U.S. PARTICIPATION IN THE INTERNATIONAL DECADE FOR NATURAL DISASTER REDUCTION
The U.S. Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction is an outgrowth of the IDNDR, formally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 22, 1989. The objective of the IDNDR is “to reduce through concerted international action... the loss of life, property damage, and social and economic disruption caused by natural disasters.” The goals of U.S. participation in the IDNDR are to broaden the application of natural disaster reduction information and technology and to foster their incorporation into practice, particularly in developing countries. The United States, through the National Academy of Sciences, was a key participant in establishing the IDNDR, and it should continue to be a leader in developing and fostering disaster reduction activities both globally and at home.
The Committee recommends that the United States participate fully in the IDNDR through bilateral and multilateral programs, cooperation with regional and nongovernmental organizations, and support of UN organizational arrangements and program activities.
Active participation in the IDNDR will directly benefit the United States. Through cooperative programs, experience from recent disasters can be applied to domestic programs for mitigation, prediction, response, and recovery. The IDNDR also offers numerous opportunities for new research through international cooperation. Conversely, the United States has a considerable reservoir of applied research and technology that can be adapted to other nations' needs.
BROAD-BASED U.S. PARTICIPATION IN THE IDNDR
U.S. participants should include the National Committee, federal agencies, state and local governments, special authorities, business and industry, scientific and technical societies, professional associations, public interest groups, voluntary organizations, and academia.
The United States should develop and foster a mutually beneficial working relationship with IDNDR arrangements established by the UN. More specifically, this association should include full U.S. cooperation with the IDNDR Special High-Level Council, which will seek to mobilize support for the IDNDR and serve the UN Secretary-General in an advisory capacity; the Scientific and Technical Committee, which will develop and evaluate bilateral and multilateral Decade programs; and the IDNDR Secretariat, which will provide support for these two bodies, serve as a clearinghouse for disaster reduction information, and be responsible for day-to-day coordination of Decade activities. The U.S. National Committee, through the UN and other direct contacts, should communicate regularly with the IDNDR committees of other nations to identify potential areas of cooperation.
The federal government supports many international disaster reduction projects. OFDA provides direct predisaster and postdisaster assistance to other nations. The Department of State leads U.S. cooperation with the specialized organizations of the UN
system; individual agencies collaborate with their UN counterparts, such as USGS cooperation with UNESCO and UNDP, NOAA work with the WMO, U.S. Department of Agriculture participation in the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Department of Health and Human Services work with the WHO. Several federal agencies also participate in bilateral and multilateral programs of technology transfer, research, and training. These activities should be coordinated and broadened to strengthen existing programs and facilitate inclusion of projects identified during the Decade.
Many state and local governments have considerable experience and expertise in emergency response, preparedness, and mitigation — a collective experience that should be applied to the IDNDR. Through pairing arrangements such as sister-city programs and international state-to-state partnerships, states and local jurisdictions can benefit from and contribute to the exchange of information and expertise.
Nongovernmental organizations in the United States have a wealth of resources and expertise that should be applied to the IDNDR. Business and industry, particularly multinational corporations, can take a leading role in implementing mitigation practices at facilities in the United States and abroad. Scientific and technical societies should be active participants in the Decade programs planned by the International Council of Scientific Unions, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations/ Union of International Technical Associations, and other influential international bodies. Professional associations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Public Works Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Society for Public Administration should make their expertise available through cooperation with their international counterparts. Voluntary organizations such as the American Red Cross and Volunteers in Technical Assistance have hands-on experience that is readily adapted to IDNDR initiatives. Cooperative programs may be facilitated by computerized volunteer registries that can match international disaster reduction needs with available resources. Further, the U.S. natural hazard research community is engaged in several international projects that relate to mitigation, response, postdisaster reconstruction, geophysical research, and other aspects of disaster reduction. Such efforts should be supported and expanded in the spirit of international cooperation.
DEVELOPING NATIONAL HAZARD MANAGEMENT CAPABILITIES
Although the UN resolution calls for most Decade activity to be undertaken at the national level, many developing nations will require technical assistance to initiate programs. The United States should support the establishment or strengthening of regional institutions that can coordinate hazard reduction programs within their regions. Again, priority should be given to developing and sustaining a local hazard management capability. The types of assistance of particular value include support for regional and national efforts to establish or improve early warning systems, training for disaster response, and technical assistance for hazard mitigation through land-use planning, building standards and design, reduction of economic vulnerability, training in rapid health assessments following natural disasters, and wildfire prevention.
Early in the Decade, the United States should participate in projects chosen for their potential to reduce the vulnerability of high-hazard areas and to serve as models for other regional and national activities. Several projects have been suggested: cooperative international programs such as the World Weather Watch to improve prediction of atmospheric hazards; flood hazard and risk assessments, monitoring, and prediction systems; regional models and test sites for earthquake prediction and seismic zonation; international strong-motion instrumentation network data collection; world landslide hazard mapping; regional networks for wind speed data collection; awareness and education programs; study of the media role in disseminating warning messages; and models of organizational response during the emergency phase of disasters.
Hazard reduction projects should be developed and implemented in a manner that is consistent with and supportive of regional or national development goals. In essence, hazard reduction should become an integral feature of the development process. Hazard reduction criteria should be factored into development programs administered by UNDP, the World Bank, regional development banks, and bilateral aid agencies. The IDNDR can be a catalyst in initiating cooperative hazard reduction programs that emphasize national and regional hazard management capabilities that are compatible with development programs.
A NORTH AMERICAN PROGRAM
An early thrust of U.S. participation in the IDNDR should be the development of a program of natural hazard reduction for North America. A comprehensive program with Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America, which could serve as a model for other regional activities during the Decade, is described below.
Natural disasters often cross North America's political boundaries, and this fact has provided the impetus for regional cooperation. (See Figure 5.) Existing programs include hurricane prediction and warning, wildfire prevention and control, seismic monitoring and zonation, volcano monitoring and warning, flood prediction and warning, building code development and upgrading, and regional disaster preparedness programs. Several of these projects could be models for international cooperation.
For years, the United States and Canada have operated flood prediction and monitoring programs on two common water bodies, the Columbia River and the Great Lakes system. The two countries also provide mutual assistance in forest fire prevention and suppression. Additional cooperation is needed for storm monitoring and research undertaken through the Cooperative Atlantic Storms Program, earthquake monitoring and mapping programs for the seismically active western and eastern fault zones, a proposed program for landslide mapping, and other programs.
Cooperation on natural hazard reduction is traditional between the United States and Mexico, and bilateral agreements have facilitated mutual support in emergencies. In the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, for example, Red Cross teams from Mexico assisted in search-and-rescue operations; several U.S. organizations responded to the 1985 Michoacan earthquake that killed thousands and severely damaged some modern buildings in Mexico City. This disaster led to a series of joint research projects in earthquake engineering and emergency response sponsored by NSF and Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology. These institutions should fund comparable projects during the Decade.
Within the framework of a North American strategy, emphasis should be placed on reducing the impacts of natural hazards in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. In recent years, the region has been devastated by natural disasters that exacted heavy tolls in human life and social and economic disruption. During 1988-89, Hurricanes Gilbert, Hugo, and Joan caused scores of deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to countries in the Caribbean basin. Wildfires are a frequent source of substantial damage. Earthquakes strike frequently, killing tens of thousands and inflicting economic damage that represents a substantial part of the countries' gross national products. Floods, droughts, and hurricanes affected 16 million people and killed 25,000 during the past three decades.
Programs in Canada, Mexico, the United States, and U.S. territories in the Caribbean could easily be expanded to include all the Caribbean and Central America. OFDA, USGS, NWS, NASA, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Pan Caribbean Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Project, and the World Bank have made a significant effort to assess and mitigate natural hazards in the region. Extending these and other activities would benefit both recipient and donor nations and produce an abundance of much-needed data on emergency preparedness, response, and mitigation for use by all.
A comprehensive program of natural hazard reduction for the Caribbean-Mexico-Central America region should provide for continuity and further development of ongoing activities while drawing new participants. It should stimulate both informal and formal cooperation in the region, facilitate communication among providers and practitioners, and promote consideration of hazard reduction in development planning.
To plan and implement such a program, the Committee proposes the creation of three consortia that would assess the needs and capabilities of their geographic areas and work on cooperative projects. One should be formed in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, another in the Caribbean, and the third in Central America. They should comprise representatives of the public and private sectors, international organizations, the scientific and engineering community, and users of disaster reduction information and technology.
National IDNDR committees should also be key participants in these consortia. Some Decade entities have already been formed. The U.S. National Committee urges all Central American and Caribbean
nations to form committees, either alone or with neighboring nations.
The consortia should facilitate the flow of information and services from hazard assessment through implementation of mitigation mechanisms — from strengthening local and regional agencies to training their personnel to transferring relevant technologies. The consortia should foster coordination of activities in the region and be a point of contact and principal means of communication for participants. Each consortium would require a secretariat housed in an appropriate regional institution of multinational scope. Through their secretariats, the consortia could also serve as information clearinghouses.
Projects undertaken within a regional program should be selected for their potential to reduce vulnerability immediately and their enhancement of training and other institution-building programs that will contribute to long-term hazard reduction. The projects should provide for direct local participation and should reflect local customs, language, administrative structures, and attitudes toward risk. Operational groups both in and outside government should be involved to help identify problems and priorities and to implement programs. As regional — that is, multinational — activities are agreed upon, resources should be directed to appropriate-level institutions within countries.
Examples of the types of projects to be undertaken in the Caribbean-Central American program are:
Regional training programs for natural hazards management. Regional efforts such as the OAS program in natural hazards management training and technical assistance should be expanded and offered to mid-level professionals and their agencies. Regional training programs should build on knowledge derived from sectoral assessments and hazard reduction programs to develop training manuals, training courses for practitioners and trainers of trainers, and regional seminars for policymakers.
Public awareness and community preparedness. Existing community-oriented programs to increase hazard awareness and self-reliance should be expanded. They should center on important community facilities such as schools and water supplies. Building on shared community interests, programs can promote individual and collective actions for preparedness and mitigation to safeguard essential community infrastructure.
Urban population and essential facilities vulnerability reduction. Further hazard and risk assessments of landslides, wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, and seismicity should be undertaken, building on existing databases and hazard mapping, technical assistance training, and technical transfer. These assessments would permit identification of population concentrations and lifeline networks for formulating short-, medium-, and long-term vulnerability reduction programs and emergency response plans.
Sectoral hazard assessments and development of loss reduction programs. Further hazard and risk assessments should be developed for energy, agriculture, transportation, tourism, and other economic sectors. These assessments should form the basis for developing the loss-reduction strategies that each sector would fund and implement. The programs should encourage these sectors to exchange information and coordinate actions.
Improved hurricane prediction. The region's observational network capability should be enhanced by increasing the number and reliability of upper-air and surface reporting locations that could survive hurricanes and other severe storms. A pilot project should deploy automated surface observation stations, additional wind profilers and other upper-air systems, and aircraft observing systems. The resulting data would help improve regional hurricane prediction.
Improved communications and natural hazards monitoring. Data sources should be connected for all natural hazards affecting the region. Using a personal computer-based work station connected to a two-way satellite delivery system, national meteorological services and others could access and analyze real-time data from meteorological and geological information centers in the United States, in Canada, and throughout the region. Local observations, soundings, and other data sets as well as warnings would be relayed by satellite to meteorological and geological centers.
Although an early thrust of U.S. participation should be natural disaster reduction for North America, the United States should not confine its efforts to this region. Opportunities for international cooperation exist elsewhere as well. Programs similar to those suggested for the Caribbean and Central America can and should be undertaken in other regions. In particular, the Pacific Rim is a possible additional focus for bilateral and multilateral activity.