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deductibles for given events or types of disasters. Similarly, it should be possible for FEMA and/or other government agencies that now provide disaster aid to individuals to ascertain their total property damages. In practice, none of these data on self-insured losses absorbed by individuals are systematically compiled by any organization. The same is true with respect to losses suffered by individuals who do not qualify for or who do not seek either private insurance payments or government assistance.
Even more important than the monetary damages suffered by individuals in disasters are the injuries and fatalities that often occur. Through the National Weather Service (NWS), the federal government currently collects comprehensive data on injuries and fatalities in all weather-related events, however small. These data are provided to FEMA. As valuable as it is, the NWS data set contains two shortcomings for purposes of this report: it excludes fatalities and injuries from earthquakes and other geohazards, and it is not clear if the data on disasters below some dollar loss threshold can be easily separated from the larger disasters that, in our view, should be the primary focus of a comprehensive federal disaster data collection effort.
Standardizing Loss Estimates
In addition to the lack of a comprehensive data base, there exists no standardized estimation technique or framework for compiling loss estimates from individual disasters. Most estimates are ad hoc, consisting of those losses that were significant in a particular event. As a result, the range of loss estimates of a natural disaster tends to vary widely, sometimes as much as 10-fold.
Table 2-1 is an example of one framework used in compiling a loss estimate for Hurricane Andrew. This estimate, like all others, is not standardized, and different groups and individuals compiled their own, unique loss estimates from Hurricane Andrew. There is a range of loss estimates following a disaster, but no official estimate (or official scorekeeper). The lack of a consistent framework for loss estimation makes it difficult to accurately compare the losses of natural disaster events to one another. For example, did Hurricane Georges actually cause less damage than Hurricane Hugo or was the loss estimation framework simply different? And of the varying estimates of losses, which one is to be consistently used? Clearly, the lack of a standard framework makes it extremely difficult to accurately identify trends in natural disaster losses (see Howe and Cochrane, 1993, for guidelines on the uniform measurement of economic damages from disasters). Moreover, this inability makes it more difficult for the federal government to identify which disaster mitigation policies represent the more cost-effective options.