EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Each year natural disasters kill thousands of people and inflict billions of dollars in economic losses. No nation or community is immune to their damage. In 1989, two disasters, Hurricane Hugo and the San Francisco area's Loma Prieta earthquake, caused direct losses of approximately $15 billion and indirect losses of $30-45 billion. Ninety people were killed, and more than a year later, thousands remained homeless as a result of these two events.

The World Health Organization estimates that between 1964 and 1983 natural disasters throughout the world killed nearly 2.5 million people and left an additional 750 million injured, homeless, or otherwise harmed. Unless action is taken to reduce the toll of natural disasters, these statistics can only be expected to rise as populations increase and concentrate in vulnerable urban and coastal areas.

The scientific and technological advances of the last half century provide unprecedented opportunities for responding to the urgent need to mitigate the impacts of natural hazards. Recognizing this fact, Dr. Frank Press, President of the National Academy of Sciences, proposed an international decade to address natural disaster reduction at the Eighth World Conference on Earthquake Engineering in 1984. In 1987, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring the 1990s the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), “a decade in which the international community will pay special attention to fostering cooperation in the field of natural disaster reduction.” The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives endorsed the Decade concept in resolutions passed the following year. In 1989, the U.S. National Committee for the Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction was formed at the request of the federal government to develop a Decade program for the nation.

The U.S. National Committee believes that the trend of increasing losses to natural disasters can be reversed. This change can be achieved by integrating hazard reduction policy and practice into the mainstream of community activities throughout the nation and the world. The Decade presents an opportunity to reassess the approach to natural hazards and to develop strategies for reducing losses by stressing prevention and preparedness while sustaining and enhancing essential disaster response, relief, and recovery capabilities.

The Committee proposes a multidisciplinary program that integrates the following elements: hazard and risk assessments; awareness and education; mitigation; preparedness for emergency response, recovery, and reconstruction; prediction and warning; strategies for learning from disasters; and international cooperation. These seven elements must be developed in unison so that, collectively, they can provide a framework for hazard reduction over the next 10 years and beyond. This report sets forth recommendations for each element.

Hazard and risk assessments combine information on natural hazards with information on human activity to determine vulnerability to natural disasters. Effective — and cost-effective — disaster reduction must be grounded in a thorough understanding of the physical forces a community faces and their likely impacts on the human, built, and natural envi-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
A SAFER FUTURE: Reducing the Impacts of Natural Disasters EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Each year natural disasters kill thousands of people and inflict billions of dollars in economic losses. No nation or community is immune to their damage. In 1989, two disasters, Hurricane Hugo and the San Francisco area's Loma Prieta earthquake, caused direct losses of approximately $15 billion and indirect losses of $30-45 billion. Ninety people were killed, and more than a year later, thousands remained homeless as a result of these two events. The World Health Organization estimates that between 1964 and 1983 natural disasters throughout the world killed nearly 2.5 million people and left an additional 750 million injured, homeless, or otherwise harmed. Unless action is taken to reduce the toll of natural disasters, these statistics can only be expected to rise as populations increase and concentrate in vulnerable urban and coastal areas. The scientific and technological advances of the last half century provide unprecedented opportunities for responding to the urgent need to mitigate the impacts of natural hazards. Recognizing this fact, Dr. Frank Press, President of the National Academy of Sciences, proposed an international decade to address natural disaster reduction at the Eighth World Conference on Earthquake Engineering in 1984. In 1987, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring the 1990s the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), “a decade in which the international community will pay special attention to fostering cooperation in the field of natural disaster reduction.” The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives endorsed the Decade concept in resolutions passed the following year. In 1989, the U.S. National Committee for the Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction was formed at the request of the federal government to develop a Decade program for the nation. The U.S. National Committee believes that the trend of increasing losses to natural disasters can be reversed. This change can be achieved by integrating hazard reduction policy and practice into the mainstream of community activities throughout the nation and the world. The Decade presents an opportunity to reassess the approach to natural hazards and to develop strategies for reducing losses by stressing prevention and preparedness while sustaining and enhancing essential disaster response, relief, and recovery capabilities. The Committee proposes a multidisciplinary program that integrates the following elements: hazard and risk assessments; awareness and education; mitigation; preparedness for emergency response, recovery, and reconstruction; prediction and warning; strategies for learning from disasters; and international cooperation. These seven elements must be developed in unison so that, collectively, they can provide a framework for hazard reduction over the next 10 years and beyond. This report sets forth recommendations for each element. Hazard and risk assessments combine information on natural hazards with information on human activity to determine vulnerability to natural disasters. Effective — and cost-effective — disaster reduction must be grounded in a thorough understanding of the physical forces a community faces and their likely impacts on the human, built, and natural envi-

OCR for page 1
A SAFER FUTURE: Reducing the Impacts of Natural Disasters Grim-faced U.S. volunteers sift through mud and rubble, searching for bodies after rockslides caused by a tropical storm destroyed the Mamayes barrio in Puerto Rico. ronment. Unfortunately, comprehensive hazard andrisk assessments are not universally available. The Committee recommends that state and local jurisdictions review, update, and improve their hazard and risk assessments with the assistance of the federal government and use this information in their decision-making processes. The Committee identified four means for improving the quality and availability of hazard and risk assessments: the development of computerized multihazard geographic information systems that would make information traditionally stored on paper maps and charts and in books easily accessible to decision-makers, research on the physical and biological factors that contribute to and cause natural disasters, research on the social factors that govern human response to natural hazards, and research on technological and societal strategies for disaster reduction. Widespread public awareness and education is fundamental to reducing loss of life, personal injuries, and property damage from natural disasters. Yet people in many sectors of society remain unaware of the natural hazards they face and the actions they can take to protect themselves and their property. Special efforts should be made to reach sectors of the population that may not have access to traditional education and information media — small children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and those who do not speak English. Because public officials and the news media have crucial responsibilities for disseminating information during a disaster, procedures for their cooperation need to be established in advance of an event. The Committee recommends that communitywide awareness and education programs about natural disasters be made a national priority. These programs should address the needs of individuals and communities in all the activities and locations where they could be subject to natural disasters: at home, provide information on household survival plans, precautionary measures, and emergency supplies; in the community, promote planning, education, and preparedness action by hospitals, churches, schools, businesses, neighborhood organizations, and other groups; in schools, protect children and their families through information on natural disaster preparedness, warnings, and response; in the workplace, ensure safety and security of workers and business assets;

OCR for page 1
A SAFER FUTURE: Reducing the Impacts of Natural Disasters in colleges and universities, incorporate disaster reduction in the education of all relevant professions; for public officials and the press, develop procedures for informing the public before, during, and after a disaster; and for professionals, provide continuing education in natural disaster reduction. Mitigation, actions taken to prevent or reduce the risks from natural hazards, is at the heart of the Decade program. Measures such as the adoption and enforcement of land-use planning practices and building codes must be vigorously pursued if the trend of escalating losses from natural disasters is to be reversed. Communities resist mitigation when they perceive it as incompatible with economic development. All too often, however, when natural disasters strike, the costs to individuals and society far exceed the costs of mitigation measures. The Committee recommends that every community at significant risk adopt and enforce an appropriate mitigation program, including both near-term goals and a comprehensive long-range plan for reducing the impacts of natural disasters. These programs should include: construction and location of all new schools and hospitals to avoid or withstand natural hazards, and strenuous efforts to strengthen existing medical and educational facilities; adoption of nonstructural measures for mitigating the impacts of natural disasters; incorporation of mitigation into new development; protection of cultural properties; protection of natural resources; leadership by government at all levels in the design, location, and construction of hazard-resistant facilities; mitigation training programs; research on mitigation strategies for all natural hazards; and research on methods for overcoming resistance to mitigation. Preparedness for emergency response, recovery, and reconstruction can reduce immediate losses caused by natural disasters and minimize the long-term social, economic, and environmental damages they cause. Emergency response can mean the difference between life and death. Well-defined strategies for recovery and reconstruction can reduce human suffering and financial losses by providing for rapid return to normal community functions. The most effective preparedness plans emphasize intergovernmental coordination, use all available human and material resources, and are exercised regularly. All too often, however, response and recovery actions are improvised and uncoordinated. The Committee recommends that by the end of the Decade, every business and local jurisdiction at significant risk have plans for emergency response, recovery, and reconstruction that have been tested and coordinated with state and federal governments as well as with other local governments. The Committee has identified six means for improving preparedness: identification of state and local preparedness needs and capabilities; training of interdisciplinary, multijurisdictional teams for response, recovery, and reconstruction; improvement of emergency coordination and communication among government, schools, business and industry, volunteer groups, and others; development of procedures for managing volunteers and donated resources; creation of demonstration preparedness projects; and involvement of the utility and other lifeline industries in preparedness planning. Prediction and warning advances have been a major factor in the decline of disaster-related deaths in the United States over the past half century, particularly those resulting from severe weather, wildfires, and floods. Nevertheless, significant gaps still exist in the capability to predict certain hazards and to deliver warnings to those who are asleep, in the care or custody of others, away from communication sources, hearing-impaired, or non-English speakers. Some technological challenges also remain, particularly that of ensuring communications in the event of power failure. The Committee recommends that the nation expand and intensify its programs to improve prediction of significant natural hazards and to ensure the effective and timely dissemination of warnings

OCR for page 1
A SAFER FUTURE: Reducing the Impacts of Natural Disasters to all sectors of society. A program to enhance the nation's prediction and warning capabilities for atmospheric, hydrologic, and geological hazards should include: modernization of the weather prediction system, research to improve the prediction of atmospheric and hydrologic hazards, research on the impacts of disasters on natural resources, expanded earthquake monitoring and research, and increased monitoring of volcanoes. A similar program for dissemination of warnings should include: expanded use and coordination of public-private partnerships for dissemination of warnings, implementation of new technologies, such as advanced telecommunications capabilities, to ensure broader dissemination of warnings, research on the responses of individuals and organizations to warning messages, research on techniques for encouraging appropriate responses, and research on the organizational networks that disseminate warnings. By learning from disasters, improved safety for tomorrow can be salvaged from today's tragedy. Lessons learned in the postdisaster period can be applied to improve all aspects of natural hazard reduction. The September 1985 Michoacan earthquake that destroyed many buildings in Mexico City, for example, provided the impetus for developing an advanced search-and-rescue capability in the United States and other countries. The Committee recommends that data on the physical, biological, social, and health aspects of disasters be systematically collected and shared and that the resulting lessons learned be incorporated into policy and practice to reduce the impacts of future disasters. Strategies for learning from disasters include: coordination and standardization of data collection by postdisaster investigation teams, international sharing of postdisaster data, and capitalizing on enhanced awareness in the postdisaster period to advance hazard reduction policies and practices. International cooperation is essential to the success of the Decade. The United States can both contribute to and benefit from such cooperation; U.S. knowledge and expertise can be applied to reduce the impacts of natural disasters in developing nations, The haphazard wreckage of buildings blocks roadways and bridges — in this case a complete shack knocked off`its foundation by an earthquake.

OCR for page 1
A SAFER FUTURE: Reducing the Impacts of Natural Disasters and the United States will benefit from increased exposure to the research and practice of other nations as well as from the opportunity to engage in new physical, technical, and social research. The Committee recommends that the United States participate fully in the IDNDR through bilateral and multilateral programs, cooperation with regional and nongovernmental organizations, and support of UN organizational arrangements and program activities. U.S. participants in the IDNDR should include its National Committee, federal agencies, state and local governments, special authorities, business and industry, scientific and technical societies, professional associations, public interest groups, voluntary organizations, and academia. U.S. contributions should be designed to increase the international flow of information, foster the development of hazard management capabilities in other nations, and promote the incorporation of disaster reduction into the development process. Initial emphasis should be given to developing a comprehensive program of natural disaster reduction for the Caribbean-Mexico-Central America region. An organizational framework for the U.S. Decade should recognize that state and local governments have primary responsibility for disaster functions, while providing for strong leadership by the federal government. Decade organization should also include mechanisms for involvement by individuals, professional associations, volunteer organizations, industry, academia, and others. Because of the complexity of the endeavor, it is essential that any structure be flexible enough to accommodate program changes as the Decade proceeds and new priorities arise. The Committee believes that Decade activities can be built largely upon existing programs and organizations and that no new bureaucracy need be created. The Committee recommends that responsibility for policy direction, planning, and coordination of federal Decade efforts reside in the Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy. It is suggested that the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee of the National Governors' Association might serve as a catalyst for Decade efforts at the state and local levels. Further, as called for by the UN resolution, there will be a continuing need for a U.S. National Committee to facilitate the nation's domestic and international programs. Among the greatest challenges of the Decade will be the development of broad public support and the political will to implement disaster reduction programs. The involvement and commitment of all sectors of society — including individuals; community, voluntary, and professional organizations; business and industry; public interest groups; academia; and federal, state, and local governments — will be crucial to reducing vulnerability to natural hazards. Through the combined efforts of all these participants, we can reduce the toll of natural disasters and create a safer future for all. Residents have to wait for floodwaters to recede to begin reconstruction and recovery efforts after the roads were turned into rivers and heavy rains swept away cars and other debris.

OCR for page 1
A SAFER FUTURE: Reducing the Impacts of Natural Disasters A few moments of terror — the deadly funnel of a tornado cuts through a community, leaving a snaking trail of devastation along its unpredictable path.