VOLUME XXII NUMBER 1, September 1997
Table of Contents
On The Line
Designing Disasters: Determining Our Future
--an invited comment
A New Paradigm
The Second U.S. Assessment of Research and Applications for Natural Hazards, a multi-disciplinary effort to evaluate and summarize knowledge about natural and technological hazards
and disasters from the perspectives of physical, natural, social, behavioral, and engineering
sciences, is nearing completion. It is being conducted by staff of the Natural Hazards Center and
scores of volunteer hazards researchers and managers. Since 1994, over 100 nationally and
internationally recognized experts have worked and debated together to evaluate our nation's
relationship to past, present, and future hazards.
It is clear to most involved in this effort that natural and related
technological disasters are not problems that can be solved in isolation,
but symptoms of more basic problems created culturally and based on the
ways we view the natural world. We have concluded that it is time for a
change in the prevailing thinking about how to cope with these hazards.
How we prepare for disasters today will greatly affect the sustainability of our cities in the future.
With every passing year, we are laying the groundwork for increasingly catastrophic natural and
technological disasters. We need a new paradigm of hazard reduction--sustainable hazard
mitigation--that embraces the notion of adjusting to the environment, incorporates a global
systems perspective, embodies the concept of sustainability, and derives its moral authority from
local consensus. In short, the new paradigm must go beyond simply reducing losses to building
sustainable local communities throughout the U.S.
Under this new paradigm, actions to reduce losses would only be taken when they are consistent
with five principles of sustainability: environmental quality, quality of life, disaster resiliency,
economic vitality, and inter- and intra-generational equity. This paradigm cuts across all areas of
research and hazard reduction.
Sustainable Hazard Reduction
To accomplish these goals, we recommend new approaches in several areas:
- Sustainable Culture: We must acknowledge that we are never fully in control of nature and
that humans are the cause of disaster losses. We must acknowledge that how and where we
build determines the losses we suffer. Developing consensus among divergent stakeholders is
the first step, and we propose "sustainable hazard mitigation networks" to undertake
collaborative problem-solving within appropriate geographical areas, such as metropolitan
areas or watersheds. Prototype network projects should be initiated to move us toward more
sustainable hazard mitigation.
- Events, Losses, and Costs: To understand future disaster vulnerability, we must understand
where we have been. We conservatively estimate that, in the U.S. between January 1, 1975,
and December 31, 1994, natural hazards have killed over 24,000 people (about 23 per week)
and injured about 100,000 (about 385 per month). We also estimate that the U.S. sustained
about $500 billion in damage during this period, or about one-half billion dollars a week. Of
these losses, more than 80% were weather-related, and about 10% were caused by earthquakes
and volcanoes. Yet, only 17% of losses were insured.
Despite these significant, ongoing losses, there is no
systematic reporting method for loss data and no single repository for
this information. We need to develop a method that will enable
researchers, particularly those in the social sciences, to archive their
data in a central repository. We also need to develop standardized
measures that can be used across studies and disciplines.
- The Interactive Structure of Risk: We need to assess--immediately--the interaction among
all the facets of the natural world, our population, and our constructed environment to
understand better how they shape risk, losses, and their distribution. For example, many
scientists believe that global warming will have an adverse effect on the earth's ecosystems,
yet, we have very little understanding of the types of climate variability it will cause.
- Putting Knowledge into Practice: The first Assessment of Research on Natural Hazards,
conducted in 1975, emphasized the need for applying hazards-related social science research
to disaster prevention and recovery. Since then, many changes have occurred in the way we
approach hazards in this country, particularly with the new federal emphasis on mitigation and
the emergence of an interdisciplinary "hazards community" of researchers and practitioners.
However, contrary to the first assessment's recommendations, little attention has been given
to studying ways to enhance the adoption of sound land-use schemes, measuring their social
effectiveness, understanding why people and organizations make different choices about
adjustments, assessing the effectiveness and equity of relief distribution, and evaluating
building code enforcement.
- Land-Use Management: By planning for and managing land use to accomplish social,
ecological, and economic sustainability, communities can also reduce disasters. This can be
accomplished through comprehensive land-use plans and supportive federal and state policies.
- Engineering Codes, Standards, Practices, and Control and Protection Works: Any
engineering code is only as good as its enforcement; therefore, the issue of building and
systems performance in a disaster is not purely a technical one. Until recently, engineers
relied on safety factors or made assumptions about uncertainties when estimating how a
system would perform. New methods have brought these uncertainties to the forefront of the
planning process. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is developing methods and
procedures to incorporate risk analysis into their evaluations of proposed flood mitigation
- Prediction, Forecast, Warning, and Planning: As in the past, our ability to provide timely
public warnings must continue to improve in order to reduce the number of injuries and
deaths due to disasters. We must continue to improve our distribution of warnings, and, at the
same time, develop a comprehensive national warning strategy that uses efficient and
affordable technology. Otherwise, the gap will only increase between state-of-the-art
technology and practice.
- Disaster Response and Preparedness: Since the 1975 assessment, a large body of research
has been carried out on disaster response and preparedness. We have a much clearer picture of
household preparedness, the importance of socioeconomic factors, and the way that
information about risk and preparedness can foster appropriate behavior, but our knowledge is
far from complete. We need to learn more about why disaster preparedness has little support
and determine ways in which disaster preparedness can serve as a foundation for sustainable
- Recovery and Reconstruction: Over the last 20 years, there has been a shift in
conceptualizing disaster recovery, moving from thinking of recovery as a linear process that
follows specific steps to viewing it as a process of interaction and decision making among
groups and institutions. We believe that sustainability may be the concept that provides the
crucial link between disaster recovery and mitigation. In particular, planning for recovery has
been given minimal attention in the U.S., although in comparison, considerable resources
have been devoted to emergency preparedness and response.
- Insurance: Although insurance is never an acceptable alternative to loss prevention, it can be
an important part of a hazards management program, particularly if it is used to encourage and
enforce cost-effective loss-reduction measures. We suggest a three-faceted approach to its use:
improve current estimates of catastrophic risk, use inspections and certifications to verify
damage-resistance of buildings, and determine additional ways of raising capital to cover
- Economics: We need better data to estimate losses due to natural hazards and disasters. In the
past, insurance industry loss data has not been shared with researchers. In addition, we need to
understand better how individuals respond to risk and uncertainty through economic means,
propose public policies that have appropriate economic incentives, and analyze the
effectiveness of public policies by looking at their true economic consequences.
- Adoption and Implementation: To date, several strategies have dominated the adoption of
hazards adjustments, including technological fixes, risk communication, incentives, and
sanctions. Reduction of future catastrophic losses will require significantly more sophisticated
forms of these and other approaches.
Looking Toward the Future
Finally, we ask the nation to acknowledge that we will never be totally safe from disasters. We
ask that those who are charged with making national and local decisions acknowledge that they
are designing the disasters that future generations will experience. And we seek to begin a
nationwide conversation that will lead to actions that link hazard mitigation and disaster response
to the broader goals of sustainability.
Dennis Mileti, Second U.S. Assessment of Research and Applications for Natural Hazards
Designing Future Disasters will be available in the near future and will be announced in an
upcoming issue of the Natural Hazards Observer.
Hazards Center Library Now On-Line
Since the Natural Hazards Research and Applications
Information Center was established over 20 years ago, the
backbone of its information service has been its library, which
has grown to become one of the most extensive collections of
documents on human adaptation to natural hazards in the world.
In the past, persons wanting to consult that repository of disaster
knowledge had to contact the center's librarian and request a search of the library catalog.
Now, anyone can conduct such searches via the Internet.
Christened "HazLit," the library Internet database, including many fully annotated entries, is
available through the World Wide Web at:
At that Web location, users will find an overall description of library services, a brief summary
of how to search HazLit (recommended reading for first-time visitors), a list of suggested
keywords to use when searching the database, and, most importantly, the search mechanism that
allows the user to query HazLit based on concepts or keywords.
HazLit is intended to make the Hazards Center library readily accessible to the world beyond
Boulder, Colorado. At the same time, the Hazards Center staff recognize that computer
technology cannot yet replace the knowledge or skill of the people who have managed the center
library for years. Hence, for a fee, we still offer customized extensive searches of the library by a
human being, and information about that service is available from the Web address above.
The Natural Hazards Center hopes this new service will help both the hazards research and
practitioner communities in their work. We welcome comments regarding HazLit and the
Internet access we are providing. Comments should be directed to Mary Fran Myers, Natural
Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, IBS #6, Campus Box 482, University of
Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482, (303) 492-2150; fax: (303) 492-2151; e-mail: email@example.com.
A Flood of Stuff on Floods and Other Things
Our Newest Monograph
How They Dealt With Floods in Georgia
On July 3, 1994, Tropical Storm Alberto struck the Florida panhandle and proceeded northeast
before stalling just south of Atlanta, Georgia. As the storm lingered and then slowly retraced its
steps to the southwest over the next six days, it dumped more than 20 inches of rain over large
parts of the Flint River Basin in southwest Georgia, flooding the cities of Montezuma, Albany,
Newton, and Bainbridge, and inflicting over $1 billion in damage. This devastation
notwithstanding, the flood provided an opportunity to identify and document the successes and
failures of state and local floodplain management programs and activities.
An Assessment of Floodplain Management in Georgia's Flint River Basin, by Elliott Mittler
(Monograph #59, 1997, 190 pp.), documents such a study. Mittler assessed the impact of federal,
state, and local floodplain management activities on losses in the Flint River Basin, paying
special attention to the impact of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and local floodplain management efforts. In this monograph, he looks at previous studies; evaluates the political
situation affecting flood recovery in each community; examines federal, state, and local
responses to the disaster, concentrating on recovery plans and the use of hazard mitigation
programs to reduce future flood losses; analyzes the effectiveness of the NFIP; and offers a series
of findings and recommendations based on the relatively successful recovery programs he found.
In his foreword to this book, flood expert Gilbert White says, "This is the first thorough effort to
assess in one area the effects of current local, state, and federal policies on the use of floodplains
in the United States. Although focused on one river basin, it illustrates the problems that should
be addressed for the nation as a whole . . . It thoughtfully raises a series of questions to which
sound answers must be found if wise use is to be achieved in the long run. . . . If the nation is to
be well served in managing floodplains, this should be seen as a basic step toward genuine
An Assessment of Floodplain Management in Georgia's Flint River Basin costs $20.00, plus
shipping charges (consult the chart on the facing page). It can be ordered from the Publications
Clerk, Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, IBS #6, Campus Box
482, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482, (303) 492-6819; fax: (303) 492-2151; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Newest Special Publication
Have We Learned Anything Since the Big Thompson
On July 31, 1976, the Big Thompson Canyon, northwest of Denver, Colorado, was ravaged by a
flash flood, causing the worst natural disaster in Colorado history. At least 139 people died, 88
were injured, and seven people were never found. The flood destroyed 316 homes, 45 mobile
homes, and 52 businesses, and damaged numerous other structures.
More than 20 years after the flood, vulnerability to this type of disaster remains--flash flood
deaths have not declined, and the public continues to underestimate the power of flowing water.
Moreover, debris flows, mudslides, and alluvial fan flooding in canyon areas in the Western
United States are causing greater damage as more people move to the West. And, experts still
have not devised an effective way to get motorists to abandon their cars and climb uphill to
safety during flash floods in steep mountain canyons.
The Natural Hazards Center's newest Special Publication, Twenty Years Later: What We Have
Learned Since the Big Thompson Flood, edited by Eve Gruntfest (SP #33, 1997, 230 pp.,
$20.00), contains papers from a meeting held in Colorado on the anniversary of the flood to
examine subsequent advances in our knowledge about and ability to prevent such disasters. The
volume includes sections on federal perspectives, dam safety, human dimensions of disaster,
meteorological capabilities and climatological issues, warning systems, international
experiences, and paleo-hydrological methods.
Copies can be purchased from the Publications Clerk at the address above.
Our Newest Working Paper
The Taking Issue and Hazardous Areas
Geographically specific natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes inflict tens
of billions of dollars in public and private costs upon the United States annually, and the level of
damage in particular disasters is often related to the location and design of structures in areas of
known risk. Governmental regulations such as floodplain zoning and coastal setbacks may be
imposed under police powers to restrain unsafe building practices. State courts have generally
upheld such measures against takings challenges, that is, claims based on the Fifth Amendment
to the Constitution, which prohibits government from taking private property without
compensation. However, one of the more perplexing recent legal developments--at least for
hazards managers--has been the apparent tendency of courts to restrict the ability of governments to regulate development in hazardous areas.
The Hazards Center's latest working paper, The Taking Issue and the Regulation of Hazardous
Areas, by Rutherford H. Platt and Alexandra D. Dawson,
examines these issues in depth. The authors note that since 1992 an invigorated property rights movement
has achieved two favorable decisions in the U.S. Supreme Court: Lucas v. South Carolina
Coastal Council and Dolan v. City of Tigard, each involving hazard area regulations. However,
they maintain that, while these decisions imposed a higher burden of justification upon public
regulators, they did not undermine the longstanding presumption that government may enact
reasonable limits on private land to mitigate natural disaster risks without compensation to the
The Taking Issue and the Regulation of Hazardous Areas, Natural Hazards Working Paper
#95, is available free on the World Wide Web:
Individuals without access to the World Wide Web, can order a printed copy of the working
paper for $9.00, plus shipping and handling. To determine total cost, contact the Publications
Clerk at the address above.
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The Natural Hazards Center's Quick Response
The Natural Hazards Center is soliciting proposals for its 1998 Quick Response (QR) program,
which enables social scientists to collect perishable data immediately after a disaster. If you
would like to study a disaster before the last of the debris is swept up, submit a brief proposal
describing the research question you would like to pursue in anticipation of an event. If your
proposal is approved, you will then be eligible to receive funding to carry out your investigation,
should an appropriate disaster occur in the next 12 months. Grants average between $1,000 and
$3,000 and essentially cover travel only. In return, grantees must submit reports of their findings,
which are published by the Natural Hazards Center both electronically and in hard copy.
Researchers who wish to submit proposals for Quick Response Research Grants should request a
QR solicitation letter from Mary Fran Myers, Co-Director, Natural Hazards Center, Campus
Box 482, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482; (303) 492-2150; fax: (303) 492-2151; e-mail: email@example.com. The deadline for proposal submission is October 15,
In the meantime, to obtain a list of Quick Response reports and other Natural Hazards Center
publications, send $3.00 to the Publications Clerk at the address on the previous page. This list,
as well as full text copies of recent QR reports, are available at no charge from the center's home
page on the World Wide Web: http://www.colorado.edu/hazards.
The 1997 Annual Hazards Research and Applications
In July, hazards professionals from around the world gathered in Denver, Colorado, for the 22nd
Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop. There was plenty of debate and
discussion during the four days of the workshop, as federal, state, and local government officials,
nonprofit organization and private industry representatives, and others who work to alleviate the
suffering and loss caused by natural disasters talked, listened, and learned from one another.
To ensure that the ideas and information generated at the workshop are not limited to the
participants only, the Natural Hazards Center publishes brief summaries of each session,
abstracts of the hazards research presented, and descriptions of the programs and projects
discussed at the meeting. A set of all workshop materials, including the agenda and participant
list, costs $20.00, plus $5.00 shipping. (For orders beyond North America, contact the
Publications Clerk at the address below for shipping charges.) Currently, the list of all session
summary and abstract titles is available on our Web site: http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/ss/ss.html.
In November, the complete text of all session summaries will also be available on our
Web page, although the abstracts of hazards research, programs, and projects will not.
To order these materials, send your payment (checks should be payable to the University of
Colorado) to the Publications Clerk, Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information
Center, Campus Box 482, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482; (303) 492-6819;
fax: (303) 492-2151; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visa, Mastercard, American Express,
and Diner's Club cards are also accepted.
Late-Breaking Information Sources
In June 1997, the Natural Hazards Observer published a special issue that contained a list of
information sources on hazards and disasters. Below are recent corrections and additions to that
list. To obtain a printed copy of the original Information Sources edition of the Observer, send
$2.00, plus $3.00 for shipping, to the Publications Clerk, Natural Hazards Research and
Applications Information Center, Campus Box 482, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482; (303) 492-6819; fax: (303) 492-2151; e-mail: email@example.com. Readers can also
access the list electronically via our World Wide Web site: http://www.colorado.edu/hazards.
TSUNAMI PROJECT, PACIFIC MARINE ENVIRONMENTAL LABORATORY, AND
TSUNAMI HAZARD MITIGATION FEDERAL/STATE STEERING GROUP
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 7600 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle,
WA 98115-0070. Eddie N. Bernard, Director; (206) 526-6800; fax: (206) 526-6815; WWW:
http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tsunami and http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tsunami-hazard.
RISK RESEARCH GROUP/CENTRE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STRATEGY
University of Surrey, Guildford GU2 5XH, U.K. Tom Horlick-Jones; tel: +44 1483 25 9074;
fax: +44 1483 25 9394; e-mail: T.Horlick-Jones@Surrey.ac.uk.
GREIG FESTER CENTRE FOR HAZARD RESEARCH
Department of Geological Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E
6BT, U.K. Bill McGuire, Director; tel: +44 (171) 419 3449; fax: +44 (171) 388-7614; e-mail:
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIALOS ANGELES, CENTER FOR PUBLIC HEALTH
AND DISASTER RELIEF
School of Public Health, P.O. Box 951772, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1772. Steven J. Rottman,
Director; Loc H. Nguyen, Program Coordinator; (310) 794-6646; fax: (310) 794-1805; e-mail:
REGIONAL DISASTER INFORMATION CENTER
Apartado 3745-1000, San José, Costa Rica. Tel: (506) 296-3952; fax: (506) 231-5973; e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org; WWW: http://ns.netsalud.sa.cr/crid.
ASSOCIATION OF ENGINEERING GEOLOGISTS
323 Boston Post Road, Suite 2D, Sudbury, MA 01775. Norman R. Tilford, Executive Director;
(508) 443-4639; fax: (508) 443-2948; e-mail: email@example.com.
No Longer in Operation
URBAN HAZARD PROJECT/HAZARD AND RISK MANAGEMENT STUDIES
London School of Economics and Political Science
FEMA's Exemplary Practices II: The Sequel
Taking a cue from Hollywood, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has
recently published its followup collection of outstanding emergency management practices. In its
recently released Volume II of Partnerships in Preparedness: A Compendium of Exemplary
Practices in Emergency Management (1997, 74 pp., free), FEMA describes nine superior
emergency management practices and 29 commendable practices.
The nine superior programs include the Los Angeles City Fire Explorer Program, the California
Standardized Emergency Management System, a volunteer wildfire mitigation effort called
Neighbors for Defensible Space, an Emergency Responders Appreciation Day, a Chronology of
Historic Disasters in Tennessee, the Special Needs Awareness Program (SNAP), the National
Coordinating Council on Emergency Management's program to certify professional emergency
managers, a police-fire incident management course, and a high school earthquake preparedness
Commendable practices cover a broad range of emergency management efforts, including business emergency preparedness, earthquake preparedness and debris collection, information
dissemination, small city disaster preparedness, interagency agreements, floodplain management,
animal management in disasters, and citizen involvement in preparedness and mitigation.
The compendium is indexed according to program title, subject, location, and contact
information. Copies can be obtained from the FEMA Publications Distribution Center, 8231
Stayton Drive, Jessup, MD 20794; (800) 480-2520 or (202) 646-3484; fax: (301) 497-6378; or
via the World Wide Web: http://www.fema.gov/old97/publicat.html.
Recognizing the need for cooperation across jurisdictional boundaries in many disaster
situations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Emergency
Management Association (NEMA) recently announced a joint effort to develop a system for
emergency managers and FEMA regional offices to assess their level of preparedness for
responding to emergencies.
FEMA and NEMA Develop CAR
The Capability Assessment for Readiness (CAR) evaluates the ability of federal and state
emergency management agencies to respond to disasters--particularly in partnership with one
another. CAR focuses on 13 core elements that can enhance or inhibit major emergency
management functions: laws and authorities; hazard identification and risk assessment; hazard
management; resource management; planning; direction, control, and coordination;
communications and warnings; operations and procedures; logistics and facilities; training;
exercises; public education and information; and finance and administration. Using CAR, each
state and territory will conduct a comprehensive self assessment and use the results to improve
state and FEMA joint strategic planning.
For further information on this effort, contact the Preparedness, Training, and Exercises
Directorate, FEMA, 500 C Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20472; (202) 646-3487; fax: (202)
646-4557; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; WWW: http://www.fema.gov/pte/car.htm.
To obtain a free copy of the recent publication User's Guide for the Capability Assessment for
Readiness (CAR) (1997, 31 pp.), contact FEMA, Preparedness, Training, and Exercises Directorate, State and Local Preparedness Division, attn: CAR Team, 500 C Street, S.W., Washington,
DC 20472; (202) 646-3080; e-mail: email@example.com.
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