Executive Summary

Losses of life and property from natural disasters in the United States—and throughout the world—have been enormous and the potential for substantially greater future losses looms. It is clearly in the public interest to reduce these impacts and to encourage the development of communities that are resilient to disasters. This goal can be achieved through wise and sustained efforts involving mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Implementing such efforts, particularly in the face of limited resources and competing priorities, requires accurate information that is presented in a timely and appropriate manner to facilitate informed decisions. Substantial information already exists that could be used to this end, but there are numerous obstacles to accessing this information, and methods for integrating information from a variety of sources for decision-making are presently inadequate. Implementation of an improved national or international network for making better information available in a more timely manner could substantially improve the situation.

As noted in the Preface, a federal transition team is considering the issues and needs associated with implementing a global or national disaster information network as described in the report by the Disaster Information Task Force (1997). This National Research Council report was commissioned by the transition team to provide advice on how a disaster information network could best make information available to improve decision making, with the ultimate goal of reducing losses from natural disasters. The report is intended to provide the basis for a better appreciation of which types of data and information should be generated in an information program and how this information could best be disseminated to decision makers.

This study, through an intensive information-gathering effort, reached several conclusions regarding how disaster information could better be used to reduce losses in a variety of settings. It is evident that accurate and relevant information could significantly reduce the loss of life and financial costs of a natural disaster. To be most effective, the information must be



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--> Executive Summary Losses of life and property from natural disasters in the United States—and throughout the world—have been enormous and the potential for substantially greater future losses looms. It is clearly in the public interest to reduce these impacts and to encourage the development of communities that are resilient to disasters. This goal can be achieved through wise and sustained efforts involving mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Implementing such efforts, particularly in the face of limited resources and competing priorities, requires accurate information that is presented in a timely and appropriate manner to facilitate informed decisions. Substantial information already exists that could be used to this end, but there are numerous obstacles to accessing this information, and methods for integrating information from a variety of sources for decision-making are presently inadequate. Implementation of an improved national or international network for making better information available in a more timely manner could substantially improve the situation. As noted in the Preface, a federal transition team is considering the issues and needs associated with implementing a global or national disaster information network as described in the report by the Disaster Information Task Force (1997). This National Research Council report was commissioned by the transition team to provide advice on how a disaster information network could best make information available to improve decision making, with the ultimate goal of reducing losses from natural disasters. The report is intended to provide the basis for a better appreciation of which types of data and information should be generated in an information program and how this information could best be disseminated to decision makers. This study, through an intensive information-gathering effort, reached several conclusions regarding how disaster information could better be used to reduce losses in a variety of settings. It is evident that accurate and relevant information could significantly reduce the loss of life and financial costs of a natural disaster. To be most effective, the information must be

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--> timely and in a form that is understandable by decision makers. Information about disasters could be used for a variety of purposes and must be adaptable to the decision-making process. For example, disaster information could be used to predict the physical processes as well as the effects of disasters. Also, information could be used in support of decisions to deploy personnel and resources during or after a disaster. While government agencies have much of the basic data needed for an effective disaster information system, valuable data and information from private sources also are available. A particularly valuable role of private organizations is the dissemination of disaster information, especially the delivery of such information to the general public to minimize losses. Disaster information user needs vary greatly. For example, some users require highly processed data, while for others raw data are more useful. In any case, the importance of adequate training, and an appreciation of the quality of the data, for any user of disaster information is clear. As planning proceeds for a disaster information network, these important goals should be pursued: improve decision-making before, during, and after emergencies through better access to and quality of data and information, identify users and their needs, provide information products specifically designed to meet users' needs, promote efficiency and cost effectiveness, and stimulate and facilitate mitigation. It is clear that despite excellent efforts by many groups the approach to providing information for disaster management is not effectively utilizing a wealth of data that resides with various organizations and that existing technology could deliver to disaster managers important information products that could save lives, reduce damage to property, and lessen the environmental impacts of disasters. The current situation is characterized by numerous shortcomings that inhibit optimal decision-making for disaster management. The inability to access information and the lack of standardization, coordination, and communication are all obstacles that need to be overcome. It is recommended that the Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN) Transition Team move ahead in planning for a disaster information network (DIN), taking into account the following conclusions from this study:

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--> The need for an improved information network and its potential benefits are clear. The foundations of an information network are already in place. Recent advances in technology provide the mechanism for establishing a network. Successful implementation of the DIN concept will require a commitment of resources from a broad spectrum of stakeholders. The products of a DIN should be based from the outset on users' needs. A major focus of a DIN should be on integration of various data types. Data and information quality and reliability are major issues that need to be addressed. An effective dissemination and access plan is critical to the success of any information network. The GDIN Transition Team should focus initially on establishing a national DIN (i.e., with a U.S. focus), but the model should be extended to a global process (GDIN) as soon as it can be demonstrated that a DIN is technically and organizationally feasible.