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Natural Disasters: Prepare, Mitigate, Manage
(Released 1998)

 
  by Carla R. McMillan  
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Overview

The United States experiences a variety of natural disasters throughout the year. Because of hurricanes on the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico coasts, earthquakes near the San Andreas and other fault lines, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes in the plains, and floods throughout the Midwest, the United States suffers approximately $1 billion in losses each week. From 1990-93, losses surpassed those during the previous decade, mainly due to Hurricane Andrew, the Midwest and Northwest floods, and the Northridge Earthquake. Regardless of the location of a natural disaster in the United States, a program of disaster preparedness, mitigation, management, and prevention must be followed.

Disaster preparedness includes all of the activities that are carried out prior to the advance notice of a catastrophe in order to facilitate the use of available resources, relief, and rehabilitation in the best possible fashion. Disaster preparedness starts at the local community level; if local resources were insufficient, it would branch out to the national level, and if needed, the international level.

Disaster mitigation is the ongoing effort to lessen the impact disasters have on people and property. Fewer people and communities would be affected by natural disasters with the use of this process. Because of the varying degree of each natural disaster, there are different mitigation strategies for each. Outlined in the following tables are some important recommendations for protection against disaster.

Earthquake Tornado
Extreme Heat Tsunami
Flood Volcano
Hurricane Wildfire
Landslides & Mudflows

Disaster management is the process of addressing an event that has the potential to seriously disrupt the social fabric of the community. Disaster management is similar to disaster mitigation, however it implies a whole-of-government approach to using community resources to fight the effects of an event and assumes the community will be self-sufficient for periods of time until the situation can be stabilized. Through disaster management, we cannot completely counteract the damage but it is possible to minimize the risks through early warning, provide developmental plans for recuperation from the disaster, generate communication and medical resources, and aid in rehabilitation and post-disaster reconstruction.

The exchange of correct information following the event is important, in order to ensure the resources necessary to support response and recovery activities. The 72 hours following a major event is the most difficult time because of a lack of coordination among relief organizations. Problems that interrupt rather than coordinate the rescue efforts of all groups involved often occur because of hasty decision-making under complicated circumstances and the large number of organizations, which are unsure of their roles during operations.

Disaster prevention is concerned with policies and programs to prevent the recurrence of natural disasters and covers the long-term aspect of such disasters. The small price to pay for any method of prevention and protection pays off in the long run. An example of this is the Anheuser-Busch facility. In the early 1980s, Anheuser-Busch invested $15 million to protect its facilities from an earthquake. In 1994, an earthquake whose epicenter was 12 miles away from the facility hit, however because of the prevention the company took, it saved an estimated $300 million in damages.

Programs that follow and track disasters have improved throughout the years. In the 1970s, only the specialized departments of large companies, universities, and the government covered disasters. Desktop systems and computer communications emerged as a technology for linking emergency professionals on a global basis in the eighties. With the 1990s, computer equipment became more powerful and is now an essential component of disaster operations worldwide. Today Earth observation satellites provide basic support in pre-disaster preparedness programs: in-disaster response, monitoring activities, and post-disaster reconstruction.

In anticipation of future natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed a national strategy, Project Impact, to be fully implemented by the year 2010. The two main components of the strategy are to increase public awareness of natural hazard risk and to reduce significantly the risk of the loss of life, injury, economic cost, and destruction of natural and cultural resources due to natural disasters. Five key elements are included, in order to make Project Impact a successful one: hazard identification and risk assessment; applied research and technology transfer; public awareness training and education; incentives and resources; and leadership and coordination. Through the Mitigation Action Plan:

Federal agencies are expected to apply the best mitigation practices to their own facilities; complete a national natural hazards risk assessment; develop partnerships to advance research, standards development, and cost-effectiveness measures; provide incentives; and spearhead a national public awareness campaign. State and local governments develop sustained administrative structures and resources for mitigation programs, adopt and enforce building codes and land use measures, and conduct ongoing public information campaigns on natural hazard awareness and mitigation. Private industries accept responsibility for being aware of the natural hazards that threaten their facilities and investments and for reducing their vulnerability. Individual citizens accept responsibility for becoming aware of the natural hazards that affect them and their communities and for reducing their degree of vulnerability.

The past decade has shown an increase in the severity of natural disasters. During the past year alone, eight destructive disasters occurred worldwide. These disasters are outlined in the accompanying table called 1998 Natural Disasters. Through these plans, the way communities deal with disasters will be improved. As the population increases, it is expected that economic and societal costs of disasters will increase every year. The need to prevent property damage, disaster costs, injury and deaths is increasing because it is expected in the next 15 years that even more Americans will live and work in regions of natural disaster risks. With the established and anticipated disaster programs, communities can prepare and recover faster, however we must not forget the severity of any disaster and we must remember to be prepared for all of them.

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Natural Disaster Mitigation Strategies
EARTHQUAKE MITIGATION
Before the Disaster During the Disaster After the Disaster
• Check for hazards in the home

• Identify safe places in each room

• Locate safe places outdoors

• Ensure all family members know how to respond after an earthquake

• Teach children when and how to call 9-1-1

• Have disaster supplies on

• Develop an emergency communications plan in case of separation during the earthquake

• Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the family contact

• If indoors: Take cover under a piece of heavy furniture or against an inside wall and stay inside

• If outdoors: Move into the open, away from buildings, street lights, and utility wires and remain there until shaking stops

• If in a moving vehicle: Stop quickly, stay in vehicle, move to a clear area away from buildings, trees, overpasses, or utility wires

• Be prepared for after shocks

• Help injured or trapped persons and give first aid where appropriate

• Listen to a battery operated radio for emergency information

• Stay out of damaged buildings and return home only when authorities say it is safe

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EXTREME HEAT MITIGATION
Before the Disaster During the Disaster After the Disaster
• Install window air conditioners

• Install temporary reflectors to reflect heat outside

• Consider keeping storm windows up year round

• Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation

• Protect windows that receive sun by hanging draperies or shades

• Conserve electricity

• Stay indoors as much as possible; eat well-balanced light meals and drink water regularly

• Limit intake of alcoholic beverages

• Dress in loose fitting clothes

• Allow body to get acclimated to the heat w/in the first few days of a heat wave, avoid sunshine and use sunscreen if needed

• Avoid extreme temperature changes

• Reduce, eliminate, or reschedule strenuous activities

First Aid for conditions after a drought/extreme heat:

• Sunburn (skin redness and pain, possible swelling, blisters, fever, headaches) - shower using soap to remove oils that may block pores. If blistering occurs, apply dry, sterile dressings and get medical attention.

• Heat Cramps (painful spasms in leg and abdominal muscles) - Place firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water, however if nausea occurs, discontinue.

• Heat Exhaustion (heavy sweating, weakness, skin cold, pale, and clammy, weak pulse, fainting and vomiting may occur) - lay victim down in a cool place, loosen clothing and apply cool, wet cloths. Give sips of water, however if nausea occurs, discontinue. Seek medical attention if vomiting occurs.

• Heat/Sun Stroke [high body temperature (+106?) , hot and dry skin, rapid pulse, possible unconsciousness, no perspiration] - Call 9-1-1 immediately to get victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal.

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FLOOD MITIGATION
Before the Disaster During the Disaster After the Disaster
• Learn warning signs and community alert systems

• Stockpile emergency building materials

• Install check valves in sewer traps to prevent flood waters from backing up in sewer drains

• Plan and practice an evacuation route

• Have disaster supplies on hand

• Develop an emergency communication plan in case of separation

• Ask an out-of-state relative to serve as the "family contact"

• Teach family members how and when to turn off the gas, electricity, and water and teach children how and when to call 9-1-1

• Ask your insurance agent about flood insurance

During a flood watch:

If indoors:

• Turn on battery operated radio to get latest emergency information
• Get pre-assembled emergency supplies
• If told to leave, do so immediately.

If outdoors:

• Climb to high ground and stay there
• Avoid walking through any floodwaters.
• If in a car, turn around and go another way; if your car stalls, abandon it immediately and climb to higher ground.

During an evacuation:

• If advised to evacuate, do so immediately to avoid flooded roads, being sure to follow recommended evacuation routes and listen to radio for evacuation instructions

• Don't return home until authorities express express it is safe to do so

• Help neighbors whom may need assistance

• Use extreme caution when entering buildings

• Inspect foundations for cracks or other damage and examine walls, floors, doors, and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapsing

• Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes, that may have come into your home with flood waters

• Watch for loose plaster and ceilings that could fall

• Take pictures of damage for insurance claims

• Look for fire hazards

• Throw away all food (including canned) that has come in contact with flood waters

• Pump out flooded basements gradually (~ 1/3 amount of water per day) to avoid structural damage

• Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems ASAP - damaged sewage systems are health hazards.

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HURRICANE MITIGATION
Before the Disaster During the Disaster After the Disaster
• Plan an evacuation route and learn safe routes inland

• Have disaster supplies on hand

• Develop an emergency communication plan in case of separation

• Ask an out-of-state relative to serve as the "family contact"

• Teach family members when and how to turn off gas and electricity

• Trim back dead or weak branches from trees

• Check into flood insurance

• Teach children when and how to call 9-1-1

• Make arrangements for family pets because some emergency shelters may not allow pets

Hurricane Watch (conditions within 24-36 hours):

• Listen to battery-operated radio for progress reports; check emergency supplies
• Fuel car
• Bring in outdoor objects
• Secure buildings by closing and boarding up windows
• Remove outside antennas
• Turn refrigerator and freezer to coldest settings
• Store drinking water in clean bathtubs, jugs, and bottles
• Moor boat securely or move to a designated safe place; anchor trailer to ground
• Review evacuation plan

Hurricane Warning (conditions expected in 24 hours or less):

• Listen to radio for instructions
• Tie down mobile home and evacuate immediately
• Store valuables in waterproof container
• Avoid elevators.

If at home:

• Stay inside, away from anything glass
• Keep a supply of batteries and flashlights
• Avoid open flames as a source of light
• If power is lost, turn off major appliances to reduce power "surge."
• If evacuation is necessary: leave ASAP, avoiding flooded roads and washed-out bridges
• Secure home by unplugging appliances and turning off electricity and the main water valve
• If time permits, elevate furniture to protect it from flooding
• Bring pre-assembled emergency supplies and warm clothing
• Take blankets and sleeping bags to a shelter and leave immediately

• Stay tuned to radio for information, returning home only when authorities advise it is safe to do so

• Help injured or trapped persons and give first aid where appropriate

• Avoid loose or dangling power lines and report them to the power company or fire department

• Beware of snakes, insects, and animals driven to higher ground by flood water

• Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home

• Check refrigerated foods for spoilage

• Take pictures of the damage for insurance claims

• Drive only if necessary and avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges

• Use telephones only for emergency calls.

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LANDSLIDES & MUDFLOW MITIGATION
Before the Disaster During the Disaster After the Disaster
• Get a ground assessment of your property

• Minimize home hazards (plant ground cover on slopes, build retaining walls, and in mudflow areas, build channels or deflection walls to direct flow around buildings)

Recognize landslide warning signs:

• Doors/windows stick or jam for the first time, new cracks appear in plaster or foundations, outside walks, walls, or stairs pull away from buildings, underground utility lines break, bulging ground appears at base of a slope, ground slopes downward in one direction and may begin shifting in that direction under your feet; faint rumbling sound that increases in volume as landslide nears

• Make evacuation plans, planning at least two routes allowing for blocked and closed roads

• Develop an emergency communication plan and ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the family contact

• Purchase flood insurance.

If indoors:
• Stay inside and get cover under a sturdy piece of furniture. If outdoors:

• Try to get out of path of mudflow

• Run to nearest high ground in a direction away from path

• If rocks and other debris are approaching, run for nearest shelter such as a group of trees or a building

• If escape is not possible, curl into a tight ball and protect your head.

Be cautious of sinkholes:

• Sinkholes occur when groundwater dissolves a vulnerable land surface such as limestone, causing the land surface to collapse from lack of support.

• Stay away from slide area

• Check for injured and trapped persons and give first aid where needed

• Listen to battery-operated radios for emergency information

• Remember flooding may occur after a mudflow or landslide

• Check for damaged utility lines and report damage to the utility company

• Check the building foundation, chimney, and surrounding land for damage

• Replant damaged ground as soon as possible since erosion caused by loss of ground cover can lead to flash flooding.

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TORNADO MITIGATION
Before the Disaster During the Disaster After the Disaster
• Conduct tornado drills into each season

• Designate an area in the home as a shelter

• Have disaster supplies on hand

• Develop an emergency communication plan in case of separation

• Ask an out-of-state relative to serve as the "family contact"

• Know the difference between a tornado watch (issued when tornadoes are possible in your area) and a warning (tornadoes have been sighted by radar)

• Take shelter in a building with a strong foundation

• If shelter is not available, lie in ditch or low-lying area a safe distance away from the mobile home

Learn danger signs:
• An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location even if a funnel is not visible, before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become still, and generally occur near the edge of a thunderstorm; you can often see clear skies following a tornado

If at home:

• Go to the storm cellar or lowest part of the building
• If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway/room without windows
• Go to the center of the room, staying away from the corners because they attract debris
• Get under a piece of sturdy furniture and hold on to it
• Use arms to protect head and neck
• If in a mobile home, get out and find shelter.

If at work or school:

• Go to the lowest level in the building, avoiding wide-span roofs (auditoriums, cafeterias)
• Get under a sturdy piece of furniture and hold on
• Use arms to protect head and neck.

If outdoors:

• Try to get inside; if that is impossible, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building; be aware of flooding potential
• Use arms to protect head and neck.

If in a car:

• NEVER try to outdrive the tornado
• Get out of the car immediately and try to find shelter in a building
• If shelter is impossible, lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle.

• Help injured or trapped persons, give first aid when appropriate, and don't try to move injured persons unless they are in danger of further injury

• Turn on radio/television to get latest emergency information

• Stay out of damaged buildings and return home only when authorities say it is safe

• Use telephone only for emergency calls

• Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately

• Leave the building if you smell gas or chemical fumes

• Take pictures of the damage for insurance claims

• Remember to help neighbors who may need assistance.

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TSUNAMI MITIGATION
Before the Disaster During the Disaster After the Disaster
• Find out if your house is in danger and know the height of your street above sea level

• Be familiar with warning signs (earthquakes, ground rumbling, or rapid rise and fall of coastal waters)

• Ensure all family members know how to respond

• Make evacuation plans with more than one route and pick an elevated inland location

• Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1

• Have disaster supplies on hand (flashlight, extra batteries, portable battery-operated radio, first aid kit, emergency food and water, nonelectric can opener, cash and credit cards, and sturdy shoes)

• Develop an emergency communications plan in case of separation during the earthquake Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the family contact.

• Listen to radio for emergency and evacuation information

• Climb to higher ground as soon as warning of a tsunami is released

• Stay away from the beach - if you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it

• Do not assume that one wave means the danger is over - the next wave may be larger than the first

• Stay out of the area and do not return until authorities say it is safe to do so

• Stay tuned to radio for emergency information

• Help injured or trapped persons and give first aid where appropriate

• Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury

• Stay out of damaged buildings

• Enter home with caution, checking for electrical shorts and live wires

• Do not use appliances or lights until properly checked by an electrician

• Open windows and doors to help dry the building

• Shovel mud while it is still moist to give walls and floors an opportunity to dry

• Check food supplies, throwing out all fresh food that may be contaminated and have tap water tested by local health department.

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VOLCANO MITIGATION
Before the Disaster During the Disaster After the Disaster
• Learn about community warning systems and of disasters that can come from volcanoes (earthquakes, flooding, landslides, mudflows, thunderstorms, tsunamis)

• Make evacuation plans to higher ground with a backup route

• Get a pair of goggles and a throw-away breathing mask for each member of the household teach children how and when to cal 9-1-1

• Have disaster supplies on hand (flashlight, extra batteries, portable battery-operated radio, first aid kit, emergency food and water, nonelectric can opener, cash and credit cards, and sturdy shoes)

• Develop an emergency communications plan in case of separation during the earthquake Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the family contact.

• Follow evacuation order issued by authorities

• Avoid areas downwind of the volcano

If indoors:

• Close all windows, doors, and dampers
• Put all machinery inside a garage or barn
• Bring animals and livestock into closed shelters

If outdoors:

• Seek shelter immediately
• If caught in a rockfall, roll into a ball to protect head
• Avoid low-lying areas where poisonous gases can collect and floods can be dangerous
• If caught near a stream beware of mudflows.
• Wear long sleeved shirts and pants
• Use goggles to protect eyes and a dust-mask or damp cloth over face to help breathing
• Keep car engines turned off
• Stay out of the area.

• Mudflows can occur when rain falls through ash- carrying clouds or when rivers are dammed during an eruption and are most dangerous close to stream channels; if on a bridge and notice a mudflow upstream, DO NOT cross the bridge - the mudflow can destroy a bridge quickly.

• Listen to radio for emergency information
• Stay away from ashfall

When outside:
• Cover mouth and nose to protect from inhaling ash and wear goggles to protect eyes

• Keep skin covered to avoid irritation or burns

• Avoid contact with any amount of ash if you have a respiratory ailment

• Avoid driving in heavy ashfall (it may clog engines and stall vehicles)

• Clear roofs of ashfall (could cause buildings to collapse)

• Help neighbors who may require special assistance.

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WILDFIRE MITIGATION
Before the Disaster During the Disaster After the Disaster
• Learn and teach safe fire practices

• build fires away from nearby trees or bushes, always have a way to extinguish a fire, never leave a fire unattended

• Obtain local building codes and weed abatement ordinances for buildings near wooded areas • Use fire-resistant materials when building, renovating, or retrofitting structures

• Create a safety zone to separate home from combustible plants and vegetables

• Install electrical lines underground, if possible

• Prune all branches around residence to a height of 8-10 feet

• Keep trees adjacent to buildings free of dead or dying wood and moss

• Remove all dead limbs, needles, and debris from rain gutters

• Store combustible/flammable materials in approved safety containers and keep away from home

• Keep chimney clean

• Avoid open burning, especially during dry season Install smoke detectors on every level of your home

• Make evacuation plans from home and neighborhood and have back up plans

• Avoid using wooden shakes and shingles for roofing

• Use only thick, tempered safety glass in large windows and doors

•Have disaster supplies on hand (flashlights, extra batteries, portable radios, first aid kits, emergency food and water, nonelectric can opener, essential medicines, cash and credit cards, and sturdy shoes)

• Develop an emergency communication plan in case of separation

• Ask an out-of-state relative to serve as the "family contact"

If trapped in a wildfire, you CANNOT outrun it:

• Crouch in a pond or river and cover head and upper body with wet clothing

• If a body of water is unavailable, look for shelter in a cleared area or among a bed of rocks and lie flat and cover body with wet clothing or soil.

• Listen to radio for emergency information

• Remove combustible items (outdoor furniture, umbrellas, tarp coverings, and firewood) from around the home

• Take down flammable drapes and curtains and close all Venetian blinds or noncombustible window coverings

• Close all doors and windows inside home to prevent draft

• Close gas valves and turn off pilot light

• Turn on a light in each room for visibility in heavy smoke

• Place valuables that will not be damaged by water, in a pool or pond

• If hoses and adequate water are available, leave sprinklers on roofs and anything that might be damaged by fire

• Be ready to evacuate all family members and pets when fire nears or when instructed to do so by local officials.

• Be cautious when re-entering a burned wildland area - hot spots can flare up without warning

• Check the roof immediately and extinguish any sparks or embers and the attic for hidden burning sparks

• Re-check for smoke and sparks throughout the home for several hours afterward

• Breathe the air close to the ground through a wet cloth to avoid scorching lungs or inhaling smoke.

This Disaster Mitigation information was collected from FEMA
http://www.fema.gov/pte/prep.htm

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1998 Natural Disasters
INCIDENT LOCATION DATE IMPACTS & DAMAGE POPULATION AFFECTED FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE
Earthquake Rostaq, Afghanistan Feb 4 27 villages affected 4,400 killed
818 injured
Britain donated 180,000
Tornado Alabama, USA Apr 8- 20 $4.9 million in damages

Oakgrove High and Elementary school demolished

Gas pipelines disconnected

6 counties designated for Direct Federal Assistance (DFA) $546,384 disaster assistance to 473 applicants

$852,166 to 162 individuals and businesses

$2.02 million loaned to 61 businesses by the US Small Business Administration (SBA)

Wildfire Florida, USA May 25 - Jul 22 $2,285,433 lost

500,000 acres burned

270 businesses and homes lost

125 fire-related injuries to fire-fighters (7,000 firefighters from 44 states helped)

4,700 request assistance

67 counties designated for Direct Federal Assistance (DFA)

$108,880 for temporary housing and home repair

$262,853 granted to individuals and families

$ 1.9 million loaned to businesses by the SBA

Flooding Ohio, USA Jun 24 -Jul 5 15,000 without electricity

60 state highways damaged

7,678 request assistance

23 counties designated for DFA and all for hazard mitigation

$6.7 million in temporary housing grants to 3,980 victims

$57,400 funds to 13,218 unemployment claims

$2,753,288 granted for expenses

$14.1 million in disaster loans by the SBA

Tsunami Papua New Guinea Jul 17 7 towns destroyed Estimated 3,000 deaths

6,000 missing

Funding provided for food, water and medical relief
Hurricane Georges & Tropical Storm Frances Louisiana, USA Sep 9- Oct 4 13,059 needed temporary shelter 15,400 request assistance

19 parishes designated for DFA and all for hazard mitigation

$5,398,133 provided for housing assistance

$1,780,940 grants to disaster-related expenses

SBA issued 1,487 loans

Hurricane Georges Mississippi, USA Sep 25 -Oct 4 114,000 without electricity 23,436 request assistance

19 parished designated for DFA and all for hazard mitigation

$11.3 million provided to 7,329 families for housing assistance

$30.3 million provided for relief

Hurricane Mitch Central America
(Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador)
Oct 27 -Nov 10 70% Honduras crops destroyed

Lack of food and safe drinking water

10,000+ dead

13,000 missing

2.8 million homeless

High foreign debt slows down recovery process

US gave $70 million in aid ($24 food, 16.3 water and sanitation, 30 aircraft and other supplies)

Editor

Carla R. McMillan

  • CSA Editor, Conference Papers Index, EIS: Digests of Environmental Impact Statements

  • B.A. (English), George Mason University

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© Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved, CSA