Who needs a loss inventory

The United States is exposed to many different types of natural hazards, and to weather and climate hazards in particular. Media-friendly hurricanes batter the coasts while floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, droughts, and other common and powerful hazards affect not only coastal areas but also the interior areas of the country. The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast in 2005 is just the current placeholder for the next ''big hazard event.'' Death and destruction can occur anywhere in the United States, not just along the coastlines. In times of increasing losses from natural hazards at both a global and a national scale (McBean, 2004; Cutter and Emrich, 2005), the country should not and cannot plan for the future without some systematic accounting or a central repository of past losses.

The National Planning Scenarios, developed by the Homeland Security Council in collaboration with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are designed to support mitigation planning and emergency preparedness. These scenarios ''represent threats and hazards of national significance with high consequence'' (Homeland Security Council, 2005). However, the National Planning Scenarios include only hurricanes and earthquakes in their list of 15 worst-case scenarios, besides the abundance of other hazards and their proven destructive powers. Hurricane Katrina, in August 2005, has surpassed the national planning hurricane scenario that anticipated 1,000 fatalities and one million evacuees. More alarming is that flood hazard events were not deemed hazardous enough to give rise to a National Planning Scenario, although they are ''the major source of monetary loss in the United States from natural hazards'' (Cutter, 2001, p. 86). Such a mispercep-tion of the relative impacts of natural hazards and extreme events could be avoided with a national loss database - one that facilitates policy making and mitigation planning at all levels.

The current competition between antiterrorism and hazard mitigation goals within the Department of Homeland Security heightens the need for more efficient hazard mitigation strategies. The success of FEMA relies partially on the maximization of limited financial resources in order to protect people and reduce disaster losses. Efficient mitigation targets high-risk areas through tailored actions. However, the identification of high-risk areas depends on expert knowledge and experience, since there is no procedure, mechanism, or dataset on which to base such a delineation and associated decision making.

Even worse, the effectiveness of mitigation measures is difficult to assess in the absence of baseline data on losses. This lack renders it almost impossible to perform cost-benefit analyses to assess the efficiency and usefulness of mitigation. Furthermore, cost-benefit analyses could be an essential tool in prioritizing specific hazard types and areas at risk, irrespective of the hazard de jour and policy agendas.

Continue reading here: Data on hazard events and losses

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