- Part A
With this issue we launch a new year, a new decade, and a new millennium, and we thought it appropriate to ask Hazards Center founder Gilbert White to reflect on changes in hazards management in the latter part of this century. Of course he couldn't resist also citing the challenges he believes the natural hazards community will face in the future.
As we enter a new century--25 years after the first national effort to assess the need for natural hazards research and a decade after a concerted world attack upon natural disasters--it is appropriate to reflect upon what has been achieved and what might be expected to come from the Second National Assessment of Research and Applications on Natural Hazards (see the Observer, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, p. 5; Vol. XXIII, No. 4, p. 3).
When the first Assessment of Research on Natural Hazards was launched in 1972 with support from the National Science Foundation, it was unique in several ways. It sought to review the state of knowledge in the United States of the full range of hazards presented by extreme geophysical events. It brought together scientists and engineers from all relevant fields, including physical, economic, and other social disciplines. It joined researchers with administrators and policy makers directing the whole range of actions involved in predicting, responding to, and seeking to alleviate those hazards. And it sought to identify the relevant priorities of different research problems and practicable ways of sharing existing and new knowledge with all who might put it to good use for the public welfare. It accomplished this in a report that had the active participation of more than 300 experts.
Over a decade later, the United Nations established the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) during the 1990s to mobilize national and international agencies to reduce the impacts of extreme events worldwide. There had been an effort in 1974, sponsored by a commission of the International Geographical Union, to review local, national, and global hazards in a variety of ways, including field studies in 20 locations in 13 countries, but there was not a systematic effort within the entire United Nations organization to examine all natural hazards until the IDNDR.
We now have a thoughtful appraisal, through the Second Assessment of Research and Applications on Natural Hazards, of what has happened in the United States, but there is not yet a full assessment of what has resulted on the global level. My tentative judgment is that on balance the well-intentioned IDNDR may have been counterproductive by encouraging political leaders to think they were solving the problem of increasing damage, when in fact they were chiefly calling attention to the severity and distribution of the hazards through scientific surveys and were ignoring many opportunities to mitigate the risk. Damage continued to rise throughout the decade.
The wide range of people professionally concerned with natural hazards in the United States now should be vigorously involved in evaluating what has been achieved since the First Assessment was published in 1975 and whether or not the recommendations in the Second Assessment are sound and achievable. To spur a critical exchange of judgment, I offer a selection of my own views and hope they will stimulate expressions from others.
Looking back over 25 years, and trying to look ahead to a time when our nation does not suffer unnecessarily from extreme natural events, these questions seem to me an urgent challenge for all concerned citizens.
Gilbert F. White, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado
With financial support from the National Science Foundation, the Natural Hazards Center sponsors "Quick Response" research--studies of immediate effects and initial response following disasters. Upon completing their work, quick response researchers submit brief reports to the center, which publishes their findings via the World Wide Web. The latest reports include:
The entire list of quick response reports is available at http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/qr/qr.html. In addition, printed copies can be purchased for $5.00 each, plus shipping ($3.00 for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico; $4.00 for international surface mail; and $5.00 for international air printed matter). 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: email@example.com.
In 1998 the Natural Hazards Center undertook a project, funded by the Public Entity Risk Institute, to assess the feasibility of developing a program that would enable small teams of experts to aid disaster-stricken communities in implementing long-term sustainable recovery. One of the early tasks of the project was to determine what was already being done and what was already known about how communities recover from disaster. That work is presented in Natural Hazards Working Paper #102, A Review of the Literature and Programs on Local Recovery from Disaster, by Jeanine Petterson.
Rather than simply presenting a series of abstracts of recovery literature, this paper reviews both the academic and informal literature, draws lessons from it, and summarizes the programs that are already in place for providing technical assistance following disasters. Part One analyzes and applies the findings in the recovery literature to the task of developing community recovery assistance teams (CRATs). Part Two briefly reviews the existing programs for providing technical assistance, ranging from training courses, to the provision of teams of specialized experts, to state programs for mitigation.
While recognizing that it is difficult to generalize about communities' experiences because both impacted communities and precipitating events are unique, the paper does conclude that "there is comfort in finding a thread of common themes and lessons, despite the dissimilarity of communities and events studied."
A Review of the Literature and Programs on Local Recovery from Disaster (1999) is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/wp/wp102/wp102.html. Persons without Web access can purchase a printed copy for $9.00, plus $3.20 shipping for orders within the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. To place an order, or to determine international shipping costs, contact the Hazards Center Publications Clerk at the address above or consult the Hazards Center on-line publication order form at http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/puborder.html.
Teaching the public about earthquake hazards is much more complicated than simply telling folks to duck, cover, and hold. Many organizations have struggled to develop programs that address seismic hazards, although little knowledge was available concerning what works and what hinders successful teaching about these risks. The latest issue of the Natural Hazards Informer contains the collective wisdom of some of the top earthquake educators in the U.S. "Public Education for Earthquake Hazards," by Sarah Nathe, Paula Gori, Marjorie Greene, Elizabeth Lemersal, and Dennis Mileti, discusses why it is important to educate the public about earthquakes, why people pay attention to earthquake preparedness information and why they don't, what activities have worked in educating the public, windows of opportunity for creating "educable moments," how to prepare effective messages, and how to disseminate those messages for the greatest effect. It also lists resources for further guidance. This second issue in the new Informer series from the Natural Hazards Center is now available on-line and in downloadable PDF format from the center Web page: http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/informer/.
An Institute for Hazard Mitigation Planning and Research has been established within the College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Washington. The institute supports research, offers mitigation planning courses, and supports community outreach opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students and faculty from a variety of disciplines. Through the university's Department of Urban Design and Planning's Masters in Urban Planning Program, the institute currently offers an area of emphasis in mitigation planning and has plans to offer a certificate program during the coming year.
Institute research has already explored a wide variety of subjects, including the use of geographic information systems in hazards management, remote sensing, pre-event planning, and homeowners' attitudes toward structural retrofitting. Outreach opportunities will include intern positions in local government emergency management offices and within local disaster operations as they occur.
For further information about the University of Washington's new Institute for Hazard Mitigation Planning and Research contact Bob Freitag, University of Washington, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Department of Urban Design and Planning, Institute for Hazard Mitigation Planning and Research, Gould Hall, Box 355740, Seattle, WA 98195; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; WWW: http://depts.washington.edu/mitigate.
To aid climate change assessments, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has created a Data Distribution Center (DDC) to provide consistent and timely data relating to climate change, change scenarios, and socioeconomic factors related to climate change. The DDC is operated by the Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom and the Deutsches Klimarchenzentrum in Germany. It will endeavor to distribute the most current information on climate change to scientists to enable the greatest possible accuracy in impact analyses. Information will be categorized as: 1) observed global climate data sets; 2) socioeconomic scenario information; 3) results from global climate experiments; and 4) guidance material. For more information about the IPCC DDC, contact Mike Hulme, Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, U.K.; tel: 44-1603-507784; fax: 44-1603-593162; e-mail: email@example.com; or contact Michael Lautenschlager, DKRZ 55 Bundestrasse, Hamburg, Germany; tel: 49-404-1173-400; fax: 49-404-1173-297; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young, innovative publication summarizing state-of-the-art knowledge of natural hazards research seeks generous donor for brief relationship. Anyone interested in supporting an easy-to-read, at-a-glance summary of an important natural hazards topic is invited to make a contribution to that end. The money will ensure the production and distribution of a single issue on a topic chosen by the donor, who will receive grateful acknowledgment in print. Serious inquiries only.
To learn more about this exciting opportunity, contact Mary Fran Myers, Co-Director, Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, Campus Box 482, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482; (303) 492-2150; fax: (303) 492-2151; e-mail: email@example.com.
Ten American universities have joined together to launch an integrated research, development, and technology transfer program to reduce the excessive human, financial, and social losses due to extreme wind storms. The consortium includes Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida International, Johns Hopkins, Louisiana State, North Carolina State, and Notre Dame universities, as well as the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the universities of Delaware and Washington. With experience and expertise in the many disciplines affecting wind hazard mitigation--from engineering to social and economic analysis--faculty from these schools are working together to develop better engineering and construction practices for new buildings, as well as practical, economical strategies for upgrading existing structures. For more information about the new Wind Hazard Mitigation Consortium, contact H.W. Tieleman, Engineering Science and Mechanics Department, Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, VA 24061; (540) 231-6891; fax: (540) 231-4574; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the conviction that a federal investment in wind hazard reduction would pay significant dividends in lives saved and property damage reduced, several members of Congress have established a Wind Hazard Reduction Caucus focused on increasing the awareness of national legislators about the safety and economic issues associated with high winds of all kinds. The principal goal of the caucus is to gain government support for a National Wind Hazard Reduction Program, similar to the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, that would reduce loss of lives and property by 75% by 2010. The program would address improved design and construction, better emergency response, improved warning systems, building code enforcement, and public education. The caucus was launched on October 27, 1999, with the support of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which has pledged to lead a Wind Reduction Coalition of related professional societies, research organizations, industry groups, and companies. It is co-chaired by representatives Dennis Moore (D-KS) and Walter Jones (R-NC). For further information about the Wind Hazard Reduction Caucus, contact Brian Pallasch, Government Relations, American Society of Civil Engineers, 1801 Alexander Bell Drive, Reston, VA 20191; (202) 789-2200; e-mail: email@example.com.
The annual tussle between Congress and the president has become a rite of autumn, as both branches of government debate who gets what money and how much. Although threats to shut down the federal government have become commonplace, as have continuing budget resolutions to keep it open, this year both sides managed to avoid much of the rancor and agree on funding for federal programs.
Of interest to readers of the Observer is Public Law 106-74, the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 2000, signed into law by the president on October 18, 1999. This law appropriates funds for the operation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which received:
Under Public Law 106-60, Congress appropriated the following to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:
Public Law 106-79, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2000, provides:
For the complete text of these public laws, contact any federal repository library or access the Library of Congress via the World Wide Web: http://thomas.loc.gov.
Federal emergency appropriations in 1999 were the highest since the Gulf War in 1991. In an effort to cope with this increasing demand for federal funds, Congress asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to examine state practices and experiences with reserve funds, that is, funds set aside in time of budgetary surplus to prepare for periods of economic downturn or other unforeseen events. Recently, the GAO released its findings in the report, Budgeting for Emergencies: State Practices and Federal Implications (Report No. GAO/AIMD-99-250, 1999, 50 pp., free).
In the report, the GAO describes the various types of reserve funds that states use, including budget stabilization funds, emergency funds, and/or contingency accounts. States employ certain criteria for using emergency reserve funds that help control emergency spending, including standards that define conditions and events that may qualify as emergencies. For example, in one state, emergency spending must meet the conditions of being "necessary" and "unforeseen," and such funding is restricted to the costs of responding to and recovering from natural disasters. Such criteria could constrain use of an emergency designation and thus limit spending.
Besides carrying over any end-of-the-year fund balances, the five states in the GAO study also set up general purpose, statewide, and agency-specific reserves to deal with budget uncertainty. Also, if a state did not have reserves available, it could use other strategies, such as lowering spending, raising revenues, transferring money between funds, passing supplemental appropriations, and borrowing.
Congress, in contrast, funds federal programs through emergency supplemental appropriations--what the agency calls a "more 'after-the-fact' approach" than that used by the states. Additionally, when a federal agency provides advanced funding for programs that play a role in emergency activities, such as FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund, this funding is usually only a portion of the total that is eventually appropriated by Congress in a given year. The GAO concludes that the question for Congress is not whether there will be emergency spending, but at what point in the budget process these costs will be recognized. By creating an emergency reserve, Congress could consider these costs as part of the annual resource allocation process, ensuring that emergency needs are recognized early. Congress could also establish criteria for using these reserves that might narrow the circumstances under which they are used, thus reducing the likelihood of midyear supplemental appropriations.
Finally, the report raises some difficult questions for Congress: What criteria should be used to access the reserve? Who may approve the use of these funds? How large should the reserve be? and Should the reserve be included under the spending caps? It also presents an analysis of alternative approaches to address these issues.
Copies of the report are free and can be obtained from the General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 37050, Washington, DC 20013; (202) 512-6000; fax: (202) 512-6061; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The complete text of the report is also available on-line at http://www.gao.gov.
In an effort to provide money to applicants more quickly and to make the application process simpler, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently redesigned its Public Assistance Grant Program. The changes are outlined in the October 12, 1999, issue of the Federal Register (Vol. 64, No. 196, pp. 55158-55161).
The Public Assistance Program provides grants to state and local governments and certain nonprofit organizations, enabling them to respond to disasters, recover from disaster impacts, and mitigate the effects of future disasters. The redesigned program emphasizes better, more personal customer service; improved communications; reallocated responsibilities; more efficient and consistent program delivery; and a more efficient system for obtaining funding than under previous regulations.
The final rule outlines specific changes to regulations that rename documents, define terms, adjust responsibilities, and amend the rule in ways the agency hopes will make it easier to understand. It took effect on November 12, 1999. The complete text of the final rule can be found in your federal repository library or via the World Wide Web at http://www.access.gpo.gov. Information about the Public Assistance Program in general can be found on the FEMA Web site: http://www.fema.gov/r-n-r.
In the western regions of the United States, water is generally scarce and demands for this precious resource are growing; residential, industrial, agricultural, recreational, power utility, and environmental needs all compete. Following discussions of the Western Governors' Association Western Flood Task Force, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation produced an issue paper to outline the complex issues surrounding water management in the West.
In Flood Plain Management and Dam Operations: An Issue Paper for the Western Governors' Association (1999, 15 pp., free), the Bureau of Reclamation explains the problems caused by encroachment by development onto the floodplain, including residents' misplaced confidence in the ability of dams to control flooding and the need for dam operators to limit the release of water to prevent damaging downstream structures while also meeting other demands.
Noting that much of the information used to determine where development will occur is outdated, the report states that new development is often permitted in areas that are unsafe and susceptible to flood damage. Moreover, because downstream development can narrow water release options for dam operators, the potential for downstream flood damage can be increased due to the need to release incoming flood runoff or to store it in a reservoir that could overfill and cause dam failure. Because dam operators are not responsible for floodplain management regulation downstream, further difficulties arise in managing these problems.
The report recommends that the Western Governors' Association work with local governments to direct incompatible development away from floodplains; help bring local, state, and tribal governments together with federal agencies to deal with water issues; discourage state and local subsidies for development in floodplains, especially in those areas affected by federal dam operations; continue to educate the public about these issues; support efforts to sustain natural resources, ecosystems, and other functions of the floodplain; encourage the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update floodplain maps to reflect changes in development and flow in areas with high growth rates; and encourage communities and counties to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.
For further information about this report, contact Shaun McGrath, Western Governors' Association, 600 17th Street, Suite 1705 South Tower, Denver, CO 80202-5452; (303) 623-9378; fax: (303) 534-7309; WWW: http://www.westgov.org.
In the October 15, 1999, Federal Register (Vol. 64, No. 199, pp. 56108-56111), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a final rule that revises that department's regulations concerning hazard exposure among properties covered by the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) mortgage insurance program. Specifically, the revised rule permits mortgagees to obtain an Elevation Certificate as an alternative to a final Letter of Map Amendment or Revision for submission with the building plans when property improvements are located in a Special Flood Hazard Area. These provisions apply to one- to four-unit homes, whether or not a community has adopted criteria for site development.
These provisions also apply to all programs insured by the FHA, unless the mortgage in question will be secured by a dwelling unit that was completed more than one year before the application for insurance or is being sold to a second or subsequent purchaser. The mortgagee must submit a signed Builder's Certification of Plans, Specifications and Site that must cover flood hazards, noise, explosive and flammable materials, storage hazards, toxic waste hazards, and other foreseeable hazards such as unstable soils or slopes, high ground water levels, and other hazards that may affect the health and safety of the occupants or the structural soundness of the building.
The final rule also requires that flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program (if it is available in that area) be maintained on any FHA-insured mortgages on property in special flood hazard areas during the entire period the mortgage is insured by the FHA..The flood insurance must be at least equal to the outstanding balance of the mortgage, less estimated land costs, or the maximum amount of NFIP insurance available, whichever is less.
For more information on this final rule, contact Mark Holman, Mortgage Underwriting and Insurance Branch, Office of Insured Single Family Housing, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 451 Seventh Street, S.W., Room 9270, Washington, DC 20410-8000; (202) 708-2121. The full text of the final rule can also be found at any federal repository library or on-line at http://www.access.gpo.gov.
Although it is universally known in the United States as the phone number to dial when someone needs emergency assistance, 911 has never been officially declared as such. However, on October 28, 1999, President Clinton signed into law the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-81), making 911 the official universal telephone phone number within the U.S. for reporting an emergency to appropriate authorities and requesting assistance.
In addition, this new law requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to support efforts by individual states to develop comprehensive emergency communications infrastructure and programs based on coordinated statewide plans to help emergency responders overcome prior limitations in wireless service. The legislation also authorizes telecommunications carriers to provide call location information regarding a user of a commercial mobile service to emergency dispatchers and personnel so that they can respond to the user's call; to the user's legal guardian or family member in an emergency situation that involves the risk of death or serious injury; and to others solely responsible for assisting in the delivery of emergency services. Finally, it requires telephone exchange service providers to provide both listed and unlisted subscriber information to providers of emergency services.
The complete text of the new legislation can be found at your local federal repository library or on-line at http://thomas.loc.gov.