Volume XXV, Number 5

May 2001



Table of Contents

The Impact of Project Impact on the Nisqually Earthquake

Project Impact News

An Open Letter to the Natural Hazards Community

Help Wanted: Hazards Center Seeks New Director

Sustainability and Natural Hazards

Washington Update

On the Line

A Letter to the Editor

Internet Pages

Conferences and Training

A Hazards Center Course on Sustainable Disaster Recovery

ISDR Announces 2001 World Disaster Reduction Campaign

Canada Establishes Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness

Contracts and Grants

Recent Publications

HRRC Offers Certificate in Environmental Hazard Management

Sustainable Community Hazard Mitigation Course to be Offered On-Line

An Invitation to Get Wired

Save a Tree

Who We Are



The Impact of Project Impact on the Nisqually Earthquake

--an invited comment

On February 28, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake occurred 32 miles below the Nisqually wetland north of Olympia, the Washington state capitol. Ironically, the quake occurred as the Seattle Project Impact Steering Committee was preparing to celebrate the initiative's third anniversary with several hundred of its partners. Had the quake occurred one hour later, all of the region's emergency managers would have been gathered at the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center in Seattle. Instead, committee members and a few early birds guided children from the center's two daycare programs to safety.

Members of the response and recovery community were not fully tested by the earthquake, largely because it was deep and drought conditions in the Puget Sound region reduced the number of landslides and amount of liquefaction that would normally be caused by a quake of that magnitude. There was only one significant aftershock and few secondary impacts (one fire and several major landslides). However, the quake did interrupt business operations and damaged numerous building components, such as chimneys, facades, water pipes, and equipment.

Many historic, commercial, and manufacturing facilities were damaged, including key government structures such as the state legislative building and the regional airport control tower. Additional damage is being uncovered as engineering teams complete their inspections, although structural losses (i.e., damage to components essential to a building's structural integrity) will undoubtedly be a fraction of non-structural losses (i.e., damage to nonessential building structural elements, such as architectural features and heating and electrical systems, and losses due to lost productivity, etc.).

What effect did the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Project Impact have, if any, in reducing damage from the Nisqually earthquake? In short, the program has transformed the way residents deal with disasters and established an organizational structure that takes advantage of this change.

Project Impact has the broad goal of reducing risks by changing the way communities think about and deal with disasters. More importantly, it asks communities to be farsighted, to assess hazards rather than just respond to them, to protect themselves, and to become disaster-resistant.

The program is based on three simple principles:

The Seattle/Tacoma metropolitan area, which includes King, Pierce, and Kitsap counties, has been heavily involved in Project Impact, and Seattle is a pilot participant in the program. It is useful to examine Project Impact's effectiveness by assessing how well its stated goals were met in the context of the Nisqually earthquake.

Change in the Way We Think About and Deal with Disasters

Perhaps the most significant (and most difficult to measure) effect the initiative had is in demystifying and personalizing earthquake risk reduction for thousands of individuals, small businesses, and corporate partners.

Preventive Actions Must be Decided at the Local Level

The Seattle and King, Pierce, and Kitsap County Project Impact programs were essentially collective actions taken by hundreds of partners. Seven programs can be linked directly to Project Impact, including efforts in home and school retrofitting, hazard mapping, transportation corridor vulnerability mitigation, office and home nonstructural retrofitting, and small business resumption planning. It is too early to assess the full impact of these programs; however, here are some very early conclusions. (For a description of individual programs, see the FEMA web site: http://www.fema.gov/impact.)

Private Sector Participation is Vital

Effects Not Directly Related to Specific Programs

Long-Term Efforts and Investments in Prevention are Essential

Research is currently underway to assess the more indirect long-term impacts of the Nisqually quake. FEMA and the University of Washington have established a clearinghouse to facilitate research, but an examination of efforts that are directly attributable to Project Impact indicates that Puget Sound residents are accepting responsibility for their hazard vulnerability and focusing on protecting themselves. Here are three examples:

Just wanted to let you know the good news on how well the building did during the earthquake--and a big thanks for the retrofitting. We did not even have a single light cover come down, a computer fall over, a book come off a shelf. Now, ... how do we get more straps to do the new things we have installed since retrofitting was done here? Thank you. You made believers out of us!

Performance Measures

Were there fewer property losses, lower costs for repairs, and less time lost from productive activity as a result of Project Impact? It depends on how one measures the costs of repairing a school that did not decommission a water tank to prevent damage, the injuries or deaths of children in classrooms directly under such a tank, the loss of homes that were not retrofitted, and the closure of firms that had not implemented business resumption measures. Whatever the savings, it looks like we will be even better prepared when the next quake occurs, and isn't that, after all, the goal of Project Impact?

Robert Freitag, Director, Institute for Hazard Mitigation Planning and Research, University of Washington

For more information on the earthquake in Seattle, view the Clearinghouse on the Nisqually Earthquake web site: http://maximus.ce.washington.edu/~nisqually.

Project Impact News

Project Impact Communities Unite

At the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Project Impact Summit last November, representatives from over 100 communities involved in this national program to curb disaster losses established a "Disaster Resistant Communities Association (DRCA)." The Project Impact coordinators from these communities work to create local programs that mobilize public-private partnerships to reduce losses due to earthquakes, floods, storms, and other disasters.

The DRCA's goals are to ensure that Project Impact becomes a sustainable effort; to strengthen the project nationally and locally; to share experiences among, learn from, and aid one another; to create a forum in which the collective voice of Project Impact communities can be heard; and to build bridges to other organizations that share Project Impact goals.

The DRCA's interim web site is http://www.hazmit.net/PIAssoc/PIHome.htm. To be added to the group's mailing list or to request more information about DRCA, contact Ann Patton, City of Tulsa Project Impact Coordinator, City of Tulsa Public Works, City Hall, Tulsa, OK 74103; (918)596-7808; fax: (918) 596-7265; e-mail: projectimpact@ci.tulsa.ok.us.


FEMA Plans Project Impact "Make an Impact" Week

FEMA's Project Impact "Make an Impact" Week is a national campaign encouraging regional and local Project Impact representatives to conduct media outreach in their communities. Make an Impact Week will be conducted May 20-26 with the theme "Planting the Seeds of Prevention."

FEMA is inviting all communities participating in Project Impact to work with the agency to contact local print, radio, and TV outlets and actively work to make local citizens more aware of the hazards they face and the steps they can take to avoid them. More information about Make an Impact Week is available from the Project Impact web site: http://www.fema.gov/impact.

An Open Letter to the Natural Hazards Community

Dear Readers,

Below is an advertisement soliciting applications to be Director of the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center. Please know that I am NOT leaving the center.

From its inception over a quarter century ago, only one of the University of Colorado's faculty, the center's director--first Gilbert White, then Bill Travis (Riebsame), and, for the last eight years, me--has formally participated in the center. When I became the director, I was committed to generating more faculty participation in the center without increasing our operating costs. There is now an opportunity to significantly further that goal.

The faculty of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado has voted unanimously to make environmental sociology--with a track in hazards--an area of specialization. Two new assistant professors have already been hired--Lori Hunter and David Pellow--who have a committed interest in risk and hazard-related topics. Additionally, Barbara Farhar from the Department of Energy will join us next academic year. Moreover, the University's central administration has agreed to let the department hire a new faculty member, at the full professor level, to replace me as director of the Natural Hazards Center if I remain as chair for another term.

I will remain a permanent fixture at the Natural Hazards Center when the new director is hired and will work with that person in whatever capacity is most appropriate to further the center's mission.

One final word--directing the Natural Hazards Center here at the University of Colorado is the best job in the country for a social scientist interested in hazards. Please read the job description below, and if you are interested and a hazards sociologist, be sure to apply.

Dennis S. Mileti, Director, Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, University of Colorado


Help Wanted: Hazards Center Seeks New Director

The Department of Sociology and the Institute of Behavioral Science at the University of Colorado are seeking applications for a full-time tenured full professor in sociology. The applicant must specialize in hazards, disasters, and their link to broader environmental/sustainable development issues. Related areas of interest are welcome. The person in this position will serve as the director of the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, part of the Research Program on Environment and Behavior, Institute of Behavioral Science. The director will serve as co-principal investigator on the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that funds the center, set policy for and provide intellectual leadership to the center and its staff, work with the larger hazards community and the funding agencies that contribute to the center through its NSF grant, secure additional external funding to support the center, conduct interdisciplinary hazards/environment-related research with colleagues in the Institute of Behavioral Science, and establish and strengthen relationships with the larger academic community engaged in environmental and risk-related research at the University of Colorado and in the Boulder vicinity. The director of the center receives substantial staff support. This position is also expected to work half-time in the Department of Sociology to help develop and teach the newly organized environmental specialty and other courses, as well as perform other departmental duties and services.

Letters of application should include a statement of research and teaching interests, a perspective on how the applicant would advance the Natural Hazards Center (http://www.colorado.edu/hazards), comment on how the applicant would enhance the environmental sociology specialization in the Sociology Department (http://socsci.colorado.edu/SOC/), a curriculum vitae, and contact information for three referees. The University of Colorado is committed to diversity and equality in education and employment.

Review of applications will begin June 1, 2001. Applications should be submitted to Dennis S. Mileti, Chair, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado, 327 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309.



Sustainability and Natural Hazards

This article is the first in a series on ways in which hazards management and sustainability could be linked for the betterment of both fields. The first article grew out of the Natural Hazards Center project, funded by the Public Entity Risk Institute, to develop information on sustainable local recovery and conduct training to generate expertise on this topic throughout the U.S.

Developing Guidance and Expertise on Sustainable Disaster Recovery

Among the principal recommendations of the Second U.S. Assessment of Research and Applications for Natural Hazards (see the Observer, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, p. 3) was the need for the hazards community to embrace the tenets of sustainability. According to Disasters by Design, the assessment summary volume prepared by Natural Hazards Center Director Dennis Mileti:

Disasters are more likely where unsustainable development occurs, and the converse is also true: disasters hinder movement toward sustainability because, for example, they degrade the environment and undercut the quality of life. Sustainable mitigation activities should strengthen a community's social, economic, and environmental resiliency, and vice versa.

One of the many ways in which hazards management and sustainability can be more closely linked is by focusing on disaster recovery and the activities that are likely to take place--and decisions made--during that period. Sustainability ideals are beginning to be incorporated into hazards research, planning, preparedness, and mitigation. Beyond that, however, the postdisaster period remains a particularly crucial time for implementing sustainable practices because, during recovery, there is often tremendous pressure to resume the "old ways" of building and living at risk, and these forces are buttressed by relatively large amounts of political, technical, and financial pressure and assistance.

Through a project funded by the Public Entity Risk Institute (see the Observer, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, p. 17), the Natural Hazards Center has been working on ways to get sustainability and disaster recovery more closely integrated at the local level. As a foundation for this effort, we have developed a framework for sustainable--or "holistic"--recovery from disaster.

Guiding Principles

First, as outlined in Disasters by Design, there are six basic principles of sustainability. A community that wants to become more sustainable should:

Opportunities, Not Problems

Second, a disaster brings a range of problems that can be viewed as opportunities to build sustainability. In most situations a locality faces after a disaster, the community must take action to recover, so incorporating sustainability often does not involve much additional effort. Utilities must be restored, infrastructure re-established, housing repaired, social services reinstituted, and commercial sectors rehabilitated.

Values Brought to Decision Making

Third, each of these situations should be evaluated in light of all six principles of sustainability to see where there are opportunities to enhance community sustainability rather than returning to the prior vulnerability. The hazards community already has become used to thinking in terms of building mitigation provisions into many recovery activities. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's postdisaster and other programs in many cases specifically provide for mitigation. This step in the sustainable recovery process calls upon participants to expand this notion and examine ways to build the other aspects of sustainability into each and every recovery opportunity. This can result in some unusual combinations of problems and solutions.

For example, a stricken community with a damaged freeway overpass might well decide to incorporate seismic-resistant features into the repaired structure. However, a community striving for sustainable recovery would also consider demolishing or relocating the overpass to enhance livability in the surrounding neighborhood (sustainability principle #5, above), or rebuilding it to improve access to, and thus economic vitality for, a nearby commercial area that was previously difficult to reach from the highway (sustainability principle #2, above). This is just one of many possible outcomes of a systematic process of analyzing recovery in light of the six sustainability principles. The possibilities are endless, because each community has unique attributes, needs, and concerns, and each disaster superimposes a distinct set of impacts.

Local Solutions

Fourth, a community should tailor a unique set of sustainable recovery actions that satisfies its own particular concerns, takes advantage of its strengths, and uses the tools and techniques that it finds most appropriate to its situation.

Institutionalized Framework

Finally, the community should institutionalize newly adopted programs, projects, or other activities into its decision-making, budgeting, and planning processes to ensure that they endure over time. Ideally, the community would also develop indicators and a schedule for monitoring and tracking change and needed improvements.

This framework can be summarized in our working definition of ideal sustainable recovery: A sustainable recovery from a disaster is one in which the stricken locality systematically considers each of the six principles of sustainability in every decision it makes about rebuilding, reconstruction, and redevelopment.

Viewed in this way, the six principles of sustainability become a set of decision criteria that must be met if the recovery is to be truly sustainable. It is a framework for ensuring that people think about all the right things as decisions are made. It is somewhat analogous to the environmental assessment process conducted by federal entities pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. That is, the ranges of possibilities, alternatives (including doing nothing or, in our case, returning to the status quo), and impacts of the proposed recovery actions must be considered in light of the sustainability principles during the course of making decisions about how to proceed.

A Practical Approach

All of this is a fairly simple and, one might say, common-sense approach to recovering from a disaster. A community should strive to fully coordinate available assistance and funding while seeking ways to accomplish other community goals and priorities, using the disaster recovery process as the catalyst. Indeed, this approach can help local people to think and rethink their community goals and the kind of place they want their grandchildren to inherit. It encourages each locality to perform its own carefully considered balancing act of risk vs. protection, cost vs. benefit, today vs. tomorrow.

This may be a simple idea, but its execution is daunting. The postdisaster period--even the latter part, after the immediate emergency and response needs have been met--is notoriously chaotic. Most thinking during recovery is still geared toward getting things back to normal rather than "better than normal" or, ideally, "permanently better than normal." Finally, there are few people out there in any sector or at any level who have a thorough grasp, much less practical experience, in implementing truly holistic recovery.

There are, therefore, several challenges on the horizon. One is to find ways to introduce the sustainability criteria into the local decision-making process at appropriate points. Another is to obtain sufficient flexibility in the policies, regulations, and funding guidelines of state and federal programs so that those programs can be applied to innovative, sustainable solutions. A first step toward meeting these and other challenges is fostering a shift in thinking among the hazards community toward taking a broader approach to many problems that we have hitherto tended to tackle in isolation. Sustainability is a suitable concept for doing this, and, for its part, the Hazards Center has been gathering and consolidating information, knowledge, and experience in linking sustainability and disaster recovery. Our goal is to contribute to the development and dissemination of sustainable recovery expertise both among hazards management professionals and concerned professionals in related fields. This effort will culminate in the production of a handbook on sustainable recovery and a related training session to be conducted August 27-30 (see the related article). We welcome your suggestions and input.

Jacquelyn Monday, Program Manager, Developing Guidance and Expertise on Sustainable Recovery from Disaster, Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center

The author can be contacted at the Natural Hazards Center, 482 UCB, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0482; e-mail: jacque.monday@colorado.edu.



Washington Update

USDA Looks at Aging Flood Control Dams

More than 50 years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was first authorized by Congress to help local communities with upstream flood control and watershed protection. Today, there is a growing national concern that many of the early flood control dams are at or near the end of their planned design life and may pose a risk to public safety. In A Report to Congress on Aging Watershed Infrastructure: An Analysis and Strategy for Addressing the Nation's Aging Flood Control Dams (2000, 15 pp., free), the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) outlines the history of its Small Watershed Program and discusses the risk posed by some of the more than 10,000 upstream flood control dams constructed since 1948.

Many of the older small dams require significant rehabilitation, and some pose a threat to the safety of people and towns downstream or to anyone who uses the reservoirs as a source of drinking water. The NRCS stresses that if action is not taken to rehabilitate these dams, there is potential for adverse impacts on downstream floodplains and ecosystems the dams have been protecting. The agency estimates that more than 2,200 dams need work and that the total cost will be more than $540 million. The cost of rehabilitation will only rise with time as deterioration increases, construction costs rise, and more rehabilitation needs are identified. Conversely, these repairs can provide opportunities to increase municipal and industrial water supplies, firefighting water resources, recreation opportunities, and wetland and wildlife assets.

The report provides a summary of the current situation and an overview of pilot programs dealing with the dangers and opportunities for cooperative efforts. It also outlines a strategy for action legislated by the 2000 Agricultural Appropriations Bill. The report and numerous other reports that address aging dams and provide state-level information are available on the NRCS Web site: http://www.ftw.nrcs.usda.gov/pl566/agingwater/infra.html.


FEMA Study Evaluates Effectiveness of Flood Mitigation Activities in North Carolina

When Hurricane Floyd struck North Carolina in 1999, flood damage was severe because soil was saturated from previous storms and rainfalls of 15 to 20 inches. Because the region had been flooded before, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state and local governments had implemented a variety of flood mitigation activities. Following the hurricane, FEMA funded a study to evaluate the effectiveness of these activities, and the results of that study are now available in the report, Evaluation of CRS Credited Activities During Hurricane Floyd (2000, 78 pp., free).

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) was implemented in 1990 to recognize and encourage community floodplain management activities that exceed minimum NFIP standards. Under the CRS, flood insurance premium rates are lowered to reflect the reduced flood risk resulting from activities that meet three goals: 1) reducing flood losses; 2) facilitating accurate insurance rating; and 3) promoting awareness of flood insurance. In the FEMA report, eight credited CRS activities were evaluated to determine their impact on flood losses.

Among the findings:

The report is posted on the FEMA web site at http://www.fema.gov/nfip/pfloydrpt.pdf.


GAO Looks at Military Support to Civil Authorities

The Department of Defense (DOD) provides a variety of assistance, including disaster relief, to federal agencies, state and local governments, private citizens, and other nations. DOD provides this assistance while maintaining its combat capabilities and conducting overseas operations. Recently, members of Congress asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to examine the extent and cost of DOD participation in civil activities as well as the effects of the activities on uniformed military personnel. Specifically, GAO was asked to determine the extent to which personnel supported civil activities, the effect this assistance had on retention of service members, alternative sources that could provide this support, and the extent to which entities have reimbursed DOD for its support.

In its report, Military Personnel: Full Extent of Support to Civil Authorities Unknown but Unlikely to Adversely Impact Retention (Report to the Chairman and Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Military Personnel, Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate, GAO-0109, 2001, 47 pp., free), GAO presents its findings for each of the military services. The U.S. military supported 345 entities in at least 7,125 instances; the cost was (conservatively) $180 million, and support usually lasted fewer than 10 days. Providing assistance to civil authorities did not negatively affect retention, and many uniformed personnel viewed these assignments as contributing to our national interests.

The report discusses the military's use of contractors rather than military personnel for certain activities, such as construction, transportation, and medical treatment, as well as limitations to the kinds of support that can be provided by contractors. It presents detailed data on the extent of military support to civil organizations and officer and enlisted personnel retention rates, and comments from both the Department of Defense and FEMA. An appendix Observer readers might find useful contains a list of laws that authorize DOD support to civil organizations.

Copies can be obtained from the GAO, P.O. Box 37050; Washington, DC 20013; (202) 512-6000; fax: (202) 512-6061; e-mail: info@www.gao.gov; WWW: http://www.gao.gov.


FEMA's Emergency Management Activities Fall Under New House Subcommittee

Oversight in the House of Representatives of FEMA operations in emergencies and disasters has been moved to the newly created Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. During the 106th Congress, jurisdiction for emergency management issues fell under the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Emergency Management. That subcommittee has been eliminated. The new subcommittee's purview includes disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

The subcommittee overseas FEMA activities authorized under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which makes federal emergency assistance available whenever the president determines that assistance is necessary to supplement state and local efforts to save lives, protect property, and ensure public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States.

For further information, contact the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, 589 Ford House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515-6260; (202) 225-3014; fax: (202) 225-6782; e-mail: transcomm@mail.house.gov; WWW: http://www.house.gov/transportation.

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