Reducing Disaster Losses.

Although losses from past natural disasters have been substantial, they have been far less than they might have been. Various strategies for mitigating losses have been progressively implemented with some very impressive results (NRC, 1994, 1997). For example, improved weather warning systems have resulted in reduced loss of life from hurricanes and floods (NRC, 1998a). Unfortunately, this stands in contrast to the great increase in property damage. Also, better land-use and construction practices have reduced earthquake and flood losses (NRC, 1994).

Disaster decision-making takes place before, during, and after a disaster strikes. The phases of decision-making are usually described as mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Mitigation involves long-term actions to prevent or reduce a hazardous effect from occurring, such as building structures that can withstand the force of winds or earthquakes. Preparedness anticipates the effects and takes appropriate countermeasures in advance, such as issuing warnings, stockpiling supplies, or establishing evacuation routes. Response includes actions taken during an event and its immediate aftermath, including rescue. And recovery brings a community back to life by restoring essential services and economic vitality. A recent

The Interstate 5/Route 14 interchange, north of Los Angeles, was one of only seven overpasses to collapse in the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake. Hazard maps helped the California Department of Transportation decide which freeways should have priority for seismic strengthening. (Photo courtesy of USGS.)

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