The costs of natural disasters are high and escalating rapidly. Inthe 1990's, "major" disasters (with costs exceeding $1 billion) have totaled$400 billion worldwide. Natural Disasters in the United States over thepast five years have averaged a billion per week. Among the most costlysince 1992, are Hurricane Andrew (1992, $30 billion), Mid-West floods (1993,$20 billion), Northridge earthquake (1994, $42 billion), severe weatherand floods in TX, OK, LA and MI (1995, $5.5 billion), southern plains drought(1996, $4 billion), and Hurricane Fran (1996, $5 billion). The most costlynatural disaster during this period was the Kobe earthquake in Japan (1995,$100 billion).
Social change is transforming the nature and scope of the threats.Urbanization and technological advance produce increasing dependence onmassively integrated infrastructure for power supply, communications, sewage,transportation, and water that is extremely vulnerable to disruption. Theinterconnectedness of today's global society also allows the impacts ofnatural disasters to be felt worldwide.
Natural disasters are a sustainable development issue. Wherethey recur frequently, disasters contribute to measurable decreases inGNP. For developing countries, natural disasters may constitute not justeconomic loss but significant destruction of the social fabric, and canthreaten geopolitical stability.
Federal Activities under the National Science and Technology Council(NSTC)
The NSTC, a cabinet-level council, was established in November, 1993,and is the principal means for the President to coordinate science, spaceand technology policies across the Federal government. The NSTC, throughits Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) is part of anational effort to reduce losses from natural hazards. Through activitiesof the CENR's Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction (SNDR) progresshas been made in expanding national capabilities for hazard identificationand risk assessment, advancing understanding of the causes of hazards,and laying the foundations for more timely and reliable forecasts of dangerousevents. To meet the challenge of making significant reductions in lossesfrom natural disasters, the SNDR has identified a number of actions thatwould strengthen the Nation's infrastructure and better serve states andlocal communities at risk. Efforts that could be undertaken include:
Improving public safety through better predictions, warnings, and real-timeinformation to help manage limited emergency response resources;
Developing a sound analytical framework to increase our capacity forhazard identification and risk assessment, including urban and regionalfunctionality and viability;
Expanding research and developing engineering tools to improve buildingperformance with respect to wind, seismic and fire hazards;
Developing consensus on land-use policies and building codes in hazard-proneareas where diverse, competing interests are at stake; and,
Closing the implementation gap between research results and user needsby putting into practice what is already known through improved publicawareness, education and training.
Reducing losses from natural disasters is one of the Administration'stop priorities for science and technology. The NSTC's "Natural DisasterReduction: A Plan for the Nation" provides an interagency approach forthe strategic coordination and advancement of programs, strategies, andresearch to reduce the social, environmental, and economic costs of naturalhazards and lays the groundwork for a comprehensive set of Federal R&Dpolicies to address this critical issue. This plan can be found on theOSTP Home Page: /NSTC
For additional information contact:
Office of Science and Technology Policy
Executive Office of the President
(202) 456-6020 FAX (202) 456-6019
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