While that is true, the vast majority of my time is spent planning, preparing, getting from point A to point B, and editing imagery after the fact. The actual exciting parts are brief and fleeting, but in the end are completely worth the effort. Despite a passion for witnessing Mother Nature’s wrath up close, I never wish for these events to impact people’s lives. The act of me being there to document them won’t affect whether or not they happen, but at least I can show the world the scope and scale of what our dynamic, ever changing world is capable of, and hopefully some will take notice and evacuate, or at least be more prepared the next time disaster strikes.

What a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that these “disasters” are merely nature trying to return to a state of equilibrium, whether it’s a balance of atmospheric pressure, or tectonic stresses. These are not intrinsically disasters, but merely natural phenomena. They only become natural disasters when they affect human populations. A violent hurricane that’s spinning away out at sea, posing no threat to anyone is hardly a disaster… Put a city in the path of that same hurricane, and now we have the makings of a monumental catastrophe.

It is us humans that are the defining factor in what constitutes a disaster…. And there sure are a lot of us here on planet Earth. With over 7 billion and counting, it’s becoming harder and harder for these phenomena to avoid becoming disasters.

Of course, we are getting better at coping with and predicting them. Severe weather warnings are getting better. Satellite imagery, including the recently launched GOES-R weather satellite are poised to take our understanding of the planet to the next level, and of course disaster mitigation and response systems are better now than ever before, and building codes & construction techniques get upgraded regularly. Also, we’re now seeing the details of what’s going on during disasters in real time via a never-ending stream of pictures and online videos, filmed with the ubiquitous smart phones in the hands of people who probably should have evacuated… Which accounts for why most of them are shaky, out of focus and annoyingly filmed vertically (A personal pet peeve of mine… If you are going to ignore the warnings and catch that epic, cell phone video clip of your neighbour’s house being shredded in a windstorm, at least hold your phone sideways. TV sets and computer monitors are horizontal, our eyes are horizontal!…*end rant*)

Regardless of the quality of the photos and videos being put online, there is no denying that social media has taken on a huge role in the way we act and react during emergencies. Twitter and Facebook have become important tools in lifesaving, search & rescue, and disseminating lifesaving instructions from regional authorities. Hashtags such as #ONstorm are monitored by Environment Canada, The Weather Network and news outlets to help spread the word about severe weather impacts across Ontario, and other provinces.

The power of instantly being able to upload photos and video to the worldwide stage of social media was seen in full force during the forest fire emergency at Fort McMurray this past spring. Apocalyptic looking cell phone videos of desperate people attempting to flee the inferno spread across the globe faster than the fire itself spread into town. In a matter of minutes, the scene in northern Alberta became a worldwide, viral topic on the internet and traditional media as well. Nobody cared if the video was shaky, handheld or drifted in and out of focus. What we all remember seeing was the views from inside the cars of people trying to make it out of town on the only road south out of Fort McMurray, their cars surrounded by a wall of flames. The dramatic visuals, coupled with the emotional impact of imagining ourselves in the same situation made for such compelling personal stories that the nation, and indeed much of the world watched on their TV’s, tablets, and phones to see what the city’s fate would eventually be.

I am equally concerned and excited about the future. We face many challenges moving forward, knowing that our climate in changing in ways that are difficult to predict. The number of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are expected to increase as global weather patterns shift. Which, coupled with increasing global populations and urban sprawl, set the scene for possible widespread humanitarian disaster in the years and decades to come. The good news is that we are armed with progressively better technology, knowledge and data that can allow us to make better predictions, forecasts, and long-term modelling to ensure that fewer of these phenomena become disasters.

I’m looking forward to addressing the conference members during my keynote talk in February where I’ll be sharing my most intense, most frightening, and unusual adventure (and misadventures) with nature’s extremes from across all of Canada and the world. I’ll see you there!

This blog post has been written by George Kourounis who is a Keynote Speaker at CatIQ’s Canadian Catastrophe Conference (C4 2017).


  1. Nice blog thanks for posting. Also check the best keynote speaker in India

  2. Thanks for sharing nice information!!
    Rakesh Shukla is a speaker on motivation and beating odds in personal life and workplace. #TWB_ is #world's #premiere #technology #content #company #started by #Rakesh #Shukla. He founded the Voice of Stray Dogs (VOSD) in 2013, world's largest citywide dog rescue. Rakesh Shukla | Motivational Speaker | Author | Coach

  3. Thanks for sharing nice information!!
    Rakesh Shukla is a speaker on motivation and beating odds in personal life and workplace. #TWB_ is #world's #premiere #technology #content #company #started by #Rakesh #Shukla. He founded the Voice of Stray Dogs (VOSD) in 2013, world's largest citywide dog rescue. Rakesh Shukla | Keynote Speaker| Author | Coach