Volume XXIII, Number 6, July 1999

Table of Contents

Disaster Awareness and Public Education in Africa: The Problems Here are Different
--an invited comment

IDNDR Commemorative Volume Now Available

End-of-the-Millennium Information Sources

A New NHRAIC Monograph on Disaster Evacuation

Washington Update

The Internet Pages

On the Line
Tying Research to Practice: Providing Standard Disaster Safety Messages

A Letter to the Editor
A Clarification and a Call for a National Wind Research Program

Another Letter to the Editor
Making Connections in Earthquake Science and Engineering

USGS Opens River Studies Station in Missouri

New Stuff from the World's Oldest Disaster Center

Natural Hazards Institute to be Established at UWO

Hazards Centre Seeking Australasian Disaster Researchers

Introducing the San Francisco Disaster Registry Program

The Disaster Management Support Project

The Canada Centre for Remote Sensing

Conferences and Training

FEMA to Offer International Emergency Management Training

ASFPM Now Offering Floodplain Manager Certification

Contracts and Grants

Recent Publications

MCEER Looks at Earthquakes and Critical Elements

Electronic Stuff

Who We Are

Disaster Awareness and Public Education in Africa

The Problems Here Are Different

Because numerous challenges constrain efforts to reduce risks from natural hazards in Africa, success requires a different approach toward hazard reduction than those used in other parts of the world. Public education and awareness opportunities are afforded by focusing on short-, medium-, and long-term risk aversion as a pragmatic and sustainable strategy for minimizing threats.

However, when one reviews the Bimonthly Highlights issued by the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) Secretariat, examples of disaster reduction advocacy from Africa are conspicuously absent, at least compared with the reports of meetings, conferences, Web sites, and publications prolifically generated from Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Oceania. In some respects, this reflects two important points. First, the mainstreaming of disaster reduction--particularly mitigation and preparedness measures taken in advance of a hazard occurrence--is a gradual process that takes at least 10 to 20 years, as was the case in Latin America and Asia. It takes this time to build sufficient institutional capacity, human resources, and locally applicable technologies to support significant adaptations to expected threats.

Second, much of the initiative in natural disaster reduction has its origins in northern countries or in regions regularly buffeted by sudden-onset threats, such as hurricanes, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, or floods. While much of Africa also faces these types of hazards, the continent's natural risk profile differs considerably--if we define risk as being the product of both hazard and vulnerability.

During the past decade, our continent has been battered by many hardships, including armed conflict and fiscal austerity programs associated with economic reform. However, most of the natural threats we face are not dramatic sudden-onset events, but relatively silent and insidious encroachments on life and livelihood, which increase social, economic, and environmental vulnerability to even modest hazard occurrences. Recurrent drought, progressive land degradation, desertification, and HIV/AIDS (among other communicable diseases) are responsible for incalculable human, crop, livestock, and environmental losses, which are not easily measured by conventional disaster-loss tracking systems.

The Numbers Don't Tell the (Whole) Tale

Perhaps this is best illustrated by taking a look at the 1997 statistics of natural catastrophes provided by Munich Reinsurance, which estimated a total of 538 disaster loss events in 1997, claiming around 13,000 deaths and $60 billion in damage. Thirty-six of these events were attributed to Africa (compared with 182 and 172 loss events for Asia and the Americas, respectively).1 Economic losses for Europe, the Americas, and Asia were respectively estimated at $10 billion, $9 billion, and $8 billion, while total African losses were lower than those recorded for Australia.

These figures primarily reflect insured losses of physical infrastructure in countries where sudden-onset geomorphic, meteorologic, and hydrologic events repeatedly strike areas that are densely populated. As a result, there is a far greater public and institutional awareness of the need for disaster reduction there than in Africa, where small-scale or creeping emergencies occur in isolated hinterlands.

The Language of Disasters

Given this context, perhaps the message of natural disaster reduction has not worked as well in Africa as in other continents. Again, this focus conjures images of preventing sudden-onset natural events that may or may not happen at some future point. In a region where a ready-made stack of urgent survival issues exists, one can hardly expect natural disaster reduction to be viewed as a priority by the media, educators, or policy makers.

Moreover, the language of contemporary hazard or disaster reduction does not easily resonate with many of the indigenous southern African languages. Most local languages do not automatically differentiate between the English words of risk, hazard, and disaster when literally translated. This does not imply that concepts that differentiate between risk and disaster do not exist in indigenous meaning systems. It does, however, demand greater effort by risk reduction practitioners to build conceptual and perceptual bridges between scientific and indigenous interpretations of risk. Although this seems an obvious prerequisite for effective risk reduction, little effort has been expended in Africa compared to that undertaken in Asia or Latin America.

The natural disaster reduction message also argues that investments in mitigation and preparedness are necessary to ensure sustained economic, social, and environmentally responsible development. Such investments avoid or minimize the unaffordable human, property, and environmental losses caused by the interplay between natural and other forces. Yet, again, particularly in Africa, focusing on future large-scale, quick-onset natural catastrophes overlooks more salient, immediate risks, such as chronic food insecurity and hunger, war, armed robbery, sexual assault, traffic accidents, and the ever-present threats of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Development and Disasters

If, however, we carry forward the argument that natural disaster reduction in Africa is indeed a cornerstone of sustainable development, then perhaps it would be better to root disaster reduction advocacy in the risks and issues that resonate with today's development agenda, as well as future uncertainties. In many ways, this is a more difficult challenge for both our region's hazard scientists and emergency managers. It means engaging directly with today's social, economic, and environmental agendas, and drawing links between ongoing developmental efforts and natural risk reduction. It means learning the language and vocabulary of fields as diverse as land reform, gender equity, ecotourism, and poverty reduction. It means demystifying and reworking much of our existing meteorological and hydrological hazard science so that it becomes much more accessible to other players and resonates better with today's priorities. The selective integration of risk reduction science and technology with our region's development agendas provides a critical platform for natural disaster reduction advocacy in southern Africa.

Here is one example. Nearly two years ago, southern Africa's largest nongovernmental organization involved in the water sector was invited to participate in a regional drought risk-reduction initiative. No, they replied, we are committed to sustainable community water supplies in rural areas, not emergency drought water programmes. Today, the same nongovernmental organization is promoting a regional rainwater harvesting program across southern Africa to improve the sustainability of water supplies to households in recurrently drought-prone areas. Its engagement with drought reduction is not motivated by a concern for disaster aversion, but rather by a concern that drought threatens the sustainability of rural water supplies.

Integrate and Educate

This is our opportunity. There are multiple avenues to minimize natural disasters by focusing primarily on the links between existing development agendas and natural risk reduction, regardless of whether the perceived threat is violent crime, unemployment, chronic hunger and food insecurity, or progressive land degradation. Our print and electronic media have played active roles in policy advocacy and the promotion of public awareness regarding all these themes, and in most countries there is a high level of political understanding of their importance. Again, the challenge in getting the message out about natural disaster reduction is to integrate more skillfully its core elements into these existing advocacy vehicles and networks.

To some degree, the IDNDR has provided Africa with a vehicle that links contemporary hazard science with the agendas of sustainable development and social equity. Irrespective of whether the focus is wetland conservation, improved food security for female-headed households, or better land-use planning, these are all potential platforms for profiling links between natural and other forms of risk containment. If we take up this challenge, natural risk reduction will become a priority better woven into our existing social, economic, and political fabric, rather than a tenuous thread invoked (albeit temporarily) in the aftermath of a highly visible natural calamity.

Ailsa Holloway, Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable, Livelihoods Programme, Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa


  1. Berz, G. The Role of the Insurance Industry, IDNDR Press Kit, 1998 World Disaster Reduction Campaign. 1998.
  2. Erbach, J. and J. Gaudet. Urbanisation Issues and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa, USAID Africa Bureau, Office of Sustainable Development. Washington, D.C. 1998.

IDNDR Commemorative Volume Now Available

This article is based on a paper in Natural Disaster Management (NDM), the official commemorative volume of the United Nations' International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) 1990-2000. NDM assesses the achievements of the Decade and analyzes how we may continue to promote hazard preparedness into the 21st century in order to reduce loss of life and property. Comprising more than 100 contributions from experts across 32 countries, NDM offers a diverse selection of articles on natural hazard preparedness and disaster mitigation. This book is intended for anyone concerned with the observation, analysis, and interpretation of natural hazards. Copies are now available for 45 ($70.00) from its UK publishers, Tudor Rose, tel: +44 116 251 5123; fax: +44 116 251 7123, WWW: http://www.ndm.co.uk.

The Internet Strikes Again . . .

End-of-the-Millennium Information Sources

Since 1984, the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center has periodically published a comprehensive list of domestic, academic, governmental, and international institutions that generate information on natural disasters, as well as a list of journals and periodicals dealing with the subject. In each case, these directories provide the names of individuals to contact, with as much contact information as we can divine (address, phone, fax, e-mail, Web site, hat size).

That information is reproduced on the Hazards Center Web site:


Specifically, the list of domestic, academic, governmental, and international institutions is available from


and the list of periodicals is available from


We have recently completed a thorough update of these indices. However, due to prohibitive costs, we will not be publishing the Information Sources in hard copy. Instead we encourage those of you who wish to use these catalogs to print the Web pages listed above. For persons without access to the Web, the Hazards Center will print and mail a complete set; the cost for recipients within the U.S. is $7.50; for persons overseas, $12.50. Orders should be directed 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: jclark@spot.colorado.edu.

We have tried to ensure that these lists are accurate and comprehensive (although we have not included private, for-profit organizations). Still, no doubt we have missed someone somewhere or recorded an erroneous zip code. Therefore, we encourage Observer readers to provide any additions or corrections they may discover. Corrections should be sent to David Butler, Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, Campus Box 482, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482; (303) 492-4180; fax: (303) 492-2151; e-mail: butler@spot.colorado.edu.

Nothing so anticipated . . . . . . since Revenge of the Jedi

A New NHRAIC Monograph on Disaster Evacuation

In 1994, there was Disaster Evacuation and the Tourist Industry. In 1996 there was Disaster Evacuation Behavior: Tourists and Other Transients. Now comes the final volume in sociologist Tom Drabek's disaster evacuation trilogy: Disaster-Induced Employee Evacuation (Monograph #60, 1999, 270 pp.).

Released July 1 by the Natural Hazards Center, Disaster-Induced Employee Evacuation asks the fundamental question: When people are at work and they learn that disaster is imminent, what are their responses? To find answers, Drabek interviewed 406 employees of 118 businesses and 23 emergency managers following seven disasters involving hurricanes or flooding. He documented employee information sources, judgments, and actions, and, in so doing, discovered that many businesses were ill-prepared to provide the guidance their employees expected or needed. Thus, many employees experienced stress because of inadequate managerial leadership and acute tension because of conflicting demands between work and family. Collectively, Drabek's findings suggest that business owners must make significant investments in disaster preparedness or risk significant costs in both material losses and employee morale and effectiveness.

Not only does Drabek examine numerous dimensions of employee evacuation behavior, he also surveys the effects on that behavior of various event characteristics, organizational size, and organizational mission. He then develops models to explain and predict evacuation behavior and risk perception.

Finally, Drabek identifies specific policy gaps that must be addressed to improve business and employee response to impending disaster and offers suggestions for future research that would both clarify and improve that process. He concludes with an "Action Agenda," in which he calls for employee initiatives to improve business preparedness, employer audits of current practices and resources, and promotion of disaster planning throughout the business community by local emergency managers.

Disaster-Induced Employee Evacuation, Monograph #60, costs $20.00, plus postage (indicated in the chart below); copies can be ordered from 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: jclark@spot.colorado.edu.

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Washington Update

Emergency Aid Bill Becomes Law

Congress made very little distinction between the follies of humans and the foibles of nature in doling out emergency aid to victims of both the refugee crisis in the Balkans and natural disasters in North and Central America. On May 21, 1999, President Clinton signed into law the 1999 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 106-31), which contains $15 billion to assist Americans in recovering from natural disasters, to aid Central America in its recovery from hurricanes Mitch and Georges, and to finance the air war against Yugoslavia.

Among the many items funded:

The complete text of the legislation, Public Law No. 106-31, can be obtained from any federal repository library or via the Internet at http://thomas.loc.gov.

FEMA Rules on Cost Share for Disaster Assistance

Sometimes, state and local governments are hard-pressed to come up with their share of matching funds in order to receive federal assistance for a presidentially declared disaster under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. In such cases, state and local governments can apply for cost-share adjustments to reduce the amount they must provide for permanent restorative and emergency work. On April 21, 1999, FEMA issued a final rule that establishes the financial criteria that must be met for the agency to recommend to the president a cost-share adjustment under FEMA's Public Assistance Program.

The final rule was issued because disasters occasionally place such severe strains on state and local resources that FEMA will recommend a 90% federal/10% state cost-share arrangement, as opposed to the normal 75%/25% requirement. Since 1985, although 435 major disaster declarations have been made under the Stafford Act, only 32 cost-share adjustments have been granted. Since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, no cost-share adjustments above the 90%/10% ratio have been granted, in order to ensure local and state contributions and investment in reducing risk.

In the final rule, FEMA recommends capping the federal share of disaster assistance at 90%, although it still allows discretion by the president to grant 100% funding for emergency work, including direct federal assistance, for limited periods following disaster declarations when emergency needs warrant. In addition, FEMA will consider major disaster declarations for a state during the preceding 12 months, and, if warranted, the agency will recommend 100% federal funding for a limited period, regardless of the per capita impact. This rule applies to sections 403, 406, and 407 of the Stafford Act that relate to permanent restorative work and emergency work. The rule does not apply to the Individual and Family Grant Program, the Hazard Mitigation Program, or to development costs at manufactured home group sites.

Since 1985, FEMA has used a $64 per capita threshold, based on statewide population, as a trigger for increasing the federal cost-share. The final rule raises this threshold, and FEMA will adjust that threshold annually from now on. Beginning in 1999, this amount is $75 per capita, and it will be raised to $85 in 2000 and $100 in 2001 and 2002. For later years, this amount will be adjusted according to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

The final rule took effect on May 21, 1999. The complete text of the rule can be found in the April 21, 1999, Federal Register (Vol. 64, No. 76, pp. 19496-19498). For further information on this policy, contact Patricia Stahlschmidt, Response and Recovery Directorate, FEMA, 500 C Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20472; (202) 646-4066; fax: (202) 646-4060; e-mail: patricia.stahlschmidt@fema.gov.

GAO Looks at Catastrophic Wildfires

Because forests in the American West have accumulated considerable vegetation in recent years, they have suffered an increasing number of large, intense, uncontrollable, and catastrophically destructive wildfires. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 39 million acres of national forests in the interior West are at high risk from catastrophic wildfires due to past management practices, particularly the Forest Service's decades-old policy of putting out wildfires in national forests. This policy disrupted the natural occurrence of low-intensity fires that removed flammable undergrowth without significantly damaging larger trees. Now, with the accumulation of vegetation, much of the region has been transformed into a tinderbox.

Over the past decade, the number and extent of wildfires has increased, as have the costs of putting them out. During the 1990s, the Forest Service began to address the problems of these wildfires by improving forest health. A recently released General Accounting Office (GAO) report, requested by the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, Committee on Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, looks at these efforts. It is entitled Western National Forests: A Cohesive Strategy is Needed to Address Catastrophic Wildfire Threats (GAO/RCED-99-65, 1999, 60 pp., free).

In this report, the GAO concluded that the Forest Service lacks adequate data to develop a cohesive strategy for improving forest health. The agency recommends the Forest Service develop a strategy that includes acquiring data to establish meaningful performance measures and goals for fuel reduction, identifying changes in contracting procedures that would facilitate fuel reduction, and developing a schedule and cost estimates for different options for accomplishing these goals.

Copies of the report are free and can be obtained from the U.S. General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 37050; Washington, DC 20013; (202) 512-6000; fax: (202) 512-6061; e-mail: info@www.gao.gov;WWW: http://www.gao.gov.

Congress Approves SBA Pilot Program

Congress recently took a step forward in disaster mitigation by funding a Disaster Mitigation Pilot Program for the Small Business Administration (Public Law 106-24). Signed into law on April 27, 1999, the legislation guarantees loans to enable small businesses to use mitigation techniques in support of a formal mitigation program established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It sets aside $15 million for fiscal years 2000 through 2004, and requires a report on the program's effectiveness be submitted to Congress in 2003.

Copies of the legislation can be obtained from any federal repository library or via the Internet at http://thomas.loc.gov. Further information about the program can be obtained from your local Small Business Administration servicing office or via the Internet: http://www.sba.gov.

FEMA and APA Issue Planning Guidebook

Wise land use is an effective means of preventing or reducing the impacts of natural disasters. However, immediately following a disaster, there is often pressure on a local government to ease restrictions on building in order to allow the community to return to its previous state as quickly as possible. To help local communities plan for disaster recovery before a disaster happens, the American Planning Association and FEMA have published Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction (PAS Report No. 483/484, 1999, 346 pp., $34.00). This is the first all-hazards guidance manual for local planners to use in developing postdisaster recovery and reconstruction plans.

The volume looks at the role of planners in postdisaster reconstruction, disaster operations, guiding planning for recovery and reconstruction, the planning process, planning tools, legal and financial issues, and hazard identification and risk assessment. Planning for Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction includes several examples of communities that used this process. It notes that disaster recovery measures must be developed before a disaster occurs in order for communities to be successful in competing for federal hazard mitigation grants and other funds that become available following disasters.

The case studies include:

Copies of Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction can be purchased from the Planners Book Service, 122 South Michigan Avenue, Suite 1600, Chicago, IL 60603; (312) 786-6344; fax: (312) 431-9985. Copies can also be purchased on-line at http://www.planning.org/bookstore.

Federal Response Updated

An updated plan for mobilizing federal resources when communities and states are overwhelmed by natural and human-caused disasters was recently released by FEMA. The Federal Response Plan, which serves as the principa l organizational guide for 26 federal agencies and the American Red Cross, details the roles and responsibilities of each agency activated to deliver emergency aid during a major crisis.

The revised plan incorporates a new Recovery Function Annex, which describes the structure and coordination activities that directly assist individuals, families, businesses, and state and local governments in recovering from disaster. It was created to integrate recovery and mitigation functions into the plan and incorporates recovery concepts that address floodplain management, flood insurance, environmental protection, historic preservation, mitigation, and risk management.

The updated plan also includes four new support function annexes covering Community Relations, Donations Management, Logistics Management, and Occupational Health and Safety, along with two new appendices that describe changes and revisions and provide an overview of a disaster operation. Additionally, the plan reinforces the use of the Incident Command System, mentions the importance of private- sector partnerships, and describes several new resources. It also incorporates an updated Terrorism Incident Annex.

The complete text of the revised plan is free from FEMA Publications, Distribution Facility, P.O. Box 2012, Jessup, MD 20794-2012; (800) 480-2520, and is also available on the FEMA Web site: http://www.fema.gov/r-n-r/frp.

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