Dealing With Natural Disasters: A New Model

November 07, 1997

A new model of public-private cooperation is beginning to address the staggering costs of natural disasters, which in recent years have averaged one billion dollars per week in the United States. Public Private Partnership 2000 (PPP 2000), a unique alliance of Federal, private-sector, and non-profit agencies, is redefining society's approach to handling earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, landslides, wildfires and other natural disasters.

"This is a historic occasion," said Harvey G. Ryland, president and chief executive officer of the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), welcoming approximately 100 invited guests to the first PPP 2000 forum. "From home builders to home buyers, inspectors to insurers, private citizens to public interest groups, researchers to regulators, PPP 2000 brings all stakeholders to the table to develop durable, long-term solutions to the spiraling toll of natural disasters."

The mid-September forum was the first in a series dedicated to exploring new approaches to reducing the economic, environmental, and human costs of natural disasters. The forum, Insurance Initiatives of the Private Sector, was cosponsored by the U.S. Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction (SNDR) and IBHS.

More than 36 million people now live in counties vulnerable to hurricanes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The total insured exposure is estimated at $3.15 trillion on those coasts alone. The projected cost of a repeat of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake is $105 billion in insured losses, 8,000 deaths, and 18,000 serious injuries. A repeat of one of the 1811-1812 earthquakes in the New Madrid zone could cause more than $100 billion in insured losses.

"The costs of dealing with disasters are simply too great for any one sector of society to handle," said Dr. William Hooke, chair of the SNDR. "We need to create effective partnerships among all the interested parties, each of whom brings significant knowledge and a unique perspective to the issue."

Over the next year, PPP 2000 will sponsor more than a dozen forums on topics such as the uncertainty of managing catastrophic risks (December 1997), cities and megacities at risk (January 1998), and reducing losses from floods (March 1998). "At each forum, our goal will be to develop specific strategies or actions to mitigate the effects of natural disasters," said Hooke. "For example, in discussions at the first forum, the participants proposed the creation of a ëdisaster impact statement,' analogous to the Environmental Impact Statement required for any significant public or private development/reconstruction activity."

"Two other essential components for reducing the losses arising from natural disasters in the United States are sound applied research and a better knowledge of the natural hazards with which we live," said Ryland. "The creation of PPP 2000 reflects an awareness that neither government regulation nor market-based practices alone sufficiently protect the Nation and its citizens. A coordinated effort among all the stakeholders is needed to develop lasting solutions that enable people to live and prosper in an atmosphere of personal safety and financial security."

PPP 2000 is a cooperative endeavor of the 19 Federal agencies forming the Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction (a subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council's Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources), the Institute for Business and Home Safety (a property/casualty insurance organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries, property damage, economic losses, and human suffering caused by natural disasters), and more than 20 other private-sector organizations.

* * * PPP 2000 * * *

(Note to Editors: Copies of the Report on the first Forum are available from the USGS EarthFax fax-on-demand system at 703-648-4888; press 1, then press 2, then request document number 1800)

Contact: Kathleen Gohn (SNDR) 703/648-4732
Margaret L. Sheehan (IBHS) 617-722-0200, x. 214

US Geological Survey

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