--an invited comment
In 1996 the International Hurricane Center (IHC) was created at Florida International University (FIU) to carry out interdisciplinary research and training regarding hurricane hazards and to assist communities, government, and the private sector in improving mitigation and preparedness. Our geographic focus is the state of Florida, other Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, and Caribbean and Central American nations, including Mexico.
The IHC is a system-wide research center of the State University System of Florida, allowing the IHC to draw on faculty expertise in all 10 of the constituent universities. The center is located on the FIU campus in Miami near the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) National Weather Service Tropical Prediction Center/National Hurricane Center, also located on the FIU campus. Indeed, the IHC is currently establishing a mirror site on the Internet for the National Hurricane Center, whose site is often overloaded during active periods of the hurricane season.
When I took over as the first director of the IHC in August 1997, one of my initial tasks was to establish a series of activity dimensions that the IHC should develop, some of which were fortunately already underway. With funding from FIU, we are currently developing a Comprehensive Hurricane Forecast Capability. Using such technology as TAOS (The Arbiter of Storms), which is able to model hurricane effects, including wind, rainfall, storm surge, and wave action at extremely high resolution, we will be able to rapidly assess the social, economic, and infrastructural consequences of storms and provide increasingly comprehensive forecasts of potential hurricane impacts. This capability promises to become a major tool for mitigation and preparedness planning by all levels of government and the private sector.
A major preoccupation in all hurricane areas is the adequacy and enforcement of building codes, and a second IHC activity focuses on this often sensitive issue. The goal of the IHC is to contribute the kind of objective research (and eventually a testing capability) that will allow appropriate groups and associations to improve building codes and make new construction more hurricane resistant. The problems of dealing with existing vulnerable structures and ensuring adequate code enforcement are addressed in our public policy research.
As a university entity, the IHC conducts both basic and applied research, although I believe this distinction is often overdrawn. Basically, IHC research tries to answer fundamental questions in order to reduce the threat from hurricanes. The center is currently engaged in research in the following areas: household mitigation and evacuation; storm hazard and vulnerability mapping, especially vulnerable populations; long-term community recovery; and insurance mitigation incentive programs. In the past, these research efforts have been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Currently, they are also partially funded by the Florida Department of Community Affairs.
In cooperation with NOAA's National Hurricane Center and Hurricane Research Division, we are also revising the historical hurricane database (Hurdat). One of my particular research interests, which we will continue at the IHC, involves beach erosion and storm impacts along the east coast of the U.S. Another project, funded by NSF, is examining social movement organizations that grew out of the great Mexico City disaster of 1985. Finally, we are also initiating a project that tests a model of the relationship between natural disasters and political unrest worldwide over a 40-year period.
As already suggested, active involvement with practitioners and the world outside the university is part of the IHC mandate. To help meet this goal, we have developed a seven-module certificate program, offered through FIU's Division of Continuing Education, on Emergency Management and Hazard Mitigation.
Finally, because the hurricane threat is linked to the larger problem of climate change, at the behest of the White House Office of Science, Technology, and Policy and NOAA's Office of Global Programs, the IHC is hosting a Workshop on Climate Change and Extreme Events, July 21-23, 1998. This particular workshop will focus on south Florida and the U.S. Caribbean islands and explore the implications of global warming for hurricane frequency, severity, and tracking. South Florida and low-lying Caribbean islands are especially vulnerable to global warming-induced sea-level rise, which greatly exacerbates storm surge flooding.
Hurricane research and mitigation cannot advance rapidly without advocacy and funding. Hence, with IHC staff and other interested parties, I am initiating an effort to develop a National Hurricane Hazard Reduction Act, modeled on the successful 1977 National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Act. Although such an effort will require long-term dedication, it is time--past time really--for the hurricane community to organize itself as an advocacy coalition and pursue the kind of master legislation at the national level that has so enhanced basic and applied research in the earthquake area.
The International Hurricane Center was made possible by an initial endowment from the We Will Rebuild Foundation (WWR), a private, nonprofit organization that was a key player in Miami's and Dade County's recovery efforts following Hurricane Andrew. Along with the endowment, the WWR Foundation also funded an Eminent Scholar Chair, to be housed within the IHC. In January 1998, the IHC brought in Richard Olson as the first WWR Foundation Eminent Scholar.
At the same time, the IHC involves a large number of additional researchers from a broad spectrum of interests, including sociologists, anthropologists, construction management researchers, statisticians, geographers, economists, political scientists, and engineers. I am fortunate to have a set of fine individuals with whom to develop the IHC.
For further information on the IHC, I invite you to visit our Web site: http://www.fiu.edu/orgs/IHC.
Stephen P. Leatherman, Director, International Hurricane Center
For Further Information . . .
The IHC Web site offers information about the center and staff, the center's ongoing research, IHC events, education and training provided by the center, and publications. It also provides links to the National Hurricane Center and other related institutions, as well as the proceedings and the declaration resulting from the Hemispheric Congress on Disaster Reduction and Sustainable Development. The related geohazards site furnishes information about geohazards and remote sensing studies conducted at the center. The staff is currently doing work in Mexico related to geohazard mitigation.
The Natural Hazards Research Centre was established in 1994 at Macquarie University in Australia, north of sunny Sydney's magnificent harbour and less than half a marathon run from the 2000 Olympic site. Our vision is to generate applied and strategic research and training in hazard management for the global insurance industry and other collaborators and partners. We call Australia home, but regard Asia and the Pacific as part of our territory, with recent projects in Jakarta, Rabaul, Guam, and Fiji. Core funding for the centre, guaranteed until mid-2000, comes from four companies associated with the insurance industry, and, inevitably, much of the centre's research has an industry flavor.
The centre has eight staff and five postgraduate students. Most staff and students have degrees in geography, but invaluable additions include geology, computing, engineering, meteorology, environmental economics, and agronomy. We are interested in all natural perils, focusing on loss estimation and risk assessment.
Most of our loss estimation research has been on potential earthquake damage to houses in Australian capital cities, building on detailed studies of losses in the 1989 Newcastle earthquake--Australia's most expensive insurance loss. As a result of the 1990 Sydney hailstorm--the third most expensive loss in Australian insurance history--we have developed a good understanding of house damage in hail storms and have begun modeling losses to motor vehicles. Other projects have tackled hailstorms and winter wheat and cotton losses, and examined links between hail frequency and the Southern Oscillation Index. Recently, NHRC has purchased the rights to ANUFLOOD flood damage estimation software, which will be expanded, upgraded, and modified for insurance purposes during the next few years.
NHRC has always had a thing about databases, reasoning that reasonably long records of perils and consequences are required in order to understand magnitude-frequency relationships and future consequences. Most of our databases have been pieced together from scientific reports, newspaper accounts, local histories, government archives, and even mission histories. Databases cover tropical cyclones and tsunamis in the South Pacific, landslides in Australia, multiple perils in the Solomon Islands, hailstorms in Sydney, lifeline vulnerability, and deaths in Australia in landslides, lightning strikes, heatwaves, tropical cyclones, floods, and bushfires. We are optimistic that one day soon we will have all of these data in a single format. These databases will prove invaluable in a three-year project NHRC has just begun--to provide a damage index for each natural hazard event since 1900 and a risk rating for each peril in each of the 2,381 postal code areas in Australia.
Please bookmark the NHRC Web site at http://www.es.mq.edu.au/NHRC/ to learn more about us, or to browse our newsletter, NHQ--The Natural Hazards Quarterly. E-mail NHRC at NHRC@ocs1.ocs.mq.edu.au if you would like to join the hard-copy mailing list. Finally, check our Web site to obtain information on the Natural Hazards Society (see the related article in this Observer) and to interrogate the Australian Hazards Research Directory, which can tell you who is doing what in our hemisphere as far as disaster research.
Russell Blong, Director, Natural Hazards Research Centre, Macquarie University, Australia
(Author's note: This article is presented in the original Strine spelling, which differs from Merkan spelling [Strine is a strine word meaning Australian--it helps if you read it out loud without moving your lips. Merkan is a language spoken by people who live in a big country near Canada].)
On March 3, 1998, residents of Napa County, California, approved a flood control measure that would restore wildlife habitat, remove homes and businesses from repeatedly flooded areas, and create meander belts where the river can wander during floods without causing property damage. The plan also authorizes a bypass to divert floodwaters away from downtown Napa and creates more than 500 acres of restored marshland, tidal terraces, and riverine forest, further enhancing wildlife and fish habitat in the region. Concrete will only be used in a short channel within the city of Napa to protect historic buildings.
The measure, which drew enough votes for the two-thirds margin required for enactment, authorizes collection of a special half-cent sales tax and is projected to raise $6 million annually for 20 years. The funds will be used for a variety of projects along 30 miles of the Napa River. Under an existing agreement, the federal government will contribute $78 million toward the project to match funds from the city of Napa.
The measure grew out of extensive discussions among federal, state, and local authorities searching for ways to deal with chronic flooding along the Napa River caused by population growth, encroachment on the floodplain, and widespread farming practices in the upper valley that have contributed to increased runoff. Advocates say the environmentally benign project appears to be the first of its kind. In addition to expanding marshland, the plan calls for cleaning up several riverside sites contaminated by toxins.
In a related measure, on May 8, Vice President Gore announced that FEMA had awarded $1.1 million to Napa County to elevate 30 homes above flood levels, lessening erosion and undercutting by the river, and thus decreasing the amount of silt and other debris washing down the river in future floods. FEMA is funding 75% of the cost of the project, with the balance coming from local sources.
These funds were made available as a result of a presidential disaster declaration for Napa County in the wake of last February's floods. In such cases, a portion of FEMA recovery funds is allocated for approved projects that reduce future disaster risks.
For more information on this program, contact the FEMA Office of Emergency Information and Public Affairs, 500 C Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20472; (202) 646-4600; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; WWW: http://www.fema.gov.
A recent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) job announcement (#98-084-OSP2) outlines FEMA's Outstanding Scholar program. In summary, it states:
The Outstanding Scholar positions are offered at the GS-07 level and pay $26,532 per year. They have a promotion potential to GS-12 ($47,066 - $61,190 per year). (This salary range is based on the pay schedule for the Washington, D.C. area. Pay rates for other localities vary.) The positions are located in Washington, D.C., with limited positions nationwide. Applicants will be considered from anywhere in the U.S.; however no relocation expenses will be paid.
All majors will be considered. FEMA's Outstanding Scholar recruitment program maintains an active employment referral file for the following job areas: computer science, information systems, contract specialist, human resources management, accounting, and emergency management. By applying through the Outstanding Scholar program, candidates become eligible for noncompetitive employment referral to offices throughout FEMA.
Individuals hired under this program will perform trainee-level professional work involving planning for, responding to, and recovering from natural and technological disasters. The positions allow the employee to take on progressively higher-level duties. Responsibilities may involve working closely with other federal, state, and local governments and the private sector.
Details on applying are available from Cheri S. Allen, OHRM, FEMA, 500 C Street, S.W., Room 816, Washington, DC 20472; (202) 646-3072.
Click on image for larger view.
Just about every county, city, and town across the United States is subject to one or more natural hazards. When such events occur, and especially when people and property are severely impacted, the President may be asked to declare a natural disaster. Starting in late 1964, federal records identify counties that were included in each declaration and indicate the hazard that prompted the declaration.
In support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Eastern U.S. Mitigation Summit held in December 1997, and using data provided by FEMA, the Michael Baker Corporation prepared this map as a reminder that hazards happen everywhere, and few of us should be caught unaware. The map can be viewed at http://www.bakerprojects.com/fema.
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