May 2000

Table of Contents

Hazardous Spills, Industrial Accidents, and Natural Hazards

--an invited comment

A Letter to the Editor
Mitigation at the Millennium: Where Do We Go From Here?

The Hazards of Responding to El Niño in South America

Y en Español

Recent Additions to the Hazards Center Web Site

New Courses and Other Resources from FEMA's Higher Education Project

The Internet Pages

NFPA Promoting "Firewise Communities

AMS Launches Atmospheric Policy Program

Washington Update

DRM: Mitigating Natural Hazards and Technological Risks

MCEER Introduces Strategic Partnerships Network

Disseminating Humanitarian Principles: A Sphere Project Update

1999 Fifth Worse for Insured Losses

Conferences and Training

The Latest Works from the Venerable DRC

Contracts and Grants

USFA Funds Fire Safety Education

WMO, IADB Establish El Niño Mitigation Program for Latin America and the Caribbean

New Certificate Programs in Graduate Training in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance

Recent Publications

Flood Insurance, Building Codes, Showcase States, and Impact Standards: New from IBHS

World Bank Issues New Publications

Electronic Stuff

Seeking Articles

Who We Are

Hazardous Spills, Industrial Accidents, and Natural Hazards: The EPA's Role in Disasters

--an invited comment

The Superfund Program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long-standing, mandated responsibilities for preparing for and responding to emergencies involving hazardous substances, pollutants, and contaminants. Because of our experience and capabilities, we are often called upon to direct overall federal response to a hazardous materials incident when the president issues a disaster declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

The Great Midwest Floods in 1993 affected nine states and caused numerous industrial accidents, such as the inundation of water treatment plants and landfills; the dislodging of tanks of propane and other chemicals; and the release of household hazardous wastes throughout hundreds of counties. Under the Federal Response Plan, the EPA worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies to respond to these incidents. These events demonstrated how significant the secondary hazards and environmental impacts of a natural disaster can be and led to the formation of special federal interagency work groups that deal with long-term recovery and environmental impacts on wetlands.

Recently, Hurricane Floyd caused massive flooding in North Carolina (see the Observer, Vol. XXIV, No. 2, p. 1), polluting drinking water, creating the need for large-scale debris removal, and releasing numerous toxic substances. Indeed, North Carolinians are still dealing with major industrial and agricultural waste releases and pollution.

Increasingly, major natural hazards are causing secondary technological and industrial accidents and emergencies. Following the recent earthquake in Turkey, a major refinery fire greatly reduced refinery capacity for the entire country and threatened the safety and health of earthquake victims.

How do we meet these challenges? First we must identify likely threats and hazards, then set priorities to deal with them. Finally, perhaps more importantly, we must determine if we have adequate legislative mandates to regulate potential risks.

New Threats and Hazards Are Likely

Although the list of known hazards and threats is sizeable, new perils appear likely in the near future. The types of disasters that will continue include major natural disasters, industrial and technological crises and accidents, and events that involve both natural and technological hazards, but we should also expect new kinds and increasing numbers of technological accidents as well as events that were almost nonexistent in the past. For example, the U.S. and many other countries are making extensive preparations to deal with the growing threats of chemical, biological, and nuclear accidents and the use of these agents as weapons of mass destruction.

EPA's Emergency Response Roles

The EPA's emergency response program and its responsibilities under the Federal Response Plan differ, yet they complement one another. Although these are two separate national systems and funding bases, they are interdependent and interconnected. The EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard are the principal stewards of the National Response System, which prevents, prepares for, and responds to technological events involving oil and hazardous substances through the National Response Team (NRT). The NRT is made up of 16 federal agencies and 13 regional response teams, including state and local government representatives.

Natural disaster mitigation, preparedness, and response programs, such as those involving hurricanes and flooding, are administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These programs are based on specific laws and regulations as well as on a powerful, integrated Federal Response Plan. They are coordinated at the federal level by the Catastrophic Disaster Response Group, which represents 27 federal agencies.

One fundamental distinction between these programs is the initiating event. Natural disasters, as their name implies, result from events in nature. While some relief of devastating losses may be available through insurance, private funds, or the resources of victims, there is also substantial assistance for recovery from public sources. By contrast, technological disasters invariably have a "responsible party," who takes measures to reduce or eliminate risk and assumes responsibility for the cost of response and recovery.

A second distinction lies in the cost of prevention and mitigation of industrial/technological risks. One of the purposes of EPA programs is to assure an appropriate response mechanism for technological hazards--particularly when they are below the threshold for a presidential disaster declaration.

Both of these systems have been highly effective mechanisms for response to, and mitigation of, major oil spills and incidents involving releases of hazardous materials, pollutants, or contaminants.

External Relationships and Efforts

The EPA has developed tools for the public to obtain information regarding hazards and disaster impacts. The Envirofacts database (http://www.epa.gov/enviro) helps individuals locate information about risks in their communities, such as the locations of Superfund sites, facilities requiring environmental permits, and companies' toxic emissions records.

Some of the interagency efforts that EPA's Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office has participated in or contributed to include the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, the Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction, the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, the University of Colorado's Natural Hazards Center, and the Board on Natural Disasters of the National Academy of Sciences, which ended this past year. (EPA expects to participate in the latter's successor organization, the Roundtable on Disasters.)

Anticipating Needs in the New Century

Recently, EPA's Science Advisory Board recommended that the agency "develop programs to deal with environmental impacts of natural hazards . . . including human health." They noted that "EPA's activities are relatively small and focused on emergency response activities for contaminant spillages. There is no national program to address the totality of environmental and public health impacts of natural hazards."

For EPA to stay abreast of rapidly evolving developments and emerging problems due to technological and natural disasters, we must:

It is imperative that all levels of government interact as team members when major damaging, unexpected events compel the use of resources from multiple agencies and multiple governments. All major response activities must be on parallel tracks, with planned intersections and switching places, and they must converge smoothly. We must all work to avoid collisions!

Tim Fields, Assistant Administrator, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Environmental Protection Agency

A Letter to the Editor

Mitigation at the Millennium: Where Do We Go From Here?

Last December, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) convened the second Project Impact Summit, an opportunity for communities receiving federal grant funds under this banner to gather and share their experiences in what Director Witt referred to as "the mitigation movement." I perceive the "movement" to be based on three principles.

The first principle calls for spending current resources to reduce or eliminate the expenditure of future resources for the same or similar types of damages. Intuitively this makes sense. Unfortunately, there are serious gaps in the supporting data. At best, this may foster inefficient use of scarce resources. At worst, resources will not be provided, absent convincing demonstration of their efficacy in mitigation. A critical undertaking in the new millennium should be to further develop hard data to support the first mitigation principle. This involves the risk that some cherished mitigation approaches may not fare well under rigorous analysis, but the long-term credibility of the mitigation ethic is at stake.

The second principle is that "all mitigation is local." FEMA is to be commended for putting it into practice by allocating Project Impact resources directly to the selected communities. The question is the extent to which FEMA can continue to secure resources from Congress to support what is an acknowledged local responsibility. While Congress has no problem with disaster relief (postdisaster mitigation grants under the Stafford Act dwarf funds made available for Project Impact), it continues to be restive about funding predisaster mitigation.

I believe this restiveness is compounded by lack of an "end-game" scenario. Are federal predisaster mitigation grants to communities anticipated to become an annual event --forever? Will they last only until various mitigation strategies and techniques have been tested and validated, or discarded? How will we know when "enough is enough," and it's time for localities to stand--or fall--on their own?

The third principle is that mitigation must be a community undertaking, using a broad definition of the word "community." There are many commendable examples of localities involving government, business, volunteer, and nongovernment organizations in mitigation activities. But the most heartening aspect is the variety of types of individuals and/or organizations that are leading these efforts. Each seems to understand implicitly that if the undertaking is successful there will be more than enough credit to go around. Participants contribute their unique capabilities-- adding to the whole without duplicating the efforts of others.

Such collaboration has been less in evidence above the local level. Organizations that could be more powerful in tandem are operating separately. I sense no disagreement over objectives, but rather a concern about who gets credit. If success at the local level depends on the willingness of groups with diverse interests and viewpoints to work collaboratively, how can it be otherwise at any other level?

My hope is that FEMA will begin the new millennium by setting the mitigation "movement" on a path that will transcend both administrations and personalities.

Robert H. Volland, American Red Cross Volunteer, Annapolis, Maryland

For more information about how to become a Project Impact community, call (202) 646-4600. For publications pertaining to Project Impact, call (800) 227-4731 or view FEMA's site on the World Wide Web: http://www.fema.gov/impact.

A special Special Publication from NHRAIC

The Hazards of Responding to El Niño in South America

Having experienced a major El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event in 1982-83, the South American countries of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia should have been better prepared to deal with the next major ENSO in 1997-98. Or so one would think . . .

Alas, in a critical analysis of the organized governmental/institutional response in these countries, researchers Richard Olson, Juan Pablo Sarmiento Prieto, Robert Olson, Vincent Gawronski, and Amelia Estrada found that many of the lessons from the earlier event were lost--primarily because of a lack of prior planning and the political exigencies that emerged when the second event became a "catastrophe" that received national and global attention.

The principal finding of their report, The Marginalization of Disaster Response Institutions: The 1997-1998 El Niño Experience in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador (Natural Hazards Center Special Publication #36, 2000, 44 pp.), is that while the civil defense organizations in the respective countries were the nominal "national emergency organizations" at the outset, each was rapidly pushed to the sidelines ("marginalized," in the current social science patois) by one or more new but temporary governmental organizations charged with managing the response. The result: confusion and duplication at the institutional level and a serious loss of credibility and morale in each country's civil defense structure. In all cases, the 1997-98 ENSO became a major domestic media and political issue. In two of the countries, the event became part of either official (Ecuador) or unofficial (Peru) electoral campaigns. In the third case (Bolivia), it became enmeshed in interparty coalition politics.

Following their analysis of these events, the authors assess likely institutional readiness for the next ENSO, and, perhaps most importantly, suggest how standing national emergency management agencies can better prepare--not just for the physical consequences of a future ENSO event, but for the political consequences, as well.

The Marginalization of Disaster Response Institutions can be purchased for $10.00, plus shipping ($5.00 for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico; $8.00 for international mail beyond North America). 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: janet.kroeckel@colorado.edu.

Y en Español

A Spanish version of Special Publication 36 (mentioned above)--Marginación de Las Instituciones de Respuesta en Casos de Desastre: La Experiencia del Fenómeno El Niño de 1997-1998 en Perú, Bolivia y Ecuador (SP36-S, 2000, 46 pp.)--is also available, but not from the Natural Hazards Center. It is being distributed free, both in printed form and on the World Wide Web, by the Regional Disaster Information Center for Latin America and the Caribbean (CRID), Apartado 3745-1000, San José, Costa Rica; tel: (506) 296-3952; fax: (506) 231-5973; e-mail: crid@crid.or.cr; WWW: http://www.crid.or.cr.

New Pages . . . . . . New Reports

Recent Additions to the Hazards Center Web Site

New Pages

Over the years, the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center has received many requests for information about the frequency, severity, social consequences, and monetary costs of natural disasters. Although apparently straightforward, such queries are extremely difficult to answer. They are complicated by such questions as: What constitutes a "disaster"? What constitutes a "cost"? Do we want to look at insured losses or all losses? How can we be sure that loss estimates are accurate for individual disasters and/or that they are comparable across disasters? How can we possibly compare the relatively high property losses in developed countries with the relatively high social costs (such as deaths, injuries, and homelessness) in developing nations? Which indirect costs should be included? And so on . . .

To respond to these questions, the Hazards Center has recently added a page to its Web site--"Selected Sources of Data on Disasters and Disaster Costs"--at the URL above.

The page does not provide numbers directly, but guides the user to various sources elsewhere on the Internet that offer such information for either the United States or the entire planet. The list focuses on sources of data relating to the human consequences of disasters, not on catalogs of physical events.

The Hazards Center has also compiled an index of some of the more useful, comprehensive sources of visual images of hazards and disasters on the Internet. The list includes sections on all hazards, earthquakes, landslides, volcanoes, floods, and various forms of severe weather. This is a list of archived images, not real-time information, such as current hurricane satellite photographs.

Neither of these new sections of the Hazards Center Web site are, by any means, definitive. Anyone knowing of other reports of disaster costs or other archives of disaster images is invited to send such information to David Butler, Natural Hazards Center, Campus Box 482, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482; (303) 492-4180; fax: (303) 492-2151; e-mail: butler@spot.colorado.edu.

New Reports

In addition to the new pages above, the Natural Hazards Center has added several other items to its Web site:


Since 1972, the Institute of Behavioral Science and the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado have published dozens of "Working Papers" that report research findings and other information to disaster scholars and other interested persons, including policy makers and front-line hazard managers. The first 93 working papers were published in printed form and can be purchased from the Hazards Center; for those titles see the Publications List at the first URL above. Subsequent papers are available via the Web at the second URL and may be downloaded and printed.

The latest working paper is WP#103, Mitigation and the Consequences of International Aid in Postdisaster Reconstruction, a field study of a housing reconstruction project in Honduras undertaken following Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The author, Priya Ranganath of McGill University, recounts in detail how structures were rebuilt, then offers suggestions for how this and other projects could be designed to produce a more sustainable community.

Specifically Ranganath points out that the establishment of sound infrastructure and community support services and the creation of sustainable economy and employment may be as important to long-term recovery as the actual construction of dwellings themselves, that careful siting of projects is also critically important, and that local community involvement is essential. In the author's words, "Well-constructed strong housing does not constitute sustainable architecture. . . . Disaster mitigation and relocation needs to have a comprehensive approach if one wants to be sustainable on a long-term basis, and should include not just house reconstruction but also prioritize individual and community development."

As regular readers of the Observer know, the Hazards Center sponsors "Quick Response" research that allows disaster scholars to enter the field almost immediately after impact to examine consequences. Reports from these studies are published by the Hazards Center on the World Wide Web. The newest report, available at the URL above, is:

Following severe cold weather in the lower San Joaquin River Valley in December 1998, these researchers surveyed California citrus growers to determine relationships between locational, contextual, and perceptual factors and growers' intentions to modify land use. Specifically, they examined the distribution of damage and the motivation of growers to reduce or prevent future damage. In their report, the authors note relationships between location and risk; location and mitigation measures taken; orchard size, age of operation, membership in cooperative organizations and loss; and past experience and propensity to mitigate. They maintain that these relationships reflect the "perceptual framework" within which growers responded to the event. Concurrently, they found that insurance and disaster assistance appear to dissuade expensive loss reduction efforts while encouraging growth of the industry into marginal regions.

The complete list of quick response reports is provided at http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/qr/qr.html. In addition, printed copies can be purchased for $5.00 each, plus shipping charges ($4.00 for surface mail to any destination; and $9.00 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: janet.kroeckel@colorado.edu. Prepayment is required, and checks should be payable to the University of Colorado.

New Courses and Other Resources from FEMA's Higher Education Project

One of the goals of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is to encourage emergency-management-related education in colleges and universities across the United States. To further this end, FEMA's Emergency Management Institute (EMI), in Emmitsburg, Maryland, established a Higher Education Project that has launched several programs.

First the project has compiled an annotated list of colleges, universities, and other institutions offering emergency management courses, certificates, and degrees. This catalog is available on-line at http://www.fema.gov/emi/edu/higher.htm.

Next, it has developed an outline of a potential emergency management curriculum consisting of a series of classroom-based, upper division (junior/senior), baccalaureate-level courses, and the institute is working with a variety of colleges and universities to develop these courses. Several are now complete and available on-line. Courses currently obtainable, or soon to be posted, include:

In addition, as an aid to academics creating hazards and emergency management courses, a working draft Emergency Management Bibliography has been developed, and recently the Higher Education Project also designed a Prototype Curriculum for Associate Degrees in Emergency Management, based on existing EMI training courses that could be used or adapted by colleges.

For additional information about the FEMA Higher Education Project or to obtain background and course materials, see http://www.fema.gov/emi/edu/higher.htm or contact the project director, Wayne Blanchard, FEMA Higher Education Project, Emergency Management Institute, 16825 South Seton Avenue, Emmitsburg, MD 21727; (301) 447-1262; fax: (301) 447-1598; e-mail: wayne.blanchard@fema.gov.

Next Page

Return to the Index of the Natural Hazards Observer

Return to the Natural Hazards Center's Home Page