Saving Lives
With an All-Hazard Warning Network

Each year, thousands of people die, are injured, or lose property because they didn't know soon enough about hazards, disasters, or emergencies. Our 24-hour warning network—NOAA Weather Radio—can help save lives and serve as an all-hazards network. We're also developing new technologies for the future that can alert the public about hazards, disasters, and emergencies.

The Opportunity

Dear Mr. Vice President:

When people know disasters are coming, they act. They can save lives, reduce damage and suffering, and speed recovery. Technological advances are improving our forecasting ability every day. More warning gives us more time to prepare. Minutes are important when thunderstorms, tornadoes, tsunamis, wildfires, and flash floods are approaching. Hours and days of extra time can help us get ready for hurricanes, winter storms, high winds, and volcanic eruptions. 

In addition to improving access to warnings, we must make the warnings themselves better. They must be timely, accurate, and targeted only to those in harm's way. When we warn people and an event doesn't happen, they may be less likely to heed the next warning.

City scene of houses, churches and trees destroyed in Galveston, TX, after Hurricane. See caption.

After the 1900 hurricane, only a few houses were left standing on the southeast side of Galveston, Texas. Photo courtesy of the Rosenburg Library, Galveston, Texas.


At the turn of the century, we got very little notice. In 1900, one hurricane killed 6,000 people when it hit Galveston, Texas—the worst loss of life from a natural disaster in U.S. history. Now we usually get several days to get ready for hurricanes. During the past 10 years, an average of 23 people died each year in the United States because of hurricanes. Any deaths are too many.

We usually think of "Tornado Alley"—particularly the Great Plains—as the area where tornadoes do the most damage. But tornadoes can strike any-where.

Even though tornadoes were particularly deadly in 1998, January 1999 set new records.

During January 1999, 163 tornadoes struck. That was more than three times as many as the previous monthly record for January of 52 tornadoes-does set in 1975. Most of the January tornadoes—141—were in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. On just one day—January 21—87 torna-does struck, which set a new record for that date. The first tornado death of 1999 occurred 40 minutes after midnight on January 2, and the total number of deaths had risen to 18 by month's end.

The 10 most costly natural disasters ever in the United States have all happened within the past 10 years. Many scientists believe we're entering a weather cycle that will give us even more violent storms, making the likelihood of a disaster even greater. By 2010, more people will be vulnerable in coastal areas because about 74 percent of the U.S. population will live there. Scientific evidence shows that the frequency and intensity of storms may be affected by variations in climate. For example, 1998's El Niño split the jet stream and changed normal storm patterns.

Natural disasters that we once thought happened only once in a century now seem to be happening more often—burdening communities by killing people and causing property damage that the insurance industry estimates costs billions of dollars every year. The four most costly hurricanes in U.S. history happened within the last 6 years. Total insured and uninsured losses from Hurricane Georges and Mitch in 1998 will end up reaching more than $2 billion, according to the insurance industry. This makes it more important than ever that warnings be issued and heard.

Our agencies are committed to saving lives, reducing damage and suffering, and speeding recovery by working together to implement the recommendations in this report.

Sincerely,

Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture
James Lee Witt, Director, Federal Emergency Management Agency
William Daley, Secretary of Commerce

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