Table of Contents

Fear and Loathing in North Dakota--an invited Comment

Task Force Issues Recommendations

The Internet Pages

Managing Disasters in the Americas: Who's Who on the Net

Speaking of Latin American Disaster Discussion Groups . . .

A New E-Mail List: DisastMH--Disaster Mental Health Professional On-Line

A Survey: Emergency Management and Internet Applications

The Decade Page

The Leadership Coalition for Global Business Recovery

Growing Smart at the State Level

California Maps Earthquake Hazards

A New Twist in Disaster Recovery

Educational Opportunities in Disaster Management

USGS Establishes Liaison with Insurance Industry

The U.N. Global Programme for the Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters

PAHO/IDNDR Disaster Documentation Center Expanding

Rescue Engineering Council Formed

Upcoming on EENET

Washington Update

Conferences and Training

Journal Seeks Authors, Readers

Contracts and Grants

Recent Publications


Who We Are

Fear and Loathing in North Dakota

--an invited comment

Grand Forks, North Dakota, recently suffered a devastating flood that inundated 80% of the city and forced almost total evacuation of its citizens. Because of this event, the Grand Forks City Council has learned many lessons "the hard way" and is confronted with difficult and complex decisions about our city's future.

The Prediction

Despite the knowledge that Fargo, 70 miles upstream, had received the greatest snowfall in its recorded history (115 inches), and despite reports that soil in the Red River Valley was saturated from heavy moisture the year before, the National Weather Service1 continued to predict that the river's crest at Grand Forks would be 49 feet, about the same level as the 1979 flood, the flood of record that had damaged basements within seven blocks of the Red River because of seepage, although the river had stayed within its banks. At that time, a tributary ran through town near the hospital and had seriously overflowed, but a retaining dam had been built after 1979 to prevent future overland flooding.

Since the 1979 flood, many dikes had been raised to 50 feet, and their strong bases made it possible to add sandbags or clay to increase their height to 52 feet. In January and February, when North Dakota experienced severe snow storms, city staff prepared to combat the anticipated 49-foot crest of the Red River and briefed the mayor and city council members about their ongoing activities. The staff checked gauges and flapgates and made plans for responses to specific increases in river level. We believed we were ready.

In retrospect, perhaps we should have also listened to two or three old timers in the country who walked in their fields after the seventh winter storm and told us, "Pretty wet out there. Never seen nothin' like it. It's gonna be a bad one."

We learned afterwards that some experts, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, were telling individuals in Washington, D.C., that they thought a crest of 53 or 54 feet was more likely than 49. The city engineer, relying on the 49-foot estimate by the National Weather Service, stated that, had they been told of the potential for a 54-foot crest, they could have planned for and built a number of secondary dikes that would have saved much of the city from serious damage. If someone had told us that these estimates were not an exact science, or that other countries predict potential river crest heights in probabilities for various levels, we may have been better prepared.

The message for other public officials facing a potential flood and the need to make decisions is, clearly, "trust but verify." Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Get a second opinion from outside the primary system--as well as more information--because billions of dollars in property are at stake.

Flood Insurance

Only about one out of 16 structures in Grand Forks was covered under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). After years of city action--improving the dike system, building the Coulee retention dam, and negotiating for years with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to clarify the exact line of the 100-year flood--many structures that had previously been in the 100-year floodplain no longer required flood insurance. Despite a vigorous advertising campaign by FEMA more than a month before the flood, few homeowners or businesses added coverage. Subsequently, reports have surfaced of insurance agents discouraging their clients from adding flood coverage because the event seemed unlikely and the insurance excluded so much. Many did add sewer back-up coverage to their homeowner policies, and through the goodness of many insurance companies and quick intervention by the state insurance commissioner, many of these claims were paid, even though arguments continue over whether basements (and first floors) were flooded by overland river water, individual sewer backup, sump pump failure, seepage, or citywide storm sewer overload. Who is responsible for what types of damage is still not clear from company to company and policy to policy.

One final annoyance voiced by many NFIP policyholders was that they have been paying premiums for flood insurance for years, and because of the declared national disaster and ensuing buyouts to establish a stronger dike protection line, ironically they may get full value from the buyout but nothing from their flood insurance. At the same time, their neighbors will get equal buyout value, while never having paid flood insurance premiums.

We need standardized federal language that clearly defines what flood insurance covers and what is excluded, such as overland flood, sewer backup, storm sewer failure, pump failure, seepage from river pressure, etc. Also, unhappily, more people ought to buy flood insurance whether they are in the 100-year floodplain or not, and whether or not they have a mortgage that requires this coverage.


Soon after the waters began to recede, the papers and airwaves were full of warnings against "contaminated" river water. Grave warnings, designed to protect the public, created fear and loathing for anything touched by the river. Tetanus shots for anyone who came in contact with the river were promoted by public health officials. City inspectors and local electrical and furnace contractors insisted that any appliance that had been submerged in water be thrown out. Consequently, immense amounts of trash were created that might have been greatly reduced if more conservative cleaning procedures were used.

We subsequently learned there was strong disagreement between Minnesota and North Dakota public health officials. Minnesota took the position that river water, by itself, was not toxic or "contaminated," and exposure did not require tetanus shots. North Dakota was more cautious.

At the same time, the local talk radio station aired a running battle between outraged callers and FEMA spokespersons over furnace replacement. FEMA's position was that, in general, furnaces could be cleaned and repaired at little cost and restored to useful service--work for which the agency was quite willing to pay. Replacement of furnaces required certification from FEMA inspectors, and if a homeowner disagreed with a FEMA inspectors' decision, he or she could appeal and request a second inspection that would be done within 7 to 10 days. However, city personnel and local electricians stated that furnaces under water for a week or more could not be safely repaired. Intense on- and off-air negotiations were held, and FEMA agreed to make appliance replacement easier so that homeowners could return to their homes more quickly.

As a local policy maker, I depend on experts to provide me with information that helps me make sound public policy decisions. I have no idea whether furnaces will work six months from now if they are carefully cleaned and repaired. I have no idea if merely touching river water exposes homeowners to life-threatening illness. But, when faced with divided opinions from experts, I lose confidence in the advice I am getting. The difference of opinions also costs money--excessive or unnecessary caution may have cost individual Grand Forks citizens thousands and the federal government millions of dollars.

The Angel

About a week after the flood, I ran into the Grand Forks mayor at the Air Force hanger that was serving as my evacuation shelter. She mentioned in passing that there would be good news soon, that she was in touch with a person who wanted to give between $10 and $50 million to alleviate suffering in Grand Forks. About two weeks later, while staying at a friend's home 30 miles south of the city, I saw the mayor on the evening news giving out $2,000 checks to homeless people at the same shelter. The donating "angel" had wished to be anonymous and had specified that there was to be no bureaucratic red tape, no guidelines for applying for aid except for a simple form that only asked for a recipients' name and address.

By the next day, a new stipulation was added--only those who had evacuated their homes were allowed to receive assistance. By the third day, a more serious revision occurred. Those who needed it should apply for the money but were asked to be guided by their conscience. This new guideline caused a fight between my wife and me that lasted for three days, since I felt we did not need the aid because we were not starving, while she felt our lives were disrupted, we had financial losses, and we were generally in need. Our local talk radio mirrored the conflict, and what had started as a generous and selfless gesture turned ugly. Finally, after the fourth or fifth day, it became clear there might not be enough money to help everyone, and that the total amount available would be $15 million, not $50 million. Some people felt bad because they had taken the money while others received nothing. Still others had not even had the chance to apply.

I relate this story because it deepened my support for government, despite the current trend to idolize the private sector. Both as a victim and a council member, I saw the importance to the human psyche of clearly delineated rules and expectations, which may be more cumbersome but are ultimately more fair. The well-intended declaration of "no red tape" may have done more harm than good in many ways, despite the generous and decent intentions behind it.


Soon after the water supply was restored to some areas of the city, business people returned and began deliberating the future of Grand Forks. At a meeting attended by the governor and state and local officials, they outlined necessary steps to restore the economic viability of the city, emphasizing two major elements: the immediate need for housing to bring back the work force and state economic assistance to small businesses. The strongest sentiment at this meeting was that a flood of this magnitude must never happen in Grand Forks again. There would be very little reinvestment in our community by businesses or homeowners unless they could be assured that future damage could be prevented.

As a result of this understandable pressure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the city engineer quickly drew up a plan to construct a significantly higher dike system. However, when people were informed that this would require the purchase and removal of over 1,000 homes and businesses, moving the dike further inland, and opening up the river's channel, a number of those who demanded rapid response instead called for further study.

Simple Questions, Complex Answers

In a time of unexpected disaster, people yearn for simple, decisive answers that will give them hope and encourage them to rise above the loss. Our constituents want to know where they stand, and they want to be told by a reliable source that things will be okay again. As public officials and caring members of the community, members of the Grand Forks City Council want to be able to speak with certainty, clarity, and accuracy. We do not want to lie or give false hope, but we want to speak positively lest our attitudes discourage people or convince them to leave town.

After the first euphoria of President Clinton promising 100% disaster assistance (which we later discovered is only for a small portion of the damage), as well as FEMA promising to help us "every step of the way," I began to yearn for simple guidance on how to deliver what was promised. Soon I also realized that, even with their homes destroyed, people preferred unpleasant facts to uncertain or overly complex responses.

Yet, as recovery from this disaster proceeds, I realize how difficult it is to give simple, straightforward answers, particularly to questions like "Can I rebuild my house now? Can I rebuild it permanently or are you going to buy it out? Do I have to clean out the basement if it's too damaged to repair? What if it's in the 100-year flood zone? What should I do while all of this is being decided?"

In an effort to clarify for myself and the citizens of Grand Forks the best responses available, I made up a chart (see Table 1) and offer it to others as a starting point, so that they can refine it for future use, hopefully giving their citizens some sense of closure sooner than we have been able to in Grand Forks.

Table 1--Options for Recovery



Owner Clean

Rebuild, Plan to Live in

for 1-3 Years

Rebuild, Plan to Live in


City Buyout
Damage over 50%, located in 100-year floodplain, on wet side of proposed dike Only if immediate hazard No No No Almost


Damage over 50%, in 100-year floodplain, on dry side of proposed dike Only if immediate hazard No No No Likely
Damage over 50%, not in floodplain, on wet side of proposed dike Only if immediate hazard No Owner's choice No Quite likely
Damage over 50%, not in 100-year floodplain, on dry side of proposed dike Only if immediate hazard Yes Owner's choice Owner's choice Unlikely (low priority)
Damage under 50%, in floodplain, on wet side of proposed dike Unlikely Yes Owner's choice No Quite likely
Damage under 50%, in floodplain, on dry side of proposed dike Very unlikely Yes Owner's choice Owner's choice Possible, but less likely
Damage under 50%, not in floodplain, on wet side of proposed dike Very unlikely Yes Yes No Probably
Damage under 50%, not in floodplain, on dry side of proposed dike Very unlikely Yes Yes Yes Quite unlikely


During the disaster, citizens were scattered throughout the region. Senior staff members with the knowledge and fortitude to act made decisions in consultation with the mayor, who worked 20-hour days for weeks. There was little structure to city government, but staff people moved ahead to repair the damage that fell under their areas of expertise. City council members were out of town and most were out of touch. This was not a problem until the third week after the flood, when it was time to make decisions about recovery and how to handle future flooding. At that time, the need for a representative council grew, since decisions had to be made, but also had to be based on public input and mediation by elected officials.

The Grand Forks City Council reconstituted itself, met once a week instead of its usual twice a month, created a special Flood Response Committee to recommend action to the council, and sent a team to meet with the Corps of Engineers prior to release of Corps recommendations for mitigating future floods. At the same time, council members became more aggressive in asking questions, voicing citizens' concerns, and in demanding more involvement in staff decisions.

Although many residents just want to know where to live next week and whether their business can find a place to rent before they go broke, others have taken on a utopian vision, asserting that "we can build it better." The state art museum, located in Grand Forks, is assembling and archiving all the images and stories created by the flood. Still, at this point, the only thing we know is that Grand Forks will never be the same, emotionally or financially. Will we become a new town, reborn from the soggy ground, or will we return to our solid complacency? One point is certain, without the help we have received from federal and state governments, private foundations, congregations, and aid organizations, as well as the many individuals who sent help and money, we would be lucky to recover in 20 years. As it is, I expect us to be back in five.

Eliot Glassheim, Member, City Council, Grand Forks, North Dakota

The author can be contacted at 619 North 3rd Street, Grand Forks, ND 58203, (701) 772-8840; e-mail: eglass@gfherald.infi.net.

1. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently preparing a comprehensive evaluation of National Weather Service outlooks and forecast services provided during the 1997 flooding on the Red River of the North, including the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks area.

Task Force Issues Recommendations

On May 24, 1997, President Clinton announced a federal action plan for recovery for North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota developed by the Long Term Recovery Task Force, an interagency group established by the president to assist in the recovery of affected states. FEMA Director James Lee Witt chaired the task force.

The Framework for Federal Action To Help Build a Healthy Recovery and Safer Future in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota (1997, 36 pp.) identifies three priorities for federal long-term recovery; mitigating flood hazards, ensuring housing, and re-establishing community sustainability. Working in conjunction with state and local governments, the action plan details the wide range of grants, loans, and technical assistance the federal government offers. Many of the recommendations are subject to funding approval.

Copies of the report are available via the Internet at the FEMA Web site: http://www.fema.gov/fema/fld97.htm. An Adobe Acrobat viewer is required.

The Internet Pages

Here are even more interesting Web sites we've encountered recently . . . is there no end?! A more extensive, annotated list of useful hazard/disaster Web pages is posted on the Hazard Center's World Wide Web page:


Operation Fresh Start is a Department of Energy initiative designed to help individuals and communities incorporate sustainable principles and technologies into their plans when they recover from a flood, earthquake, or other disaster. The Clinton Administration announced the Operation Fresh Start Web site as part of a federal aid package to flood victims in the Red River Valley area of the Dakotas and Minnesota, but the information can be of value to any community suffering a disaster. Operation Fresh Start includes case studies of successful recovery projects and is a gateway to information from a variety of federal agencies that deal with disaster recovery. The site offers a host of resources one can use to rebuild a community, business, or home--not just the way it was before the disaster, but healthier, more energy efficient, less expensive, safer, and more livable--in short, more sustainable.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Emergency Training Center (NETC) Learning Resource Center (LRC) has added its on-line card catalog to the FEMA Web site. This index will provide bibliographic access to NETC's collection of more than 50,000 books, reports, periodicals, and audiovisual materials concerning fire service and emergency management.

The LRC is NETC's on-campus library for staff and students of the National Fire Academy and the Emergency Management Institute. The center concentrates on the social and behavioral aspects of natural and technological hazards. Generally, NETC students are not scientists but practicing emergency managers and first responders, and the LRC is designed to meet their needs. While full text will not be available on-line, the listings will give users the opportunity to survey the center's wide range of material, and the general public can gain access to the LRC's collection via interlibrary loan through their local libraries. Additional information is available from the LRC Web site or by e-mailing netclrc@fema.gov.

FEMA re-launched its Tropical Storm Watch page on the World Wide Web on Friday, May 30. Usage of the site has increased greatly since its inception three years ago, with a record 400,000 hits on one day--September 5, 1996--the evening Hurricane Fran made landfall in North Carolina. The Tropical Storm Watch page offers hurricane preparedness information, fact sheets, maps, and links to other key sites offering weather satellite images and forecasts. During the hurricane season, the site is updated daily--sometimes hourly--with news releases, situation reports, tracking maps, and graphics. As a hurricane approaches landfall, users can see its projected path and learn how FEMA is coordinating the federal government's efforts to assist state and local governments in coping with the impending disaster.

We've mentioned the excellent Firewise Web site before, but with the onset of summer and fire season, we wanted to point out this section of that site, which includes several on-line publications, such as Protecting Your Home from Wildfires, Firewise Landscaping Checklist, and the Wildfire News & Notes newsletter.

This U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service Web site provides links to other sites providing information on wildfire management, as well as access to the Federal Wildland Fire Policy Final Report and the Federal Wildland Fire Management, Policy and Program Review, Implementation Action Plan Report (see the Observer, Vol. XXI, No. 2, No. 10).

The National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER) Web site continues to grow with new features to aid the earthquake engineering and hazards mitigation community. The main menu now features background information on NCEER; a guide to services and products available from the NCEER Information Service, including an interactive connection to NCEER's Quakeline database; a list of NCEER publications and technical reports with ordering information; full-text documents, including NCEER newsletters; a comprehensive list of upcoming conferences; a guide to other data bases, software, and information sources that support earthquake engineering; and links to other useful Web sites.

The Earthquake Engineering Research Center (EERC) gopher service (one of the pioneering efforts in the use of the Internet to disseminate hazards information) has been retired and the information has been moved to the EERC Web site above. Now included on that home page are links to all EERC data bases searchable on the Web, which cover: EERC's Earthquake Engineering Abstracts and Engineering Reports, computer software for earthquake engineering, protective systems, and training resources. There is also a new section called "Lessons from Loma Prieta," which includes papers on important engineering effects of the Loma Prieta earthquake, selected images, and the Loma Prieta data archive.

The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) continues to grow impressively with the addition of brief clips, which can be viewed on-line, from the EERI videos on the Kobe, Northridge, Loma Prieta, and Armenia earthquakes. Samples from other EERI publications--including slide sets, CD-ROMs, and other resources--are also available.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has identified four principal theme areas--Hazards, Natural Resources, Environment, and Information Management--in which USGS earth science information contributes to public policy, and the USGS "Themes" Web site reflects this taxonomy. After a brief introduction to USGS activities regarding hazards, this section offers information on earthquakes, floods, landslides, coastal storms and tsunamis, volcanoes, and geomagnetism, as well as hazard-related fact sheets and other information.

Approximately half of the homes built in the United States today are constructed on reactive soils--soils that, when exposed to certain physical or geological conditions, undergo changes in shape and structure that can lead to serious foundation and structural damage to buildings. Reactive soils cause an estimated $6-$11 billion damage annually, making them by far the most expensive of any geological hazard. This site, created by a team of five students from the Colorado School of Mines with help from advisors and a private engineering consultant, is designed to assist homebuilders, homebuyers, and homeowners in identifying the most common forms of reactive soils. It describes the hazards these soils can pose to various structures and offers feasible mitigation techniques to undertake before or after construction.

In April of this year, the Environmental and Societal Impacts Group (ESIG) of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, along with several other public and private institutions, sponsored a "Workshop on the Social and Economic Impacts of Weather." The proceedings, now available on-line at the URL above, include an executive summary; numerous papers on specific weather-related hazards, such as extreme temperatures, hail, tornadoes, lightning, winter storms, floods, hurricanes, and debris flows; and papers addressing broader issues, such as the impacts of weather on health and the perils of weather prediction generally.

The Emergency Management Gold Web site was created by David Crews, a Certified Emergency Manager, to serve other front-line emergency management professionals in all aspects of their work. The site contains a Virtual Library page with numerous links to other resources on the Net; a What's New section to help users easily locate new information; several papers on emergency management by Crews; a section of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about emergency management, the site, the Internet, etc.; links to other sites dealing with natural and technological risks; and lists of additional resources, state emergency management agencies, and other useful URLs.

This SAR [Search and Rescue] Contacts Page lists over 118 search and rescue organizations in approximately 40 U.S. states and numerous other countries. The site authors note that SAR teams can be excellent resources in times of disaster, especially if they are incorporated into plans ahead of time. These teams are often very familiar with their community, have access to communications gear, are trained for medical aid, and want to be of assistance during an emergency. Although the principal purpose of this site is to put volunteers in contact with a local team, it can definitely help emergency coordinators learn about the unique services offered in their area. The site includes a map of the U.S. and U.S. territories, and a person can click on any location to determine the local SAR teams active in that area.

This Emergency Services Registry and Search Site provides an index of emergency service resources and personnel. The owners invite all interested emergency management professionals to browse the site and register so that it can become a comprehensive data base of colleagues and resources worldwide.

This site provides original information as well as numerous links to other sites that address disaster contingency and response planning. Some of the links include a sample business contingency plan from MIT, sample earthquake and tsunami response plans, an article on developing a recovery plan, and another article entitled "Crisis Communications Strategic Planning."

Those of you who are map lovers (as are we), should definitely look at this site. Starting with the entire globe, you can begin zooming in until you actually identify, for example, a good Italian restaurant and its street location in Missoula, Montana (there is one!). Then, if you want, the program will show you the best route to get there (whether you are starting in Miami, Florida, or Elko, Nevada). Many other capabilities are available.

Managing Disasters in the Americas

Who's Who on the Net

Anyone concerned about disasters in Latin America, should take a look at http://www.ops.org.ni/desas-ni/

the redesigned Web site entitled "Natural Disasters in Nicaragua." The site is maintained by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) country office that has served as the administrator for desastres-ca@ops.org.ni, a predominantly Spanish-language e-mail discussion group on general topics of interest to the disaster community. A new search engine on the Web site now allows anyone to find names, organizations, and e-mail addresses of all discussion group members. The site also offers information on disasters in Nicaragua and can serve as a model for countries interested in developing similar Web pages. For more information about this venture, or to subscribe to the discussion list, contact Denis Rodriguez; e-mail: desastre@ops.org.ni.

[Adapted from Disasters--Preparedness and Mitigation in the Americas, a PAHO newsletter]

Speaking of Latin American Disaster Discussion Groups

Based on experience with the discussion list mentioned above and other networking ventures, the Pan American Health Organization has recognized that e-mail discussion represents one of the most efficient ways to link disaster professionals. Therefore the organization is establishing another discussion group for South America. Anyone (not only South Americans) interested in joining this predominantly Spanish-speaking group should send an e-mail message to pedecu@ecnet.ec, giving their name, affiliation, mailing address, and a brief description of their disaster-related responsib ilities. Subscribers will receive an e-mail message containing instructions on how to circulate messages and participate in discussions.

[Adapted from Disasters--Preparedness and Mitigation in the Americas]

A New E-Mail List

DisastMH -- Disaster Mental Health Professionals On-line

The DisastMH e-mail discussion forum was established as on ongoing conference for disaster mental health (DMH) professionals. Through DisastMH, colleagues can discuss mental health issues in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Topics could include but are not limited to:

Mental health professionals and associated professionals in disaster psychology are welcome to join this forum. To subscribe, send the following message to listserv@maelstrom.stjohns.edu:

subscribe DisastMH [firstname] [lastname]

For additional information, contact the list owner/moderator, Denruth Lougeay, via e-mail at deneelou@znet.com.

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