What is the Federal Government Doing Now?

Disasters are an expensive and growing problem. The Federal Government is working to save lives and to stem the rapid rise in the costs of coping with disaster. Insurance companies estimate that these disasters cost the United States billions of dollars a year, and costs continue to rise. Many scientists are worried that we're entering a climate cycle with more violent storms that could involve thousands of people and cause much more damage.

For example, since 1992:

Black tornado sweeps through hay fields. The U.S. Subcommittee for Natural Disaster Reduction (SNDR)—Under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council and its Committee for the Environment and Natural Resources, the U.S. Subcommittee for Natural Disaster Reduction (SNDR) coordinates the work of 19 Federal agencies to reduce the impact of disasters. The SNDR issued "Natural Disaster Reduction: A Plan for the Nation" in December 1996. This plan introduces a new approach—reducing the costs of disasters before they happen by improving predictions, building disaster-resistant structures and retrofitting existing structures, identifying hazards and their associated risks, and speeding recovery.

The SNDR developed the Natural Disaster Reduction Initiative (NDRI) to significantly reduce the costs to society and the risk of loss of human life, property, and natural resources from natural hazards. In fiscal year 1999, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Interior will receive budget increments to advance this work. The SNDR also works with the Institute for Business and Home Safety and other private-sector partners through the Public/Private Partnership 2000 to build public aware-ness of natural disaster policy issues and develop public/ private sector partnerships to address them.

Bottom of hill with car before flash flood.Flash flood waters begin rolling over road at bottom of hill.Flash flood several feet deep on road.

Flash flooding: Move quickly. You may have only seconds to save yourself. 
Never drive into flood
Photos courtesy of Arizona Star, Star Photo
Library, Jack Schaefer.

Global Disaster Information Network (GDIN)—The President's fiscal year 1999 budget request included $15 million to create the Global Disaster Information Network as part of NDRI. The primary goal is not to create another huge new government institution, but rather to leverage existing resources.

We have more information than ever before, and its sheer volume can overwhelm us. There is no process for consolidating disaster-related information that we have. A federal task force recommended a public/private partnership to create a global network that makes it easy to share accurate, timely information during all phases of disaster management. NOAA, USGS, FEMA, Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency would work together to create such a public/ private partnership. Essential elements of the GDIN would build on existing knowledge and infrastructure by:

Making Communities "Disaster Resistant"—FEMA's Project Impact—If buildings are consistently safer and stronger, if building codes are enforced, and if communities make sound choices in planning, we can save lives, reduce property damage, and speed recovery after disasters strike.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has initiated an effort to help communities protect themselves from disasters before they occur. This initiative involves working with selected high-risk communities to help them bring together all stakeholders in the community, identify the risks they face, prioritize and implement actions that can be taken to reduce those risks, and communicate their successes with others. Through this process, communities can impact day-to-day decisions and budgeting in their communities to make themselves more disasteHouse on ocean front. See caption.r resistant.

This house is being elevated and retrofitted against floods. 
Photo courtesy of FEMA.

Under Project Impact, no funding is available to support warning systems. However, for those Project Impact communities that identify warning as one of their priority issues, FEMA will work with them to help find ways to buy, install, and maintain NOAA Weather Radio transmitters. FEMA will also support community effort to buy and distribute receivers throughout the community, especially in critical facilities.

FEMA began working with 7 communities in 1997 through this initiative. Since then, 185 communities have signed up to participate in the initiative, with at least 2 in each State.

Individuals, businesses, and communities can take steps ahead of time to reduce their risk of loss during a disaster. In addition to constructing safer buildings and enforcing building codes, communities can, for example, retrofit structures against floods and earthquake hazards, elevate or move structures, or put shutters over windows and use hurricane straps for wind.

FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)—HMGP was created in 1988 to help States and local communities implement long-term hazard mitigation measures—such as keeping homes from being built on flood plains, engineering bridges to withstand earthquakes, creating and enforcing effective building codes to protect property from hurricanes—after a major disaster. Up to 15 percent of the FEMA's costs for the disaster may be provided to the States under this program. Under the HMGP, States may use up to 5 percent of available funds for disaster warning systems—including the possible buying and distributing of NOAA Weather Radios—or to buy, install, and/or maintain NOAA Weather Radio transmitters. U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Advances—In addition to improving weather—and flood-related warnings over the past 10 years, we have also made tremendous strides in advance earthquake notification. Within 30 seconds after an earthquake in northern California, the U.S. Geological Survey can post the location on its Internet website. Within another few minutes, the agency has a map of anticipated damage or ground shaking.Builder inserts safety features in house walls.

Building safer houses can help protect 
property from disaster damage. 
Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Augustino.

Rapid earthquake notification is crucial in avoiding damage to transportation and electrical systems, which can be shut down immediately to avoid additional loss of life or other damage. Because standard paging units take 8 to 15 seconds, the U.S. Geological Survey has either leased lines or other direct ways of communicating with transportation and electrical systems during emergencies.

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