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Natural hazards

Natural hazards and disasters are inevitable. The United States is frequently hit by different types of hazards and disasters and responds to each disaster accordingly. Disasters are not natural. There are natural hazards and man-made hazards in the world, but not every hazard becomes a disaster (Schwab, Eschelbach & Brower, 2007, p 2).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed various programs to assist in identifying hazards before they turn into disasters, mitigating damages from these disasters including reducing the loss of life and property, and providing funds to States, Tribes, Territories who have been impacted by a disaster to assist them in the recovery process. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Mitigation can be defined as “any sustained action to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from hazards and their effects,” (Schwab, Eschelbach & Brower, 2007, p 22).

The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) was established to maximize mitigation and develop the most cost effective and efficient mitigation projects possible. HMGP is regulated by Section 404 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act and provides grants to state and local governments to implement long term hazard mitigation programs after a disaster has occurred. The FEMA has authority over the HMGP. The purpose of the HMGP is to reduce the loss of life and property when a disaster occurs and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented immediately after the disaster has ended to assist in faster recovery.

The mitigation grants offered by HMGP are available to States, Tribes, and Territories. Those jurisdictions, if eligible, will apply for a grant through FEMA and if granted, will provide sub-grants to local governments within the disaster area on an as needed basis. Non-profit organizations may also be eligible to apply for a grant through the HMGP. HMGP funds may be used for a variety of projects, but those projects must serve to reduce the loss of life and property when future disasters occur.

The project must provide a long term solution to a problem and the potential savings of a project must be greater than the cost of implementing the project. Projects may include acquisition of property, retrofitting structures, elevation of structures in flood zones, development and implementation of vegetative management programs, minor flood control projects that do not duplicate the flood control activities of other federal agencies, localized flood control projects, and post-disaster building code activities. The most cost-effective and appropriate projects must be selected for development with HMGP funds.

FEMA grants final approval on all projects that will be using HMGP funds. Local jurisdictions will submit their project applications to the State government (or the Tribe or Territory government). The State, Tribe, or Territory will then prioritize the projects received and forward the eligible projects to FEMA for approval. Since funding for the HMGP is limited, the projects selected must utilize the funds in the most effective way. The HMGP may provide a State, Territory, or Tribe with 7. 5% of the total disaster grants awarded by FEMA.

The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 allows States, Tribes, and Territories who meet higher mitigation planning criteria to qualify for a higher percentage of funding. The HMGP can fund up to 75% of the eligible costs of a project, and the State, Territory, or Tribe must provide a 25% match. The 25% match can not consist of funding received from other federal agencies with the exception of funding provided by the Community Development Block Grant program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Hazards and Mitigation Strategies

There are four different types of natural hazards that can occur (Schwab, Eschelbach & Brower, 2007, p 3): 1) Meteorological (hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, snow, ice storms, and thunder storms); 2) Geological (earthquakes, landslides, volcanoes, and tsunamis); 3) Hydrological (floods, droughts, and wildfires); and 4) Extraterrestrial (meteorites). With each hazard a different mitigation strategy must be utilized. Each hazard comes with its own set of problems and a unique set of solutions must be developed to mitigate the damages resulting from each hazard.

Three hazards that have affected the United States in recent years are tornadoes, flooding, and drought. The mitigation strategies for each of these hazards will be unique and must address the specific problems that occur when each hazard strikes an area. Mitigation strategies are necessary in order to limit the amount of damage an affected area sustains. Without mitigation strategies, natural hazards can easily develop into disasters. Developing efficient mitigation strategies will allow emergency teams to maximize resources, establish control, and limit the loss sustained by the affected areas (Schwab, Eschelbach & Brower, 2007, pp.

222-231) Tornadoes A tornado is defined as a violently rotating column of air which is in contact with either a cumulonimbus cloud or a cumulus cloud base and the surface of the earth (Wikipedia, 2007). The average tornado will be 250 feet across, have wind speeds of 110 miles or less and only travel a few miles before dissipating. There are many different types of tornadoes. In the United States, the majority of tornadoes occur in a region called Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley consists of the region from Texas north through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

Tornadoes have been known to strike in other states such as Iowa, Ohio, and Alabama, among others (although rare). Tornadoes occur year round in the United States, but migrate to and from different regions. During the winter months, the Southeastern United States receives the largest number of tornadoes. The Central United States will receive the largest number of tornadoes during the spring months, and the Northern United States will receive the largest number of tornadoes during the summer months.

In order to reduce the loss of life and property that occurs after a tornado strikes, the most effective mitigation strategies must be implemented. Early detection is a key mitigation strategy in reducing the loss of life. The United States National Weather Service (NWS) utilizes three different detection strategies to warn citizens living within a region prior to a tornado striking and with enough time for the region to be evacuated to reduce the loss of life. The NWS started training Storm Spotters in the mid 1970’s to spot key features of a storm which could indicate a tornado approaching.

The Storm Spotters were local police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and local citizens. There are more than 230,000 trained storm spotters in the United States. When the storm spotters see the key features of a storm approaching, they will alert their local agency who will activate the public warning systems for the region. The Storm Spotters are trained to recognize from a distance whether or not an approaching storm is considered a supercell, which will have a rain-free base under the updraft and form a rotating wall cloud. A supercell can be identified by its shape and structure.

Only wall clouds that rotate are considered tornadoes. Radar technology is also used in early detection of tornadoes. In the United States, Doppler Radars are used to detect tornadoes and alert the citizens living in the region about to be hit. Doppler Radars measure the velocity and radial direction of the winds of a storm and can identify rotation from more than 100 miles away. Tornadoes are also identified by using the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites. Flooding A flood is defined as an overflow of an expanse of water that submerges land (Wikipedia, 2007).

Flooding is usually caused by a river or lake overflowing its banks, or by extreme storms and rain. In the United States, the most common cause of flooding is excessive rainfall, snowmelt, or dam failure. Floods can occur in almost any region in the country. The damages caused by flooding include damage to structures and buildings, loss of life by drowning (human or animal), contamination of water supply, diseases due to unhygienic conditions in the region, a shortage of food crops, economic hardship, and psychological trauma due to the loss of loved ones or property.

The best mitigation strategies that should be implemented to reduce the loss of life and property due to flooding are the development of levees, bunds, reservoirs, and weirs. These devices will assist in preventing rivers from rising above the bank lines. The early detection of storms methods discussed earlier can also assist in mitigating the damages from flooding by allowing the citizens in the region to prepare for a flood by sandbagging doorways, evacuating, and boarding up windows.

Drought A drought is defined as an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply (Wikipedia, 2007). A drought occurs when a region does not receive an average or above average amount of precipitation. The main causes of a drought are above average prevalence of high pressure systems, winds carrying continental air masses instead of oceanic air masses, oceanic temperature cycles such as El Nino, deforestation, and some speculate global warming.

In the United States the Southwestern states are affected most by drought such as Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. The consequences of a drought include death of livestock, reduced crops, wildfires, desertification, dust storms, malnutrition and dehydration which can lead to disease, famine, social unrest, mass migration, war, reduced electricity, and an increase in snakes in the region. There are a number of mitigation strategies that can be used to reduce the consequences suffered by a drought.

Monitoring the drought can help to prevent a man made drought as well as predict any increased risk for wildfires. Desalinating the sea water will allow it to be used to irrigate crops and allow it to be used for consumption which will reduce the loss of crops and reduce the level of dehydration in the citizens of the region. Planning crop rotation in the region can reduce land erosion which will enable farmers to plant less water dependant crops. Collecting and storing rainwater from roofs and other catchments can assist with water supply during a drought.

One of the most effective strategies in mitigating the damages caused by a drought is by enforcing water restrictions such as the use of sprinklers, washing motor vehicles, filling swimming pools, and ensuring that indoor water sources such as shower heads and faucets contain conservation devices. Hazard Identification Techniques and Risk Assessment Strategies There are many hazard identification techniques available for use in the United States today. However, the effectiveness of each technique depends on the region and the type of disaster most likely to strike that region.

The NWS is one of six agencies that make up the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is the main agency that implements hazard identification techniques, while FEMA’s role is to implement mitigation strategies. The NWS utilizes a four-tiered system to identify hazards and alert the public of impending hazardous weather: 1) Outlook; 2) Watch; 3) Warning; and 4) Advisory. These four tiers work together to reduce the loss of life and property that could result from hazardous weather.

The NWS issues a hazardous weather outlook on a daily basis that addresses any potentially hazardous weather or hydrologic event that could occur within the next seven days. This outlook includes information about severe thunderstorms, heavy rain, flooding, winter weather, extreme heat or extreme cold, etc. It assists citizens of a potentially affected region with preparedness and evacuation to reduce the loss of life and property. Outlooks are also issued on an event-driven basis.

Watches are used once the risk of hazardous weather has increased significantly, but the occurrence, location, and timing of the hazardous event is still uncertain. Watches also assist in providing citizens of a potentially affected area enough time to prepare for the hazardous event. A watch indicates that hazardous weather is possible, but not imminent. Warnings are issued when hazardous weather is occurring or imminent. This warning means that the hazardous weather will pose a threat to life or property and people in the affected region need to take protective action such as evacuation.

Like warnings, advisories are also issued when hazardous weather is occurring or imminent. Advisories are issued for hazardous weather that is less serious than conditions in which warnings have been issued. However, the advisory is issued when the hazardous weather may still cause a significant threat to life and property if caution is not taken. In order to reduce risk of hazardous weather, FEMA has developed a new software companion to the HAZUS-MH software called HAZUS-MH Risk Assessment Tool (RAT).

This new software will enable local governments to produce risk assessment reports for earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes. The software system pulls natural hazard data, inventory data, and loss estimate data into a preformatted summary table. This information can assist decision makers in developing and implementing the most effective mitigation plans for a specific region (FEMA, 2007). Conclusion The loss of life and property from hazardous conditions can be great. However, in order to reduce the loss of life and property early identification techniques and mitigation plans must be developed.

In the United States, FEMA with cooperation from the NWS, State and local governments, as well as other federal agencies, have developed comprehensive programs that assist the citizens of the United States affected by disaster to recover quickly. By developing programs such as the HMGP and utilizing effective mitigation strategies, hazard identification techniques, and risk assessment tools, the United States has reduced the number of casualties and the amount of property and life lost due to hazards.


Federal Emergency Management Agency. HAZUS: Risk Assessment Tool (2007). Retrieved on December 6, 2007 from http://www. fema. gov/plan/prevent/hazus/dl_rat. shtm Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (2007). Retrieved on December 6, 2007 from http://www. fema. gov/government/grant/hmgp/index. shtm Schwab, A. J. , Eschelbach, K. , & Brower, D. J. (2007). Hazard Mitigation and Preparedness: Building Resilient Communities. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Wikipedia. (2007, December 6). Drought. Retrieved December 6, 2007 from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Drought Wikipedia. (2007, December 6). Flood. Retrieved December 6, 2007 from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Flooding Wikipedia. (2007, December 6). National Weather Service. Retrieved December 6, 2007 from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/National_Weather_Service Wikipedia. (2007, December 6). Tornado. Retrieved December 6, 2007 from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Tornado

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