Volume XXIII, Number 5, May 1999

Table of Contents

Reflections on 50 Years of Earthquake Hazard Mitigation: Challenges for the Future

-an invited comment

IDNDR Secretariat Launches 1999 Campaign

The Three Centers, Part 3 . . .
MCEER-The Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research

Introducing MAP: The Mid-America Partnership

On The Line
Rumors, Disease, and Donations: Lessons from Hurricane Mitch

The PAHO Web Site and Hurricane Mitch

Munich Re and Disasters

Washington Update

Rhode Island Become First IBHS Showcase State

Two New Disaster Centers

Philippines to Launch Emergency Management Institute

Introducing the Partnership for Natural Disaster Reduction HomeSaver Project

The Latest in Flood Mitigation

The Internet Page(s)

Conferences and Training

LSU Hosting Hurricanes and Chemical Hazards Internet Conference

A New Mitigation Course from FEMA/EMI

Contracts and Grants

Corps Soliciting Grant Proposals

Recent Publications

FEMA Issues Second Report on Costs and Benefits of Mitigation

Electronic Goodies

NISEE Releases Software on CD-ROM

Who We Are

Reflections on 50 Years of Earthquake Hazard Mitigation: Challenges for the Future

--an invited comment

The challenges that face U.S. cities in seismically active areas are substantial and daunting. Cities have large inventories of unsafe structures, built with materials and techniques that are no longer acceptable. After an urban earthquake, thousands of people will need immediate shelter and replacement housing. Urban lifeline systems--highways; bridges; sewer, gas, and water lines--traverse faults or lie in liquefaction zones. They are old, in need of repair, and will fail. Often, local governments are aware of their vulnerabilities, but do not have the knowledge or funds to fix them. Emergency response practices are not well integrated into procedures of municipal departments and are untested in earthquakes. As if all this were not enough, it is rare to find a city that plans before a disaster for recovery and reconstruction afterward.

As recently as 10 years ago in California, we worried about the Big One. A decade of moderate tremors has shown us what else we should worry about. Moderate quakes--both in the U.S. and abroad--have wreaked havoc with economies and infrastructure and killed thousands of people. The Loma Prieta earthquake (magnitude 7.1) near San Francisco in 1989 and the Northridge earthquake (magnitude 6.7) in Los Angeles in 1994 claimed 62 and 58 lives respectively. By contrast, the Kobe earthquake (magnitude 6.8) in 1995 killed over 5,000 people--most in older, vulnerable wood-frame houses.

All earthquakes--in both developing and developed countries--hit those who are most vulnerable. Poorly built houses, those on steep slopes, those in blighted inner city areas, and those generally occupied by the poorest inhabitants, are destroyed or seriously damaged. Older commercial buildings, bridges, and lifelines fare as badly. In the U.S., we have learned to build new single-family homes and commercial structures so they are unlikely to become death traps. However, when an earthquake is near enough, long enough, or direct enough, older structures will be damaged, displacing thousands from their homes and businesses.

While the loss of life in the U.S. has been low compared to other countries, economic losses have escalated--from $7 billion in the Loma Prieta quake to over $30 billion in the Northridge earthquake. In Kobe the economic losses have been estimated at nearly $100 billion. This points up one of the major challenges facing the earthquake community: we must look to the future and identify techniques that make new buildings and structures better, while not losing sight of the old buildings and unsafe bridges, highways, and aging infrastructure at risk.

Where Are We?

In 1977, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) was created by Congress to reduce the nation's risk from earthquakes. Four primary agencies--the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)--were charged with carrying out scientific and engineering research and transmitting that information to the professional community and ultimately to the public. FEMA has served throughout as the lead agency. Over the years, many valuable research projects have been completed, reports and other materials produced, workshops and conferences held, and training conducted.

For nearly 50 years, researchers have carried out post-earthquake investigations to gain a better understanding of what worked, what did not, and why. Many were supported by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute's (EERI's) Learning From Earthquakes Program, funded by NSF, but others worked on their own time and dime. We have all learned many lessons from post-quake reconnaissance.

For example, recent earthquakes taught the engineering community to be wary of the two building types assumed to be most trustworthy: high-rise steel and multi-unit wood-frame structures. The performance of steel-frame buildings was called into question in both the Northridge and Kobe quakes, when many were found to have cracks in their welded connections. Similarly, wood-frame commercial and multifamily residential buildings were found to have numerous design and construction deficiencies. FEMA is currently funding major projects in both areas to support research and transmit findings to the design and construction communities.

New Tools and Practices

In many ways, this is an exhilarating time. Thanks in large measure to the NEHRP, we have witnessed an exciting growth of knowledge and education in the technical community and improved understanding by many decision makers in the highest risk areas. Research has led to a better understanding of earthquake dynamics; new design and analytical tools; innovative technologies, such as base isolation and energy dissipation; and improved building codes.

The U.S. Geological Survey and programs it has supported have recorded both ground motion and structural response in several earthquakes over the last few decades, also enabling remarkable progress in earthquake engineering and hazard assessment.

Building codes have been continuously modified over the years, reflecting knowledge gained in both field observation and laboratory research. NSF studies and information from FEMA have produced national provisions for the design of new buildings, which have already been incorporated into all the major codes and will form the basis of the new International Building Code in the year 2000. In areas where these codes have been adopted and enforced, new buildings are expected to perform quite well. Unfortunately codes only affect new buildings, and by the time they are adopted they may be as much as a decade behind the development of the newest ideas.

Focusing on the country's most significant risk--the existing building stock--in 1985 FEMA's Existing Buildings Program began to fund the research necessary to improve the evaluation and rehabilitation of such buildings. The program has produced a large set of reports, known affectionately as the yellow book series, which culminated in the 1998 release of FEMA 273, National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Guidelines for Seismic Rehabilitation of Buildings (see the Observer, Vol. XXII, No. 3, p. 12). This document presents performance-based design methods that will enable an engineer and an owner to work together to determine how much disruption the owner and her or his tenants or business can tolerate, balanced against how much she or he can afford to pay to improve the performance of the structure.

For example, a hospital or high-tech company may require that all their buildings remain in continuous operation after a projected earthquake on a known fault. In this case, the owner and engineer will work together to identify the steps that need to be taken to assure the highest performance under those conditions. Another owner may be not be willing to accept the economic loss that would result from a building built only to code. After all, codes are designed to prevent loss of life, not to reduce damage. However, this owner may not be able to pay for a building designed for continuous operation. In this case the building owner and engineer must work together to determine the intermediate level of performance the owner can accept and afford.

While some engineering firms in high seismic areas are already working with their clients to achieve performance-based design (PBD), it will likely be some time before this approach is adopted into general practice. Many technical, social, political, legal, and economic questions remain to be answered more fully. EERI recently developed an organizational action plan to help FEMA identify the research and products that must be developed over the next several years in order to make PBD standard practice. Meanwhile, NSF has funded a number of research projects that will enable engineers to create structures with predictable behavior and acceptable performance.

In order to better focus NEHRP resources, NSF has recently created three centers for earthquake engineering research, one based at the State University of New York at Buffalo, a second at the University of Illinois, and the third at the University of California, Berkeley (see page 4 of this Observer). The establishment of these centers demonstrates NSF's commitment to multidisciplinary research and outreach.

NSF has also recently taken the lead in proposing a visionary new program to establish a national Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation.1 NEES will link all the seismic testing facilities in the U.S. and expand access to researchers and students, enabling them to conduct both actual and virtual tests from universities nationwide.

At the same time, dramatic improvements in the quality of seismic hazard maps in the past few years reflect improved interpretations of seismic source zones, better analytical procedures, and an increased understanding of attenuation relations. Joint work by the USGS and the California Division of Mines and Geology has resulted in a new series of seismic hazard maps for the state of California that will help design and construction professionals, as well as the public, in making decisions about building construction and land use.

Other new tools have emerged from expansion of geographically based computer technologies. HAZUS, a GIS software program created by FEMA to estimate earthquake losses on a community basis, is now available to emergency managers in seismic risk areas throughout the U.S. (see the Observer, Vol. XXII, No. 6, p. 7). Such tools hold promise for improved planning and emergency response.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

Extremely sophisticated models are now being used by the insurance and financial industries to estimate potential losses and establish rating structures. The models attempt to predict the extent of damage to various types of buildings, located on various soils, for a wide range of earthquakes. Now that these industries are beginning to recognize the risks they face, the hazards community can encourage them to develop programs that will motivate mortgagees and policyholders to reduce risk.

An enduring task is to transmit new knowledge and tools to the professional community, but the real challenge now is to involve the policy community in the development of effective solutions that combine technical knowledge with social, political, and economic realities. Over the years, work carried out by social and political scientists on policy adoption has been critical to the implementation of effective seismic policies at the local, state, and national levels. Policy makers need to be involved in the generation and interpretation of new knowledge that will allow them to adopt more effective seismic building codes, use new maps for planning, and create incentive programs for seismic retrofit programs. As the policy and technical communities learn from each other, stronger and more effective mitigation approaches will be developed.

In the last two decades, we have gathered data on post-earthquake response and recovery costs, but it has been notoriously unreliable--a result of inconsistent damage definitions and data collection procedures. Compounding the problem is the lack of reliable figures on the costs of various mitigation techniques. If we cannot tell how much loss we have had and we do not know how much it will cost to prevent it, how can we hope to develop an aggressive mitigation strategy? We need more consistent and reliable loss data and better quantification of mitigation techniques. Better data will enable individuals from the public and private sector to work together to craft programs that use realistic strategies to reduce future losses.

These are big challenges for the earthquake community, but the current growth of knowledge is unprecedented. The establishment of FEMA's Project Impact (see the Observer, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, p. 15) offers opportunities to measure mitigation costs in communities attempting to improve the performance of their existing building stock. Of course, once we agree on the costs of mitigation, we must face the obvious question,Who should pay?(And that could be the subject of many future Invited Comments.)

Susan K. Tubbesing, Executive Director, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute

The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Information about the institute can be obtained from EERI, 499 14th Street, Suite 320, Oakland, CA 94612-1902; (510) 451-0905; fax: (510) 451-5411; e-mail: eeri@eeri.org; WWW: http://www.eeri.org.

1. For more information about NEES, contact Priscilla Nelson, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230; (703) 306-1361; e-mail: pnelson@nsf.gov.

IDNDR Secretariat Launches 1999 Campaign

The United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) Secretariat has announced its 1999 World Disaster Reduction Campaign, based on the slogan Prevention Pays. To celebrate the final year of the IDNDR, the secretariat is inviting all interested persons and organizations to provide examples of successful disaster prevention at the international, national, and local level. The Promotion and Public Awareness Unit of the secretariat will then assemble an exhibition of achievements of the Decade to share globally.

Among other activities, the secretariat is also organizing an international contest of photos illustrating effective disaster prevention. The campaign will culminate on October 13 with World Disaster Reduction Day, during which the 1999 United Nations Sasakawa Disaster Prevention Award and the 1999 IDNDR International Photo Contest Award will be presented.

Based on last year's campaign, the IDNDR Secretariat has recently published a practical Manual for Social Communication and Disaster Prevention (currently available only in Spanish). This manual should soon be available on the Internet and can also be requested from the IDNDR Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, P.O. Box 3745-1000, San José, Costa Rica; tel: (506) 257-2141/255-1962; fax: (506) 257-2139; e-mail: hmolin@undpcos.nu.or.cr; WWW: http://www.disaster.info.desastres.net/crid/eng/index.htm.

For more information, see: http://www.idndr.org/ and http://www.netsalud.sa.cr/crid; or contact  Madeleine Moulin-Acevedo, IDNDR Secretariat, Un ited Nations, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland; tel: (41-22) 917-9709; e-mail: madeleine.moulin-acevedo@dha.unicc.org.

The Three Centers, Part 3 . . .

MCEER -- The Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research

The Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) is a national center that develops and applies knowledge and advanced technologies to reduce earthquake losses. Headquartered at the State University of New York at Buffalo, the center was established in 1986 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER). Today, MCEER is one of three earthquake centers funded by NSF in 1997 (see the Observer, Vol. XXII, No. 2, p. 9). (The Mid-America Earthquake (MAE) Center was featured in the January 1999 issue of the Observer; the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center, in the March 1999 issue.)

MCEER brings together a group of leading researchers from numerous disciplines and institutions throughout the U.S. to integrate knowledge, expertise, and interdisciplinary perspectives with state-of-the-art experimental and computational facilities in both earthquake engineering and socioeconomic studies of seismic hazards.

Sponsored principally by NSF, New York State, and the Federal Highway Administration, MCEER receives additional support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, other state governments, academic institutions, foreign governments, and private industry.

The center's mission is to reduce earthquake losses through research, development, and application of knowledge and advanced technologies that improve engineering, pre-earthquake planning, and post-earthquake response and recovery. In pursuit of this goal, MCEER coordinates a nationwide program of problem-focused, multidisciplinary team research, education, and outreach activities that include collaboration with business, industry, consultants, and government.


The center's research program is grounded in the belief that the future of earthquake engineering and loss reduction lies in advanced and emerging technologies. Its studies aim to improve seismic assessment and performance of buildings, highways, and other infrastructure, as well as emergency response and recovery systems. Basic and applied research is carried out by integrated multidisciplinary teams with expertise in:

Center investigators seek innovative approaches to advance the state-of-the-art in structural control, condition assessment, and site remediation. They also explore the potential of high-performance materials, advanced computer environments, and decision support systems to improve seismic behavior of engineered structures and the efficiency of emergency preparedness, management, and decision-making.

Research Facilities

Through its institutional consortium, MCEER brings together a network of state-of-the-art experimental and computational facilities located across the nation. Remote access links multidisciplinary research teams, government, and industry partners with laboratories for large-scale testing and computation. The combined facilities support the study of seismic and geotechnical hazards, structural control and simulation, rehabilitation strategies for buildings and lifelines, and advanced technology and materials testing.


Center outreach includes broad-based dissemination of information and technology through research reports, national and international conferences and workshops, and the internationally acclaimed MCEER Information Service. Collaboration with institutions in Japan, the People's Republic of China, Mexico, Taiwan, and other nations promotes global cooperation, joint experimental research, and information exchange that advances earthquake engineering and loss mitigation worldwide. External partnerships include alliances with manufacturers, consultants, other public- and private-sector stakeholders and end users to develop, adapt, test, and implement new earthquake mitigation technologies.


MCEER's education initiatives provide opportunities for students and educators at the K-12 and university undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as practitioners seeking specialized training through continuing education. These educational activities are intended to stimulate interest in engineering and sciences at the earliest levels, develop future leaders in earthquake engineering and hazards mitigation at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and help today's engineering and emergency management practitioners keep pace with the newest developments, current issues, and changes in their respective fields.

Recent Highlights

Some highlights of MCEER's recent work include the receipt of a $10.8 million six-year contract from the Federal Highway Administration to conduct research on the seismic vulnerability of the national highway system; the development of several projects to demonstrate the use of advanced technologies in earthquake loss reduction; the publication of a monograph entitled Engineering and Socioeconomic Impacts: An Analysis of Electricity Lifeline Disruptions in the New Madrid Area (see the Observer, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, p. 25); organization of the Fifth U.S. Conference on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering to be held in Seattle in August (see page 20 of this Observer); and coordination of a study funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish a New York City area consortium for earthquake loss mitigation (NYCEM) (see the Observer, Vol. XXIII, No. 3, p. 4).

For more information on MCEER's current projects, information services, newsletters, and other publications visit the center's Web site: http://mceer.buffalo.edu, or contact MCEER, University at Buffalo, Red Jacket Quadrangle, Buffalo, NY 14261-0025; (716) 645-3391; fax: (716) 645-3399; e-mail: mceer@acsu.buffalo.edu.

Introducing MAP

The Mid-America Partnership

In March, representatives of several central U.S. organizations and agencies established the Mid-America Partnership (MAP)--a group dedicated to helping one another in dealing with the hazards affecting the region. The partnership, which currently includes the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC), CUSEC state geologists, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Institute for Business and Home Safety, the Mid-America Earthquake Center (see the Observer, Vol. XXIII, No. 3, p. 4), the Disaster Recovery Business Alliance, the Association of Contingency Planners, the Extreme Information Infrastructure, the Institute of Gas Technology, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the U.S. Geological Survey, will focus primarily on the central U.S. seismic hazard. As initial projects, it has identified the creation of a document entitled Mid-America at Risk and the creation of an entity that would function as a "Mid-America Seismic Safety Commission" to implement a plan to reduce losses from earthquakes that would be developed in conjunction with Mid-America at Risk. For more information about this nascent organization, contact Walter Hays, U.S. Geological Survey, Mail Stop 955, 905 National Center, Reston, VA 20192; (703) 648-6711; fax: (703) 648-6747; e-mail: whays@usgs.gov.

On the Line

Rumors, Disease, and Donations: Lessons from Hurricane Mitch

There will never be another hurricane named Mitch. That's not to say that another storm, another year, won't wreak its own brand of havoc. But for now, the name Mitch joins that infamous group of hurricanes whose names have been retired.

Mitch took an enormous toll on Central America. Damage to all sectors was staggering, and the health sector was no exception. In Honduras alone, the water distribution system in 23 of the country's 30 hospitals was partially or totally destroyed. Sixty-eight of the 123 health centers that were seriously damaged were unable to function precisely when 100,000 persons needed urgent medical care. Equally important, routine epidemiological reporting, which traditionally covers about 70% of the population, fell to a mere 30% after the hurricane because of breakdowns in communication, the isolation of communities, and a shortage of epidemiologists.

As devastating as Mitch was, this multicountry disaster yielded some important lessons for the health sector:

The Internet played a significant role in the way information was circulated following Hurricane Mitch, more so than in previous disasters. All kinds of information from a wide range of expert sources was available almost instantaneously. In fact, international agencies and nongovernmental organizations with a strong field presence in the affected countries, and even the national authorities themselves, were surprised to read breaking news on the Internet before their own teams could complete their assessments.

While speed may be positive, consumers had to carefully evaluate the validity of much of the early information. For example, within days, unsubstantiated reports of outbreaks of diseases, ranging from cholera to malaria, raced around the globe. But when epidemiological surveillance returned to its predisaster level, not only was an absence of epidemics reported during the emergency, but in some countries where cholera was present before Mitch, the number of cases in the weeks immediately following the disaster tended to diminish.

This is not to say that there were no positive experiences with regard to the Internet in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. Indeed, its contributions to the management of this disaster were invaluable. Listservs were used to quickly distribute information about genuine health sector needs to the donor community, which responded immediately and generously. Discussion groups of Central American disaster managers exchanged expertise and offers of assistance. Daily epidemiological reports and public health guidelines on topics ranging from household water quality to the prevention of outbreaks of measles were posted on World Wide Web sites. Latin America has turned the corner when it comes to using the Internet for disaster preparedness and response. The health sector's challenge will be to ensure that timely and accurate information is available to couteract equally fast-spreading rumors.

Donor countries are demanding accountability, most disaster-stricken countries are striving to demonstrate it, and the Pan American Health Organization's SUMA (supply management) system offers a much-needed tool for achieving it. Because tools such as SUMA for monitoring international relief are readily available, and because information can be delivered quickly over the Internet, a shortage of information on the arrival, destination, and use of humanitarian supplies is viewed suspiciously--a serious handicap in today's competitive world of foreign aid!

FUNDESUMA, an NGO that specializes in the management of humanitarian supplies, mobilized more than 60 volunteers following Mitch to sort and classify all the essential relief items that were buried among the flood of unsolicited donations. SUMA's operational achievements helped to confirm the global potential of this regional response tool. (For more information on SUMA, see http://www.disaster.info.desastres.net/SUMA )

Following Mitch, good governance by the recipient countries was not always matched by good management on the donor side. The flow of unsolicited and wasteful supplies--bottled water, food, old clothing, and other items of questionable value--continue to clog the system. Perhaps the time has come for all humanitarian agencies to join forces in an educational campaign on the do's and don't's of private response to disasters.

Hurricane Mitch has left physical scars and a weakened infrastructure in Central America that will require years to mend. However, with the tools and knowledge at hand, it should be easier to build on the lessons learned for the next disaster.

Patricia Bittner, Pan American Health Organization, Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Coordination Program

The PAHO Web Site and Hurricane Mitch

For more information on the response to Hurricane Mitch, see:

The summary conclusions from the meeting Evaluation of the Preparedness for and Response to Hurricanes Georges and Mitch, held February 16-19, 1999, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, are now available on the conference Web site above. This meeting convened more than 400 participants from 48 countries who took part in daily working groups on 20 different topics. Also available from this site are draft reports from the countries affected by hurricanes Georges and Mitch, the final list of participants from the meeting, the program, and the related press releases. The Final Document (a comprehensive report of the findings of the working groups) is currently in the works and will also be available from the Web site soon. Any comments or questions can be directed to disaster-meeting@paho.org.

This site contains daily situation updates prepared by PAHO staff as they monitored international health response. This was the first time PAHO and other health organizations intensively used the Internet to rapidly exchange information among health and disaster personnel in the Americas.

Munich Re and Disasters

Münchener Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft (Munich Re for short) is a leading international reinsurance company that has studied and documented the world's natural disasters for many years. The company recently issued a third, completely revised, edition of its World Map of Natural Hazards, which shows the distribution of earthquake, volcanic, tsunami and storm surge, tropical storm and cyclone, winter storm, and other natural hazards around the globe. This latest version also includes maps showing world tectonics, as well as global distribution of severe rainfall and lightning; regional storms, monsoon storms, tornadoes, and hail storms; and climate change/El Niño effects. The  World Map of Natural Hazards is available as a wall map or as a folded map, each accompanied by a special publication that discusses relevant insurance aspects and includes a comprehensive catalog of historical world natural catastrophes. It is presently available in five languages--German, English, French, Italian, and Spanish--and other versions are being prepared. Additionally, a Globe of Natural Hazards has been developed, and a CD-ROM version is being prepared that will include additional information.

The wall map and special publication (order number 2665-V-e) cost 50 DM; the folded version with special publication (order number 2658-V-e), 20 DM; the globe with special publication (order number 2740-V-e), 250 DM. Orders should be addressed to Munich Re, D-80791 Munich, Germany; tel: +49 89 3891-5291; fax: +49 89 3891-5696; e-mail: info@munichre.com; WWW: http://www.munichre.com. For additional d etails about the map and to sample the wide range of disaster information available from Munich Re, see http://www.munichre.com/press/press/990315_eng.htm on the World Wide Web.

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