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Natural Hazard Mitigation
Recasting Disaster Policy and Planning
By David R. Godschalk, Timothy Beatley, Philip Berke, David J. Brower, Edward J. Kaiser, Charles C. Bohl, R. Matthew Goebel
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 1999 Island Press
All rights reserved.
Mitigating Natural Hazards: A National Challenge
Screaming headlines announce another presidential declaration of disaster as the latest flood, hurricane, or earthquake strikes a populated area. Television airs images of devastated homes and freeways. Governors demand federal disaster relief funds. Hearts go out to unfortunate victims huddled in shelters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency rushes in with recovery and rebuilding programs. This frenzied scenario has been repeated many times, with each new disaster seemingly bigger than the last. In fact, the first half of the 1990s saw the largest and most costly floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes in U.S. history.
Why are these disaster damages growing so large? Do we simply have to bite the bullet and keep rebuilding our disaster-stricken communities? Is something wrong with our national disaster policy? Could some of the damage and suffering from natural disasters be prevented?
To answer these questions, this book digs into the decisions and programs behind the headlines. It is the first complete analysis of the outcomes of the Stafford Act, the basic U.S. disaster law, to examine how natural hazard mitigation—the technical term for prevention of future harm from disasters—has worked over time and how it can be made to work more effectively in the future. Its authors are the first to study how federal hazard mitigation funds have actually been spent since the Stafford Act was adopted in 1988, what is actually contained in state hazard mitigation plans required by the Stafford Act, what goes on in mitigation decision making following a major disaster, how government mitigation officials rate the effectiveness of the mitigation system, and what changes are being considered to solve the widely recognized problems with the present way of coping with natural disasters.
Importance of Natural Hazard Mitigation
Disasters happen when nature's extreme forces strike exposed people and property. These recurring natural phenomena, such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes, are known as natural hazard events. When natural hazard events take place in unpopulated areas, no disaster occurs, when they take place in developed areas, damaging life and property, they are called natural disasters. The magnitude of a disaster depends on the intensity of the natural hazard event, the number of people and structures exposed to it, and the effectiveness of pre-event mitigation actions in protecting people and property from hazard forces.
Natural disasters have grown larger as more people and property have become exposed to natural hazards. Unfortunately, the places where hazards occur are often the same places where people want to live—along ocean shores and riverfronts or near earthquake faults. As more urban development takes place in such high-hazard areas, the risk of damage and injury from disasters multiplies. During the first half of the 1990s, the United States suffered unparalleled damage from natural disasters. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters caused billions of dollars in damage, destroyed homes and businesses, and cut off roads, bridges, water systems, and other public infrastructure.
Yet much of the damage and suffering from natural disasters can be prevented. Natural hazard events cannot be prevented from occurring, but their impacts on people and property can be reduced if advance action is taken to mitigate risks and minimize vulnerability to natural disasters. Following disasters in the early 1990s, the U.S. Congress directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to place its highest priority on natural hazard mitigation, shifting its emphasis from responding to, and recovering from, disasters once they have occurred to mitigating future hazard events. This marked a fundamental change, moving from reactive to proactive national emergency management policy.
This book describes and analyzes the way hazard mitigation has been carried out in the United States under the national disaster law—the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, enacted in 1988. We seek to answer questions about how the requirements of this law, establishing a national system for hazard mitigation, have worked in practice and how they might be made to work better. Our goal is a sound system of natural hazard mitigation, which we believe is a prerequisite to a safe future for the nation and its communities.
The Concept of Natural Hazard Mitigation
Natural hazard mitigation is advance action taken to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to human life and property from natural hazards. Typically carried out as part of a coordinated mitigation strategy or plan, such actions, usually termed either structural or nonstructural, depending on whether they affect buildings or land use, include the following:
Strengthening buildings and infrastructure exposed to hazards by means of building codes, engineering design, and construction practices to increase the resilience and damage resistance of the structures, as well as building protective structures such as dams, levees, and seawalls (structural mitigation)
Avoiding hazard areas by directing new development away from known hazard locations through land use plans and regulations and by relocating damaged existing development to safe areas following a disaster (nonstructural mitigation)
Maintaining protective features of the natural environment by protecting sand dunes, wetlands, forests and vegetated areas, and other ecological elements that absorb and reduce hazard impacts, helping to protect exposed buildings and people (nonstructural mitigation)
Of the four stages of disaster response—mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery—mitigation is the only one that takes place well before the disaster event. The other stages all occur just before or after the disaster. The preparedness stage includes short-term activities, such as evacuation and temporary property protection, undertaken when a disaster warning is received. The response stage includes short-term emergency aid and assistance, such as search-and-rescue operations and debris clearance, following the disaster. And the recovery stage includes postdisaster actions, such as rebuilding of damaged structures, to restore normal community operations (Godschalk, Brower, and Beatley 1989).
Natural hazard mitigation is an important national policy issue because monetary damages from natural disasters are reaching catastrophic proportions. Fueled by increasing urbanization in areas exposed to natural hazards, disaster costs have skyrocketed. Insurance companies can no longer continue insuring property in high-hazard areas. The federal Treasury is called on to pay huge sums for postdisaster relief, rebuilding, and recovery. And the personal monetary and psychic costs in lost homes and businesses and disrupted lives are staggering (see Box 1.1).
Disaster relief is a large and increasing public expenditure. Between the Stafford Act's passage in 1988 and May 1996, a total of 295 disaster declarations have been made by the president, resulting in disaster relief expenditures of more than $12.6 billion by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for public and individual assistance and hazard mitigation grants. (Public assistance grants are made to state or local governments or nonprofit agencies for repair or restoration of disaster-damaged facilities.
Individual assistance grants are made to individuals or families to meet disaster-related expenses not otherwise covered. Hazard mitigation grants are made to state or local governments to reduce future hazard risks.) As shown in table 1.1, about 82 percent of this relief funding has gone to disasters involving hurricanes, typhoons, and coastal storms ($4.1 billion), flooding ($2.1 billion), and earthquakes ($4.1 billion).
Disaster relief costs will certainly increase. Petak and Atkisson (1982) estimated that the real value of losses from nine common natural hazards in the United States will increase by a factor of 69 percent between 1980 and 2000. Between 1995 and 2010, costs of natural disasters are projected to be in the range of 5,000 lives and $90 billion (Engi 1995). Table 1.2 shows the total public and individual assistance and hazard mitigation grant funding for some recent large-scale disasters. Stafford Act expenditures for Hurricane Hugo were $1.27 billion, and expenditures for Hurricane Andrew were $1.64 billion. Expenditures for the 1994 Northridge earthquake alone were $3.32 billion, and expenditures for the 1993 Midwest floods approached $900 million. The geographic spread of these disasters is vast. The eleven disasters listed in table 1.2 affected some 822 counties in twenty-three states, with the Midwest floods alone hitting 430 counties.
Total insured losses caused by major natural disasters between 1989 and 1995 reached $45 billion (FEMA 1997a). Led by Hurricane Andrew's insured losses of $15.5 billion in 1992 and the Northridge earthquake's losses of $12.5 billion in 1994, these damages put serious strain on the nation's private insurance system (See table 1.3). A number of small insurance companies went out of business, and several companies in particularly hazard-prone states discontinued hazard insurance.
Natural Hazard Mitigation Policy Framework
To counter the increasing damages from natural disasters, Congress created a mitigation policy framework consisting of a set of basic laws establishing goals, planning and implementation program tools to achieve the goals, and an intergovernmental system linking federal, state, and local government agencies responsible for operating the programs.
Mitigation Policy Under the Stafford Act
In the United States, natural hazard mitigation policy is set forth in the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121) and its accompanying regulations in Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 206 (44 C.F.R. 206). In the Stafford Act, Congress declares that because disasters cause loss of life, human suffering, loss of income, and property loss and damage; disrupt the normal functioning of governments and communities; and adversely affect individuals and families, special measures are necessary to assist states in rendering aid, assistance, emergency services, and reconstruction and rehabilitation of devastated areas. The intent of the act is to provide orderly and continuing federal assistance to state and local governments in carrying out their responsibilities to alleviate the suffering and damage caused by disasters. Among the means listed are comprehensive disaster preparedness plans and hazard mitigation measures to reduce losses.
The Stafford Act creates a procedure for a presidential declaration that a major disaster has occured. The governor of the affected state requests such a declaration on the basis of a finding that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capability of the state and its local governments and that federal assistance is necessary. If the request is approved, the president of the United States declares a disaster, and federal disaster assistance is provided.
Stafford Act regulations define hazard mitigation as any action taken to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to human life and property from natural hazards (44 C.F.R. 206.401). Implementing hazard mitigation under the Stafford Act is the responsibility of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, commonly known as FEMA, which prepared a National Mitigation Strategy in 1995 (box 1.2). Operating through its ten regional offices, FEMA assists state emergency management agencies in planning and carrying out their hazard mitigation strategies. Each state is encouraged to formulate a mitigation plan based on the hazards it faces and its institutional capabilities.
Between 1988 and 1996, mitigation under the Stafford Act was carried out through three primary postdisaster activities, which may be thought of as the primary tools of the mitigation planner during that period:
Section 409 mitigation plans
Section 404 mitigation grants
Hazard Mitigation Survey Teams and Interagency Hazard Mitigation Teams
Section 409 of the Stafford Act requires the preparation of state disaster mitigation plans as a condition of receiving federal disaster assistance. These plans require states and their localities to identify and adopt programs and policies to reduce future risks from natural hazards. FEMA can condition disaster assistance funds on the implementation of state hazard mitigation plans.
A hazard mitigation plan is defined as the plan resulting from a systematic evaluation of the nature and extent of vulnerability to the effects of natural hazards present in society; it includes the actions needed to minimize future vulnerability to hazards. At a minimum, the state hazard mitigation plan must contain the following:
An evaluation of the natural hazards in the designated area
A description and analysis of the state and local hazard management policies, programs, and capabilities to mitigate the hazards in the area
Hazard mitigation goals and objectives and proposed strategies, programs, and actions to reduce or prevent long-term vulnerability to hazards
A method of implementing, monitoring, evaluating, and updating the mitigation plan on at least an annual basis, to ensure that implementation occurs as planned and that the plan remains current (44 C.F.R. 206.405 [a] )
States are encouraged to develop a mitigation plan prior to a disaster so that the basic plan can be revised to address specific issues arising from the disaster (44 C.F.R. 206.405 [b]). However, in practice FEMA has assumed that most mitigation plans will be developed in a postdisaster situation (FEMA 1990, p. 6). Following a presidentially declared disaster, the state must submit a hazard mitigation plan or plan update to FEMA within 180 days of the date of the declaration. The FEMA regional director may grant extensions as long as to 365 days (44 C.F.R. 206.405[d]).
A sound planning process is essential to the development and implementation of an effective hazard mitigation plan. Involvement of key state agencies, local governments, and other public- or private-sector bodies that influence hazard management or development policies is critical (44 C.F.R. 206.406 [a]). Although the primary responsibility for preparing the plan is assigned to one state agency, any state agency that influences development within hazardous areas through ongoing activities should be involved in developing and implementing hazard mitigation plans (44 C.F.R. 206.406 [c]). Local participation is essential because regulation and control of development within hazardous areas normally occur at the local level. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that appropriate local participation is obtained during development and implementation of hazard mitigation plans (44 C.F.R. 206.406 [d]).
A hazard mitigation project is any mitigation measure, project, or action proposed to reduce risk of future damage, hardship, loss, or suffering from disasters. For example, hazard mitigation projects carried out after the Midwest floods included public acquisition of damaged properties and relocation of residents to safe locations, and those after Hurricane Andrew included installation of steel storm shutters on public buildings to prevent future wind damage.
Excerpted from Natural Hazard Mitigation by David R. Godschalk, Timothy Beatley, Philip Berke, David J. Brower, Edward J. Kaiser, Charles C. Bohl, R. Matthew Goebel. Copyright © 1999 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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