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Natural Disasters

Table of Contents
Author Supplied Abstract.............................................................................................2 Author Supplied Keywords..........................................................................................2 Overview..........................................................................................................................2 There is perhaps no natural disaster that has touched the lives of Americans the way Hurricane Katrina did. The sight of people (and animals) standing on rooftops hoping to be rescued, homes being washed away under the force of the storm, the news reports of elderly people stranded in nursing homes and the sheer devastation to one of the country’s most treasured cities continues to be an issue in America today. Many people have leveled accusations at various levels of government, and there continues to be debate as to why the levees which were in such a poor state had never been repaired over the years. Like the events of 9/11, one needs only to say the word ‘Katrina’ and everyone knows what they mean. It continues to haunt the lives of many people who live in New Orleans and those who did, but have been unable to return home. .............7 Conclusion.......................................................................................................................8 Terms & Concepts............................................................................................................8 Benson, C., & Clay, E. J. (2004). Understanding the Economic and Financial Impacts of  Natural Disasters (Disaster Risk Management). World Bank Publications, Washington, D.                                                                                                                                                C.   .......................................................................................................................................  12   Mitchel, J. K. (2005). Crucibles of Hazard: Mega­Cities and Disasters in Transition.    University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, B.C.                                                           ...................................................  12   Platt, R. H.  (1999). Disasters and Democracy: The Politics Of Extreme Natural Events.    Island Press, Washington, D. C.                                                                                                ........................................................................................  12  

Author Supplied Abstract
One of the most uncertain factors of life in this world is that of natural disasters. It is only in science fiction that we have a ‘planetary weather grid’ that can predict and protect the world from unforeseen natural disasters. In the ‘real world’ we must deal with these disasters as they arise. The problem is they are occurring in ever-increasing frequency, perhaps due to global warming. It is a rare day when we don’t hear of some area in the world coping with a cyclone, hurricane, flood, volcano, tsunami, flash fires, earthquake landslides and other natural disasters. The question is whether or not we can ever be truly ready.

Author Supplied Keywords
Cyclones Disaster Preparedness Earthquake Hurricanes Landslides Risk Assessment Tsunamis Tphoon

Natural Disasters
Social Issues & Public Policy > Natural Disasters

The ever-increasing number of natural disasters affecting the world calls for the development of policies in a number of key areas. Risk assessment is the field that determines the level of risk in a particular situation or perceived threat. There is perhaps no greater threat (other than a terrorist attack or nuclear war) that threatens humanity in the ways that natural disasters can. They often appear with warnings, but sometimes we

have little time to prepare for the onslaught of nature. Disaster preparedness is the field that tries to prepare us for these situations that can catch us off guard and threaten huge numbers of lives. The development of policies in this area is crucial since they are the contingency plans that regions develop in order to protect people in the case of a natural disaster. Risk Assessment One of the most dangerous of all natural disasters is the hurricane. In fact, it is a matter of some irony that this essay is being written in the middle of ‘hurricane season’. When these storms touch down on land they usually do so with devastating effects. They are generally considered to be violent, tropical storms that originate in the western North Atlantic with winds that reach over 72 miles per hour. They are also sometimes referred to as ‘cyclonic storms’. Whichever way we define a hurricane, there is an increasing need to assess the kinds of damage that can occur with an oncoming storm. However, the research in this field suggests that such assessments will not be easy. For hurricanes, the shortness of data series, and their often poor quality, explains why most of these questions cannot be answered with certainty. Even for the North Atlantic and the U.S. coastline, on which I will focus in this paper, high-quality data on hurricane properties are very recent, and the rarity of the most extreme events makes landfall statistics uncertain (Hallegate, 2007, p.1956). Hurricanes are not the only natural disaster that we have to assess the risks of. Perhaps the most serious natural changes taking place on the planet is that of global warming. The impact on climate and the ecosystem is something that scientists are scrambling to understand. Risk assessment in this area is extremely complicated as scientists try to determine which areas of the planet are most vulnerable and the possible mitigating factors. However, as Schmidt-Thomé (2007) points out, this is relatively new area of research and requires international cooperation which makes the development and implementation of policy very difficult. “Currently, the linkages from both natural hazards and climate change to planning and decision-making are not well developed. For example, climate change adaptation and natural hazards entered European regional policy relatively recently but are rapidly growing in importance” (p.184). The complex area of risk assessment implies that a wide range of issues must be looked at. These include: health risks (such as spread of disease, water contamination), vulnerable populations, emergency plans for pets and/or farm animals, evacuations, rescue operations, emergency communications, interruption and restoration of power, safety protocols, controlling access to the affected areas, supplies and shelter (“Lessons Learned”, 2006). One of the most emotional areas of risk assessment is dealing with the aftermath of disasters. There are both the environmental and human tolls to take into consideration. Some areas sustain ecological damage that could decades (or longer) to repair. But, there is perhaps no way to estimate the emotional damage – the stress, anxiety and personal losses that people sustain. People often lose their homes and everything that

has ever been dear to them. There is also the loss of life which is almost impossible to assess beforehand. Disaster Preparedness There is certainly a connection between risk assessment and disaster preparedness. One leads to the other. The assessments make it possible for people to prepare (to the best of their ability) for a oncoming disaster. This is a field where policy can have an important impact. A key issue in disaster preparedness is water. Since water is essential to our lives, it is imperative that people either have access to clean water, or the information they need to clean the water they have. Previous studies have documented the difficulty of communicating to the public regarding boil water orders in the context of known contamination or an outbreak of disease among consumers of municipal water supplies. The lack of accurate knowledge regarding boil water orders among our survey respondents has several possible explanations (Ram, et al., 2007, p.5133). A new way of preparing for disasters comes through technology via the Internet. Online forums, websites and support groups provide another layer of support for people who live in regions where they anticipate natural disasters. “Online forums can extend the opportunity for grassroots social action to anyone who wants to get involved” (Palen, Hiltz, & Liu, 2007, p.55). One of the reasons why online information is so popular is because of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (discussed below). The communities in New Orleans (and in fact around the country) were so angry with the government’s poor handling of the situation that many people feel that the best disaster preparation lies at the individual level. The reach of the Internet expands opportunities for public involvement, where those geographically removed from the disaster— and therefore with the critical resources of time, money, electrical power, and working computers and telephones in hand—can offer assistance (Palen, et al., 2007, p.57). Mock simulations have also proven to be an effective strategy for disaster preparedness. For example, massive fires and mudslides have often devastated southern California. ‘Dry runs’ by the fire department in traditionally difficult places to reach such as Laurel Canyon help the fire department and residents to be far better prepared when the real disaster occurs. Again, the aftermath of Katrina has had a profound effect on disaster preparedness. “In recent years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency _FEMA_, along with its local branches, has established new procedures for activation and operation of emergency plans in response to potential local disasters” (Sisiopiku, 2007, p.50). The advantage of mock exercises is that they provide the level and intensity of training that first responders must have during a natural disaster. These exercises do what on the job training cannot do. When the actual disaster occurs, everyone is in crisis mode and

there is no time for a learning curve. However, it is important to keep in mind that these are exercises and not ‘the real thing’. Their applications may be valuable but they also have their limitations. A relatively new area is the development of computer simulations. “In recent years, there has been considerable interest in modeling large area emergency evacuation modeling using microscopic simulation software. Examples include OREMS, MASSVAC, PARAMICS, and TEVACS” (Sisiopiku, 2007, p.52). Another key area is preparing to assist persons with disabilities. Many people with disabilities, especially persons who use mobility aids such as canes or wheelchairs may require specific attention and/or assistance during a natural disaster. The problem is that first responders have to deal with so many people in crucial situations that the issue of people with disabilities has not been studied that thoroughly. ”Results of these interviews with emergency services administrators revealed that their agencies did not have emergency preparedness policies, guidelines, or practices specifically designed to assist people with mobility impairments during emergencies” (Rowland, et al., 2007, p.218). The researchers involved in studying the issue of people with disabilities and disaster preparation noted that not only is there very little research in this field, but their own research revealed significant issues and problems. One of these is the fact that not all people with disabilities live in large, urban areas which makes disaster preparations extremely problematic. “The primary barriers to developing and adopting policies and procedures to more effectively assist people with mobility impairments during emergencies in rural areas include lack of personnel and financial resources” (Rowland, et al., 2007, p.218). Some of the outstanding issues from this research reveal the need for training in specific areas. For example there is a need for first responders to learn how to use adaptive equipment and how to communicate with people who have disabilities so that they are proactive and helpful, yet still sensitive to their situation. Policy & Crisis The issues outlined in the two sections above highlight the need for public policies in order to help the country and specific regions prepare for and deal with the aftermath of natural disasters. A natural disaster is a crisis which requires calm thinking, rational strategies and well-thought out plans. It also implies that everyone understands the chain of command. People need to know their roles and responsibilities and not usurp them just to try and be a hero. Disasters are a time for measures that have been developed over time and deliver results. “Measures directed at restoration of equilibrium or stability are typically known as adjustment or stabilization policies, and those aimed at improving pre-crisis welfare can be viewed as development policies” (Kimenyi & Mwabu, 2007, p.11).

McConnell and Drennan (2006) state that strong policies and crisis preparation are the best tools we have in the case of natural disasters. They also cite Hurricane Katrina as one of the best examples of poor preparation as the reason for such widespread devastation. They also say there are no rules per se but there are standards that have been set which we can adhere to. “Policy choice during crisis demands special attention because mistakes can make the crisis worse with serious consequences on the wellbeing of the population” (Kimenyi & Mwabu, 2007, p.13). However, it’s important to note that policies, like recommendations are often more like guidelines and not as enforceable as laws. This makes them every more important since once the crisis occurs, guidelines that have worked in the past are often what we tend to fall back on. In a disaster, people are looking for one thing – results. If an action is not written in law but it is a guidelines that produces results, then it’s far more likely that those actions will be sanctioned. As well, during a natural disaster, there is little time to think about what is the best thing to do. We need to know the best thing to do and we need to implement it quickly. The time to develop policies is in the risk assessment state, not at the time of the crisis or disaster. That only adds to the instability of the situation and makes people feel even less secure than they already do. The aftermath of the disaster is a time to take stock of the situation. Therefore, only one time period is available to us in order to implement appropriate and practical policies that can help us cope with natural disasters. Given the high cost associated with the adoption of wrong policies during crisis, we suggest that policies adopted in such a period should at least meet the conditions oi prudence. We define prudent policies as those polices hat are least likely to be disruptive of a nation and its people. Such policies are robust in principles of feasibility and practicality Kimenyi & Mwabu, 2007, p.16). McConnell and Drennan (2006) note that once a crisis ends it is often difficult to get the ears of politicians. They tend to go back to their old agendas and unfortunately crisis management is often on the low end of the scale. According to them crisis management organizations (such as a FEMA) are “…acutely aware of the need to place contingency planning high on agendas, but they confront political power, institutional inertia, budgetary constraints and more powerful priorities (p.63).

The Lessons of Katrina

There is perhaps no natural disaster that has touched the lives of Americans the way Hurricane Katrina did. The sight of people (and animals) standing on rooftops hoping to be rescued, homes being washed away under the force of the storm, the news reports of elderly people stranded in nursing homes and the sheer devastation to one of the country’s most treasured cities continues to be an issue in America today. Many people have leveled accusations at various levels of government, and there continues to be debate as to why the levees which were in such a poor state had never been repaired over the years. Like the events of 9/11, one needs only to say the word ‘Katrina’ and everyone knows what they mean. It continues to haunt the lives of many people who live in New Orleans and those who did, but have been unable to return home. The question is; “what happened?” There was plenty of scapegoating in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Local governments blamed the state and federal government; state government officials blamed the local and federal government; federal government officials blamed the state and local governments; and on occasion, all levels of government blamed the victims themselves (Wyatt-Nichol & Abel, 2007, p.567). While the scope of this paper cannot assess who was to blame for the horrific mistakes of Katrina, it can address the fact that there is no doubt that lack of an effective response was largely responsible. All levels of government responded poorly to Katrina. One of the factors is that there was little to no risk assessment for Katrina. Of course the hurricane was predicted, but other than that there seemed to absolutely no sense of warning the people of New Orleans as to how devastating the hurricane would actually be. As a result, it became one of, if not the most catastrophic natural disaster in American history (Tierney, 2006). Wyatt-Nichol & Abel (2007) state that one of the reasons for the high death toll due to Katrina was because of the inadequate response by the federal government and its failure to recognize the strength of the disaster until it was too late. The saddest lesson of Katrina is no doubt the huge loss of life that many feel could have been prevented if there had been a risk assessment and emergency preparation provided to the Gulf Coast area far in advance of Katrina. The loss of life is also no doubt due to the inadequate response to the crisis. In combination with Hurricane Rita, Katrina “… displaced more than 1.5 million people, took more than 1800 lives, destroyed more than 200,000 homes and businesses, and left a scar of devastation on Louisiana and the Gulf Coast– both physical and psychological - that is likely to persist for decades” (Allen, 2006, p.2). Tierney (2006) states that the need for policies on intergovernmental and interorganizational cooperation during a crisis are absolutely critical. A crisis by its very nature is an incident which cannot be handled locally. Therefore, there was every reason to believe from the very beginning that federal aid was going to be crucial. Another key factor about a natural disaster is that they are by their very nature unpredictable. Hurricane Katrina was one of those disasters. One of the lessons of Katrina is that the

aftermath of a natural disaster can last far longer than anyone anticipates. People can suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, financial ills, depression and other physical and emotional symptoms for years after the actual crisis has ended. Therefore, the need to continue providing support to the damaged region is imperative. “Closures of healthcare facilities and workforce displacements have posed challenge for the region’s economic and health sector recovery as well” (Allen, 2006, p.6). In the end, the primary lesson of Katrina may be that it is absolutely imperative that the federal government cannot expect local governments to handle natural disasters of this magnitude. The fact that it took them to long to respond only magnified the disaster and its ramifications. The National Response Plan (NRP) must know when to identify a situation as a national disaster and be able to step in appropriately. The most disturbing issue is the fact that class played a role in saving peoples’ lives. “When mandatory evacuations were ordered, those with automobiles and cash and credit to purchase gasoline and hotel rooms were able to act on those orders more readily than those without transportation and financial resources” (Tierney, 2006, p.13).

Natural disasters have, unfortunately, always been a part of our planet’s history. They may have been responsible for large-scale changes in the evolutionary process and they certainly continue to cause havoc with our lives today. One of the greatest dangers of these disasters is the lack of preparation. They often catch us unaware and unprepared. This only multiplies the effects of the disaster and causes huge ramifications in peoples’ lives for years afterward. As the issue of Katrina continues to haunt the U.S., there will be other disasters in the future. But, Katrina has taught us important lessons about the need to be prepared and have practical policies in place that can save lives. The problem is we often fail to heed the examples of history. Only recently another hurricane hit the New Orleans area and there was great concern that once again the levees would not hold. Even though there have been years to fix them and prepare, the worry was there. The people of New Orleans were fortunate that the levees did hold. But, what about the next time and the time after that? That region of the U.S. is highly vulnerable during hurricane season and there will be more concerns for the city in the future. The time to develop policies is now. The time to create a means of dealing with these situations is not when the situation occurs, or afterwards to show our good faith. Policies are needed before to support strong, practical strategies so that when these disasters occur, we’re ready.

Terms & Concepts
Cyclones are an area of low atmospheric pressure characterized by inward spiraling winds that rotate counter clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere of the Earth.

Disaster Preparedness is the discipline of dealing with and avoiding risks.[1] It is a discipline that involves preparing for disaster before it happens, disaster response (e.g. emergency evacuation, quarantine, mass decontamination, etc.), as well as supporting, and rebuilding society after natural or human-made disasters have occurred. In general, any Emergency management is the continuous process by which all individuals, groups, and communities manage hazards in an effort to avoid or ameliorate the impact of disasters resulting from the hazards. Actions taken depend in part on perceptions of risk of those exposed. Earthquakes are a series of vibrations induced in the earth's crust by the abrupt rupture and rebound of rocks in which elastic strain has been slowly accumulating. Hurricanes are a violent, tropical, cyclonic storm of the western North Atlantic, having wind speeds of or in excess of 72 mph (32 m/sec). Landslides occur when masses of rock, earth, or debris move down a slope. Debris flows, also known as mudslides, are a common type of fast-moving landslide that tends to flow in channels. Risk Assessment is a common first step in a risk management process. Risk assessment is the determination of quantitative or qualitative value of risk related to a concrete situation and a recognized threat. Quantitative risk assessment requires calculations of two components of risk R, the magnitude of the potential loss L, and the probability p that the loss will occur. Tsunamis are a series of waves created when a body of water, such as an ocean, is rapidly displaced. Earthquakes, mass movements above or below water, some volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions, landslides, underwater earthquakes, large asteroid impacts and testing with nuclear weapons at sea all have the potential to generate a tsunami. The effects of a tsunami can be devastating due to the immense volumes of water and energy involved. Typhoons are a tropical cyclone or hurricane of the western Pacific area and the China seas.


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Suggested Reading

Benson, C., & Clay, E. J. (2004). Understanding the Economic and Financial Impacts of Natural Disasters (Disaster Risk Management). World Bank Publications, Washington, D. C. Birkland, T. A. (1997). After Disaster Agenda Setting, Public Policy and Focusing Events. Georgetown University Press, Washington, D. C. Mitchel, J. K. (2005). Crucibles of Hazard: Mega-Cities and Disasters in Transition. University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, B.C. Platt, R. H. (1999). Disasters and Democracy: The Politics Of Extreme Natural Events. Island Press, Washington, D. C.

Essay by Ilanna Mandel, M.A. Ilanna Mandel is a writer and editor with over seventeen years of experience, specifically in the health and education sectors. Her work has been utilized by corporations, nonprofit organizations and academic institutions. She is a published author with one book and numerous articles to her credit. She received her MA in Education from UC Berkeley where she focused on sociology and education. _______________________________________________________________________ _