VOLUME XXIV NUMBER 2

November 1999



Table of Contents

With the unusual spate of disasters this fall--from hurricanes to earthquakes--we thought it would be interesting to look at and compare the social and policy consequences of two of them--one within the U.S. and one overseas. Thus, in this issue, we provide two Invited Comments on recent events.

Was the Izmit Earthquake of August 17, 1999, "Just Another Earthquake in Turkey?"

--an invited comment

The North Carolina Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative

--an invited comment

A Letter to the Editor: INEEL and Wind Research

Washington Update

Western Governors Seek to Improve Forest Health on Federal Lands

LSU Launches Hurricane Center

NASA Releases New Global Change Master Directory

The Internet Pages

Downloadable Informer New Available On-Line

PAHO Unveils Virtual Disaster Library

USGS Announces Comprehensive Publications Database

Conferences and Training

Emergency Management Courses Available from FEMA/EMI

Contracts and Grants

The On-Line Graduate Program in Community Development (Emergency Management/Human Services) at Southern Cross University

Recent Publications

Green Cross Looks at Disasters

Training CDs from FEMA

Happy Trails

Who We Are



Was the Izmit Earthquake of August 17, 1999, "Just Another Earthquake in Turkey?"

--an invited comment

Over the past three decades, I have had several opportunities to witness how earthquakes affect Turkish society (Gediz in 1970, Lice in 1976, Erzurum in 1983, Erzincan in 1992, and Dinar in 1995). The magnitude 7.4 earthquake that struck on August 17, 1999, with its epicenter near Izmit, along the North Anatolian fault in northwest Turkey, was similar to--and at the same time very different from--earthquakes Turkey has experienced many times this century. In just 45 seconds, over 15,700 men, women, and children were killed; about twice that number were injured; thousands were missing; 200,000 became homeless; the economy was devastated; and the state suddenly needed at least $9 billion to recover losses. Is this disaster different from quakes in the past? Are there lessons from this tragedy for the U.S. and other countries? Absolutely yes.

Field Research Revealed Similarities

This earthquake was similar to past seismic disasters in Turkey in several ways: far too many people died or were injured; too many buildings were totally or partially destroyed; emergency responders were overwhelmed; and search and rescue efforts were overly dependent on foreign teams. As in the past, government leaders were on scene to reassure the victims that they should accept God's actions and that the government would rebuild their homes. Yet, this catastrophic disaster was also very different.

The Dissimilarities Are More Significant

This event released not only devastating physical energy, but also a form of social and political energy not seen to such an extent in Turkey after other tragedies. Unlike past quakes, this disaster occurred in the densely populated, industrial heartland of northwest Turkey. This urbanized megalopolis in the Marmara region contains about one-third of Turkey's manufacturing and close to one-third of its 60 million citizens. Even more significant, much of the population is middle- to upper-class, representing the urban intelligentsia and social elite. One-third of Turkey's gross domestic product is generated here, and this cultural heartland contains numerous top universities, hospitals, media organizations, and tourist sites. This time the earthquake did not occur in the relatively isolated and remote poorer provinces of eastern Anatolia. It did not primarily affect subsistence farmers with limited voice. This time the urbanites were heard--loud and clear.

Buildings Killed People, Not God

Quite probably the citizens of this unitary democracy will no longer accept the explanation or excuse of fate and/or God as the cause of earthquake disasters. Once again, evidence widely viewed across the nation clearly demonstrated that shoddy construction, building on unstable land or on known faults, simple greed by unscrupulous developers, and lack of enforcement of construction and zoning codes killed people--not God, not earthquakes.

The Turkish public now insists that those responsible for the unnecessarily heavy loss of life and injuries, and of family homes and livelihood, must be held accountable. Public pressure has resulted in parliamentary debates over whether thousands of prefabricated temporary shelters should be constructed, or whether reconstruction should begin on more permanent homes, substituting temporary shelters for existing rentals, hotels, and leased empty buildings. Public outcry has also led to requests for constitutional changes to allow for more freedom of speech and for quality control of construction by requiring competitive bidding for public contracts, rather than awards to those who are the personal choices of national and local officials.

Media Led the Way

The news media in Turkey were instrumental in documenting victims' responses, actions, and attitudes toward emergency responders. For several days, the Turkish government's search and rescue efforts were slow in responding, and this inadequate response was broadcast live and uncensored from the disaster site by several television stations. At the same time, the nongovernment search and rescue team known as AKUT did respond quickly and performed admirably. All of Turkey viewed the enormous strain on the survivors as they waited for government and military emergency assistance.

Unusually Severe Criticism of Public Institutions

Citizens will no longer accept the current restrictions on free speech in Turkey. The laws on Turkish sensitivities will probably change. The populace and media have mobilized strong opposition to and criticism of government leaders, housing developers and contractors, and even the military. The minister of health, along with the director of the Turkish Red Crescent, were strongly criticized for lack of timely and appropriate action, as well as insensitive, politically motivated remarks.

Government threats, both overt and veiled, to censor or close newspapers and television stations, seem less ominous than in the past because the public has been provoked. Previously unseen to this extent in Turkey, demonstrations against state efforts reveal a strong dissatisfaction with the status quo--particularly in response to:

Nevertheless, some good did come out of this tragedy. International relations between Greece and Turkey and between Turkey and the European Union have improved. Greece was quick to offer help in search and rescue and took numerous actions that enhanced rapport with their neighbor. Turkey reciprocated following the recent Athens earthquake. The business and civic leaders of both countries are now taking initiatives to enhance interaction while the public is encouraging political leaders at all levels to continue this exchange.

Lessons for Us All

Turkey, the United States, and other countries know that another powerful earthquake will strike again--maybe next year, maybe in 20 years. Although we cannot offer a precise date, we know more are coming and we can take action now to minimize risk. Experiences from the Izmit earthquake point to certain conclusions in three major areas.

Mitigation Measures

Emergency Management

Political-Cultural Consequences

I believe the political, social, and economic aftershocks from this earthquake will make a difference. Mistakes repeated so often in the past are no longer acceptable in Turkey. Years from now we may look back on the tragedy of August 1999 as the catalyst that motivated planning and retrofitting to minimize future devastation--as we study the next Istanbul earthquake.

William A. Mitchell, Department of Political Science, Director of Middle East Studies, Baylor University

William Mitchell was the social scientist on the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research Reconnaissance Team to the Izmit, Turkey earthquake of August 17, 1999. He wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Professors Nazmiye Ozguc and Wendy Allman.

See pages 16 and 17 of this Observer for a list of Web sites that have information on the recent quakes in Turkey, Greece, and Taiwan.

The North Carolina Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative

--an invited comment

The Outer Banks of North Carolina seem to attract coastal storms striking the U.S. Numerous hurricanes of significant magnitude have made landfall along the state's coast over the years, and as development continues to boom, the number of people and amount of property in harm's way rises almost daily.

The most recent storm (as of this writing) was Hurricane Floyd, a massive hurricane in September that caused unprecedented flooding in eastern North Carolina. Entire communities were immersed literally to the eaves with flood waters, which in many areas were contaminated with sewage, waste from the many hog lagoons located in the coastal plain, spilled oil tanks, and carcasses of dead farm animals, causing serious public health concerns. As rivers continued to rise and more rain fell on the saturated region, thousands of people remained in shelters for weeks after the event. Only weeks later were ground transportation systems re-established in many areas, including sections of major highways I-95 and I-40. Inaccessibility severely hampered efforts to rescue the living and find the dead. Power was out, schools remained closed, and grocery stores were running out of food well into October, as many isolated communities waited for airlifted supplies of basic survival items. Floyd was indeed among the worst disasters North Carolina has ever suffered, and the total damage has yet to be determined.

North Carolina is Proactive

Despite the havoc that Floyd and his kin wreak all too frequently, one should not assume that the state of North Carolina sits idly by watching the waves roll in and flood waters rise. In 1996, North Carolina began taking important steps to protect its citizens and visitors from the impacts of natural hazards. In September of that year, Hurricane Fran caused massive destruction on counties in every geographical region of the state--coastal, piedmont, and mountain. The category 3 storm, which left $3.2 billion damage in its wake, issued a resounding wake-up call.

The storm also made available significant amounts of disaster-related funding. The North Carolina Division of Emergency Management (DEM) heeded the call and is creatively putting that funding to good use in a multifaceted project designed to reduce the vulnerability of citizens and property to the impacts of all types of natural hazards, and in so doing, contributing to the sustainability of communities statewide.

The Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative

Much of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) money that became available following Fran is being used for massive buy-outs of properties located in flood hazard areas, a mitigation technique that is now widely recognized for its long-term effectiveness in removing people and property from harm's way. However, officials at DEM realized that acquisition only applies to very specific, and relatively small, areas. Even with the best intentions, buy-outs are frequently ad-hoc; individual acquisitions may be isolated from each other and the process is often not carried out as part of a larger scheme of community-wide mitigation. With this insight, North Carolina created the Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative (HMPI), a program that focuses on local planning as a means to mitigate the impacts of future natural hazards.

Since planning for mitigation is largely uncharted territory among local governments, select communities are serving as pilots under the aegis of DEM's initiative. The 11 "Demonstration Communities" whose applications were accepted have agreed to formulate exemplary mitigation plans that can serve as models for other localities wishing to create their own plans. Under the terms of their contracts with DEM, each community is engaging in a planning process that includes identification and analysis of locally occurring hazards, extensive vulnerability studies, and an assessment of the locality's capability to address its problems. These background studies will culminate in the formulation and local adoption of programs and policies to reduce each community's vulnerability.

The end result of the 18-month planning process will be more than a document sitting on a shelf. Instead, DEM emphasizes institution building as a major component of the HMPI. Demonstration communities are receiving technical assistance and training from DEM's initiative partners so that these communities will be able to continue the mitigation process long after their financial grants have expired. The HMPI partnership includes other state agencies, the university system, and the private sector. The Office of State Planning's Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (CGIA) is providing each local government with the electronic data required to conduct a comprehensive hazard vulnerability assessment through the use of geographic information systems (GIS).

The Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has developed three planning guidebooks and related documents to assist local governments in assessing their capabilities to address mitigation and is also providing technical assistance for plan formulation throughout the HMPI effort. Geographic Technologies Group, Inc. is the initiative's private sector partner, providing GIS training for local government staff in data analysis and conducting workshops on the use of GIS in mitigation planning for local policy makers. These organizations are working closely with DEM to provide ongoing assistance to demonstration communities and to further the other long-term goals of the HMPI.

Mitigating Development's Impacts

As North Carolina's Governor Hunt toured the communities struggling to survive and recover from Hurricane Floyd, he recognized that planning is the key to avoiding future losses. During a briefing for the governor and James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the governor demanded that DEM work with communities to develop ways to reduce development in high-hazard areas and tie funds associated with mitigation to the development of local hazard mitigation plans. To this end, DEM has made the preparation of a mitigation plan an integral part of every mitigation grant project funded under HMGP. The governor is also calling for state and federal money to support the development of mitigation plans for every community in the state.

Since its inception, it has been the goal of the HMPI that all counties and units of local government in the state of North Carolina prepare, adopt, and implement a local hazard mitigation plan. With the devastation from Hurricane Floyd and the governor's support for such activities, this outreach and expansion phase of the initiative has taken on greater urgency. The initiative work program is being redesigned to encompass every community in the Floyd disaster area, and planning workshops and other educational and training tools are already being put in place.

DEM is also taking the opportunity to encourage re-development that will create communities that are not only more resilient to future natural hazards, but that will provide a higher quality of life in many other respects as well. The Mitigation Section of DEM is formulating a set of guiding principles for the redevelopment of eastern North Carolina that will be disseminated widely in the form of a video and a brochure to policy makers, planners, administrators of federal and state disaster assistance, local officials, business owners, and others involved in the arduous process of rebuilding the flood-ravaged region. These principles are modeled after the goals established by the President's Council on Sustainable Development in the report Sustainable America: A New Consensus (1996) and include such ideals as economic prosperity, social equity, conservation of nature, and civic engagement, in addition to the concept of reducing future vulnerability.

More Than Local Government

While local mitigation planning remains the primary focus of the initiative, HMPI partners are concurrently pursuing other projects to promote the principles of hazard mitigation. One aim of the HMPI is to engage state agencies in mitigation, encouraging state-level organizations to "tweak" their programs so that activities and funding decisions do not increase the state's vulnerability to natural hazards. Realizing the potential benefits from engaging the private sector, the HMPI team is also conducting research, formulating educational programs and incentives for business and industry, and creating a compendium of best mitigation practices based on national and international experience.

The HMPI is further advocating involvement of the private sector in mitigation practices by coordinating its efforts with those of Project Impact, the nationwide initiative launched by FEMA in 1997 that aims to create partnerships among all sectors of a community before disaster strikes. The three North Carolina communities that have been selected to participate in Project Impact are also HMPI demonstration communities, and planning efforts in these communities are being supported by both the state and federal programs.

Long-Term Sustainability

DEM is guiding a bold, new approach to hazard mitigation in North Carolina by undertaking the ambitious and far-reaching Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative. By breaking new ground, the initiative is attempting to comb at the short-sighted development patterns that, along with a misunderstanding of how the natural environment plays a significant protective role, have contributed to making some North Carolina communities extremely vulnerable to flooding, hurricane winds, storm surge, wildfire, earthquakes, and other hazards. HMPI participants are working to ensure that such communities do not increase their vulnerability by continuing inappropriate land uses, and that they control growth and development in their communities so that natural mitigative features can provide added protection.

The mitigation plans being created by the demonstration communities and other localities throughout the state should incorporate the long-term visionary principles of sustainable development, enabling these communities to make future decisions that will decrease their overall vulnerability to natural hazards. In turn, these communities will serve as a model for others throughout the state of North Carolina and the nation.

Anna K. Schwab, Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Gavin Smith and Darrin Punchard, Division of Emergency Management, North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety

More information about this effort can be obtained from Anna Schwab, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hazard Mitigation Planning Initiative, Department of City and Regional Planning, Campus Box 3140, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3140; (919) 942-5439; fax: (919) 962-5206; e-mail: akschwab@bellsouth.net.

A Letter to the Editor

INEEL and Wind Research

As Chair of the Partnership for Natural Disaster Reduction (PNDR) Governing Council, I was interested to note that Rich Little has taken the initiative to clarify the status of the INEEL Homesaver proposal. Mr. Little's account of the recent National Research Council panel review in the July 1999 issue of the Natural Hazards Observer is very timely.

The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) has reported to the PNDR Governing Council that they agree that the most immediate issue is establishing a congressionally backed, nationally coordinated wind hazard mitigation program. In view of the several hundred lives lost and the $4-6 billion in property damage incurred each year due to windstorms in the U.S., the INEEL believes it is in the national interest to move forward quickly with a national program.

The PNDR Governing Council was formed by the INEEL as a result of FEMA's support in 1998. While interest in a Large Scale Wind Test Facility (LSWTF) proposed by the laboratory was the initial objective (and remains important to the members), the primary focus of this group at this time is to bring industry input and influence to support a nationally coordinated wind hazard reduction program.

While the INEEL has studied the feasibility of an LSWTF, the INEEL also has funded various wind-related research projects, both at the laboratory and through at least 13 universities during the past five years. Examples of these projects include development of new wind sensors, research on wood/metal construction joints, collection of ground-level hurricane data, research on shutter adequacy, and studies of wind resistance of manufactured housing.

In light of the lessons learned during the past five years, the INEEL plans to review the information presented in the report concerning wind research and the role of an LSWTF. For example, the report states that "when the government formulates and implements a national wind-hazard reduction program, an LSWTF could be used to increase our knowledge and understanding of how residential and other low-rise structures behave in extreme winds." However, the report indicates that other technologies may be able to achieve similar results and certainly these technologies should be investigated.

The report acknowledges the uniqueness of a Large Scale Wind Test Facility: "Repeatable experiments at large scale in a controlled environment cannot be performed in natural winds. This characteristic sets an LSWTF apart from other experimental methods and is the reason the committee believes there may ultimately be a place for an LSWTF in a comprehensive national program for wind-hazard reduction. The ability to demonstrate building performance, including failure, might be useful to focus public interest on the need for mitigation."

The report suggests that while there is a need for the information that could be obtained from an LSWTF, and the United States has no facility specifically constructed for this purpose, more research is needed before construction is initiated. For example, more information about extreme winds may be necessary before a full-scale test facility can be designed and operated. The INEEL has recognized this need also, and currently is involved in ground-level wind data-gathering efforts with the state of Florida and several universities throughout the United States.

Both the PNDR Governing Council and the INEEL look forward to more discussions with the various panel participants and other interested parties about pursuing a national program. Clearly, the need is there, and a National Research Council review has called for action.

Thomas M. David, Co-Chair, Partnership for Natural Disaster Reduction

Washington Update

FEMA Outlines Factors Used in Evaluating Presidential Disaster Declarations

When a disaster is sufficiently large to overwhelm state and local resources, a governor may request a presidential disaster declaration in order to receive federal disaster assistance under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. In such instances, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides a recommendation to the president regarding whether federal disaster assistance is warranted. In the September 1, 1999, Federal Register (Vol. 64, No. 169, pp. 47697-47699), FEMA issued a final rule that establishes the factors it considers when evaluating a governor's request. This rule neither affects presidential discretion in declaring disasters nor changes published regulations and policies established under the Stafford Act.

The agency will evaluate requests as they apply to its Public Assistance Program and its Individual Assistance Program.

Under the Public Assistance Program, FEMA will examine the estimated cost of the assistance, using such factors as the cost per capita impact within the state. They currently use a figure of $1 per capita as an indicator that the disaster is of sufficient magnitude to warrant federal assistance. This figure will be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index. In addition, FEMA has established a minimum threshold of $1 million in public assistance per disaster because the agency believes that even the least populated states can cover this level of damage. FEMA will also take into account the impacts of the disaster at the county, local government, and tribal level, particularly where critical facilities are involved; the amount of insurance coverage in force; the amount of hazard mitigation undertaken prior to the disaster; recent disaster history; and other federal assistance provided.

Under the Individual Assistance Program, factors FEMA will consider include:

Copies of the ruling can be found in the Federal Register at your government repository library or on-line at http://www.access.gpo.gov. For further information, 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 How Feds Manage Wildfire Programs

The two federal agencies that manage federal wildland firefighting programs, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), could improve their programs, according to the General Accounting Office (GAO). Concerned about the rising costs of preparing for and controlling wildfires, Congress recently asked the GAO to provide information on how the Forest Service and BLM manage their wildfire programs. The results are contained in the report, Federal Wildfire Activities: Current Strategy and Issues Needing Attention (GAO/RCED-99-233, 1999, 35 pp.)

Specifically, the GAO examined:

The report describes existing agency procedures for handling the first three items and lists issues GAO feels may affect future firefighting ability, including:

Single copies of the report are free, and additional copies are $2.00 each. To obtain a copy, contact 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. The complete text of the report is also available via the GAO Web site: WWW: http://www.gao.gov.


GAO Looks at Cost Effectiveness of Mitigation Grants

One of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's primary approaches for reducing the rising costs of federal disaster assistance is to promote mitigation measures that will reduce future damage within communities. From its inception in 1989 through April 30, 1999, FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) awarded over $2.4 billion to states. Under FEMA's primary authorizing legislation, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, these measures must be cost-effective, that is, they must ultimately save the federal government money.

In two recently released reports, the General Accounting Office (GAO) looks at how cost-effective the HMGP has been. In Disaster Assistance: Opportunities to Improve Cost-Effectiveness Determinations for Mitigation Grants (GAO/RCED-99-236, 1999, 24 pp.), the GAO examines the approaches FEMA and states use to ensure HMGP grants are used for fiscally sound mitigation projects. The GAO concludes that FEMA's approach does not always ensure that projects are cost-effective because the best available data are not always used in benefit-cost analyses. In addition, FEMA exempted 14 projects, amounting to 42% of the funding, from benefit-cost analysis, because agency officials believed that benefit-cost analysis could not be used for all mitigation projects due to difficulties in quantifying certain benefits and time constraints in gathering data. In these cases, states were instructed to include a narrative that describes the benefits of mitigation and demonstrates a "reasonable expectation" that a given project will reduce or prevent future property damage, injury, or loss of life.

The GAO describes several factors it believes limit FEMA's ability to establish the cost-effectiveness of projects that are exempt from benefit-cost analysis, including lack of data or analysis to show the cost-effectiveness of buying substantially damaged structures in a 100-year floodplain. The GAO also cites the difficulty in measuring the benefits of a program that developed a tornado warning network and a tornado mitigation demonstration project, a program that educated residents about the dangers of living in a floodplain, as well as FEMA's practice of exempting all planning projects. GAO suggests FEMA conduct periodic reviews of selected projects after they have been implemented to demonstrate their value.

The second report, Disaster Assistance: FEMA Can Improve Its Cost-Effectiveness Determinations for Mitigation Grants (GAO/T-RCED-00-274, 1999, 16 pp.), contains the testimony of Stanley J. Czerwinski, GAO's associate director, Housing and Community Development Issues; Resources, Community, and Economic Division before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcomittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Emergency Management; Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. His testimony supports the findings of the GAO contained in the first document.

Both reports are free and can be obtained from the GAO at the address above.

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