The costs of natural disasters are high and escalating rapidly. In the 1990's, "major" disasters (with costs exceeding $1 billion) have totaled $400 billion worldwide. Natural Disasters in the United States over the past five years have averaged a billion per week. Among the most costly since 1992, are Hurricane Andrew (1992, $30 billion), Mid-West floods (1993, $20 billion), Northridge earthquake (1994, $42 billion), severe weather and 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 costly natural 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 on massively integrated infrastructure for power supply, communications, sewage, transportation, and water that is extremely vulnerable to disruption. The interconnectedness of today's global society also allows the impacts of natural disasters to be felt worldwide.
Natural disasters are a sustainable development issue. Where they recur frequently, disasters contribute to measurable decreases in GNP. For developing countries, natural disasters may constitute not just economic loss but significant destruction of the social fabric, and can threaten 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, space and technology policies across the Federal government. The NSTC, through its Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) is part of a national effort to reduce losses from natural hazards. Through activities of the CENR's Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction (SNDR) progress has been made in expanding national capabilities for hazard identification and risk assessment, advancing understanding of the causes of hazards, and laying the foundations for more timely and reliable forecasts of dangerous events. To meet the challenge of making significant reductions in losses from natural disasters, the SNDR has identified a number of actions that would strengthen the Nation's infrastructure and better serve states and local communities at risk. Efforts that could be undertaken include:
Improving public safety through better predictions, warnings, and real-time information to help manage limited emergency response resources;
Developing a sound analytical framework to increase our capacity for hazard identification and risk assessment, including urban and regional functionality and viability;
Expanding research and developing engineering tools to improve building performance with respect to wind, seismic and fire hazards;
Developing consensus on land-use policies and building codes in hazard-prone areas where diverse, competing interests are at stake; and,
Closing the implementation gap between research results and user needs by putting into practice what is already known through improved public awareness, education and training.
Reducing losses from natural disasters is one of the Administration's top priorities for science and technology. The NSTC's "Natural Disaster Reduction: A Plan for the Nation" provides an interagency approach for the strategic coordination and advancement of programs, strategies, and research to reduce the social, environmental, and economic costs of natural hazards and lays the groundwork for a comprehensive set of Federal R&D policies to address this critical issue. This plan can be found on the OSTP Home Page: http://www.whitehouse.gov/NSTC
For additional information contact:
Office of Science and Technology Policy
Executive Office of the President
(202) 456-6020 FAX (202) 456-6019