Edited Version August 12, 1998
EIIP Virtual Library Online Presentation

"What Hazards and Disasters are Likely in the 21st Century - or Sooner?"

Special Presentation

Claire Rubin
Claire B. Rubin & Associates

The original transcript of the August 12, 1998 online Virtual Library presentation is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussion, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning. Related questions and discussion that occurred in the Virtual Forum session immediately following the 1-hour formal presentation are included in the edited transcript.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the Virtual Forum --- we are doing our Library presentation from the Virtual Forum room today!

Our speaker today is Claire Rubin, Claire B. Rubin & Associates, Arlington, Virginia. Claire is a social scientist and an independent consultant in the field of emergency management. Her work includes basic and applied research; the development and conduct of training programs; and the creation and operation of various information dissemination and utilization efforts regarding natural hazards and disasters.

From 1993 to present, she has been a consultant to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office. Claire was recently appointed Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management at The George Washington University where she will teaching this fall.

We are pleased to have Claire with us today; Claire is also a Partner in the EIIP and a very active one. After Claire presents her paper, "What Hazards and Disasters are Likely in the 21st Century - or Sooner?", we will open the discussion for questions from the audience.


And now, it is my pleasure to present our author and speaker today --- Claire Rubin.


Claire Rubin: I have been thinking about the new threats and hazards that emergency managers face for more than a year. I plan to continue working on this topic and would appreciate feedback, today or at a future time. Whether or not future disaster events are bigger or worse than what we have seen to date, they are likely to be more complex and require more sophistication in dealing with response and recovery.

Although emergency mangers at all levels may think they do not have time for "futurist" thinking, failure to think ahead could mean some short sighted planning, resource allocation, and hiring decisions. More positively, you may want to show this paper to your supervisor and say the coming workload warrants a big raise! We cannot wait until the 21st Century to take action.

In case anyone thinks that people responsible for crisis and disasters are likely to be bored from routine work, recently we have seen an extraordinary natural disaster, El Niño, and some extraordinary man-made ones too.

Examples include the failure of the communications satellite that was the basis for service for 90% of the pagers in the U.S. and the two simultaneous bombings of American Embassies in Africa. Slide #1, please.

[Slide 1]

Claire Rubin: Slide 1 is a brief list of the types of new hazards and disaster that are likely. These hazards/disasters are not so much new as compounds of several elements or more complex versions of what we have seen to date. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but an attempt to categorize the types of hazards and threats we are facing. Slide #2, please.

[Slide 2]

Claire Rubin: Slide 2 deals with the challenges to existing organizations and plans, noting that new organizational forms will be needed as well as new means of communication and of collaboration. Some of the types of new technology are expected to be essential in the near future -- such as telecommunications, use of the Internet, and exchanges among experienced specialists -- are being demonstrated by EIIP. I cannot emphasize enough that new methods and techniques are going to be essential rather than "nice" to have.

Why focus on organizations? Almost every major disaster event that has occurred in the US, such as Exxon Valdez, Hurricane Andrew-- had lead to a flurry of post-mortems and analyses about what went wrong. Invariably, there are serious problems with organizational arrangements to deal with a fast-breaking event with catastrophic impacts.

One key issue before us is: Can the emergency management community (practitioners, researchers, and others) anticipate some of the likely needs and problems and work to head them off? Slide 3, please.

[Slide 3]

Claire Rubin: Slide 3 suggests some of the avenues for new thinking about emergency management in the next decade. Here is where I would truly appreciate some comments, reactions, and suggestions.


It is a relatively easy matter to add to the list of threats. But I would especially like to have feedback on the items highlighted in slides 1 and 2. Your comments, questions etc. are invited.

Avagene Moore: Before we entertain your questions, a reminder --

To keep order in the Virtual Library, please indicate you have a question or comment by typing in a question mark (?); please compose your question and wait to be recognized before sending it to our speaker. Claire, your topic is of great interest. First question please. Dr. Haeck, you have a question, I believe.


Louis Haeck: Yes, about information warfare, is it a real risk or not?

Claire Rubin: Yes. There are both offensive and defensive use issues.


Amy Sebring: How serious do you think Y2K will be and should emergency management get itself involved?

Claire Rubin: I think it will be very serious. Yes, emergency managers should get involved. Art Botterel has pointed out that for once we know when the disaster will be but not the outcomes.


Russell Coile: Since Auckland, NZ power problems, aren't the utility companies really working on this sort of problem?

Claire Rubin: I am not sure about the utility companies. Also, I do not know many details about Auckland, but a month or so without power for the CBD was quite serious.


Amy Sebring: We have previously done a session regarding the aging of the baby boomers. Don't you think this will also present a challenge in the future?

Claire Rubin: I am not sure which aspects you mean.

Amy Sebring: There will be great growth in the number of frail elderly, 80 + . Also I don't think we are looking ahead to that very well.

Claire Rubin: Health care and evacuation-related problems will be severe. Several counties in Florida have already dealt with large scale evacuations of elderly.


Ann Willis: What do you think the role of the Federal government should be in preparing EM organizations to meet the future? OR should it even have a role?

Claire Rubin: I think FEMA, EPA and others should have a role. I would like to see them do more future thinking; I think that is not happening to a great extent now.

Avagene Moore: Don't be shy, folks. Do you have a question for Claire? Wayne.


Wayne Blanchard: Just want to note my disagreement that FEMA is not engaged in future thinking. To a great extent -- that is what Project Impact is all about.

Claire Rubin: Project Impact is fine, as far as it goes; but I see many other areas -- especially for tech hazards and cyber threats.


Louis Haeck: Sorry for my Canadian ignorance but what is the Project Impact about?

Claire Rubin: Go ahead, Wayne.

Wayne Blanchard: Project Impact is about building disaster resistant communities. And, building disaster resistant communities means a focus on all hazards that threaten a community. And it also means getting the community as a whole involved in a changed way of thinking about hazards and one's own role in reducing risks.


Avagene Moore: Claire, you indicated you needed and welcomed some input on certain points. Would you like to be more specific and give our audience a chance to reply to your request?

Claire Rubin: I would like to know if you have some thoughts on organizational needs. Also, I wonder if people would comment on some of the suggestions in Slide 3.

Amy Sebring: I certainly favor a multi-institutional regional approach, and believe technology can help make that happen, but it is not easy.

Claire Rubin: I agree. Multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary efforts are hard to do.

Avagene Moore: As a reminder while Russell is composing his question, slide 3 <http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/cr003.htm>


Russell Coile: The President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection is one effort to address information warfare (see <www.pccip.gov>)

Claire Rubin: I do not know too much about the warfare concerns. Another useful web site for critical infrastructure info is <www.ciao.gov>.

Amy Sebring: <www.ciao.gov>

Avagene Moore: Thanks for the site references, Russell and Claire. Also Amy.


Avagene Moore: Claire, in your opinion, why are the multi-type efforts so difficult? You have worked with and for several agencies.

Claire Rubin: Regarding tech hazards, for example, cooperation is needed from EPA and FEMA as well as others, like the Public Health Service and CDC. The response to hazardous substances is a complex response situation.


Amy Sebring: CDC=?

Claire Rubin: Center for Communicable Diseases.

Bill Feist: Amy. CDC=Center for Disease Control.

Claire Rubin: Thanks, Bill.

Andre LeDuc: I am looking for examples of disaster response policies for shared governance within a state infrastructure. If any one has any leads, it would be appreciated. Thanks.


Claire Rubin: Could you clarify that, please? Andre, could you say more about the need you mentioned?

Andre LeDuc: Clarification: I am currently writing a disaster response plan for State controller's division in Oregon. We are developing partnerships between agencies for shared resources in the event of a disaster and I am looking for examples, if they exist.

Claire Rubin: There are some successful organizations of these types in place. Plus, in New England all the states have banded together for form a NE emergency management organization.


Kevin Farrell: Claire, on a more basic level -- EM must work with police, fire, and EMS response elements. Due to their different organizational structures, many times priorities are different. Is that what is meant by "Regional and Bilateral organizational arrangements" in your slide, and if so, have you had successes there?

Claire Rubin: I was thinking about subnational (multi-state earthquake consortia) and national (US/Canada and US/Mexico arrangements.

Amy Sebring: Kevin can speak from experience about some of the challenges of multi-lateral arrangements!


Amy Sebring: How is the NE consortium working, Claire, do you know?

Claire Rubin: I do not know how effective it is, but the concept is interesting. Elsewhere in the US there are several regional (multi-state) earthquake organizations.


Heidi Kramer: Are you including organizations outside of traditional EM such as those that service at-risk populations?

Claire Rubin: I am not quite sure who you mean?

Amy Sebring: I believe Heidi is referring to NGO's, CBO's -- non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations.

Bill Feist: Amy. Thanks for automatically explaining your acronyms.

Heidi Kramer: Disability support organizations with resources such as lift equipped transport, etc.

Claire Rubin: I know what NGOs are but not CBOs. I guess I have not thought it through enough, but many organizations play a key role besides public emergency management agencies.


Greg Shaw: I would think that private industry has a key role in emergency management partnerships. Do you have any examples of this and do you know of any states or localities that have provided incentives to obtain the cooperation of the private sector?

Claire Rubin: In California, many initiatives with the private sector have occurred. The question of incentives is a good one. Especially in the seismic safety area, all too few incentives exist.

Bill Feist: I have a reply to Greg's question.

Amy Sebring: New York is also doing a statewide effort. Jump in there Bill, and then we will have time for Cindy's question.

Bill Feist: Thanks. Greg, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area we have at least two groups called CAER groups or Community Awareness and Emergency Response groups. These groups are comprised of many different organizations and agencies that would respond in the event of an emergency within a specific geographical area. Those groups include government EM's, fire, LE, private industry that either has a role like The Salvation Army and American Red Cross.

In response or might be the source of an emergency, as well as non-profits. The idea is to get all of these entities working together in exercises and actual emergencies. There is a similar group in Minot, North Dakota called the Minot Area Emergency Resource Council. If you want more information, feel free to e-mail me at <[email protected]>


Cindy Rice: Kentucky and insurance companies are working together in flood insurance/plain matters and support even to helping EM public information. Would that also cover citizens advisory groups?

Amy Sebring: Also Project Impact is based in large part on cooperation from business. Thanks Bill, Cindy.

Claire Rubin: Plus the Institute for Home and Building Safety, a insurance industry association, has done a great deal.

Amy Sebring: It's about time to wrap of the scheduled portion of our session. I would like to thank Claire for taking the time to be here today.

Claire Rubin: Thanks to you all.


Amy Sebring: Please note that the banner above that references Background Info will take you to a page where you can find the link to Claire's original paper. It is #99 on the Natural Hazards Working Paper Series. Claire, would you like to give an email for further feedback?

Claire Rubin: <[email protected]>

Amy Sebring: That concludes our scheduled portion. However, you are welcome to stick around for a few minutes longer for informal discussion. Good job, Claire. <clap clap>

Claire Rubin: Thanks.

[Informal Discussion]

Amy Sebring: We will have a transcript of this session with links to slides next week. We didn't even talk about Global Warming, Claire. I understand Florida will be underwater when the oceans rise!

Claire Rubin: That definitely is a major topic. New Orleans will be underwater too.

Amy Sebring: So will half of Texas, I suppose!

Russell Coile: California implemented a new Standardized Emergency Management System which coordinates resources of the 32 million people in California.

Isabel McCurdy: Russell, more info, please.

Amy Sebring: Isabel, Russell has a paper in our Library on SEMS.

Isabel McCurdy: Thanks.


Amy Sebring: How about comets? I heard that if we had spent the money on searching for comets that was spent on the movies, we would have them all identified!

Claire Rubin: If I add to many wild ideas to the paper, people will dismiss it as science fiction!

Amy Sebring: Seriously, I have also heard some alarmists regarding new diseases, epidemics.

Claire Rubin: Actually, El Niño has had many health and disease outcomes; they are serious.

Amy Sebring: There seems to be a territorial aspect of human nature, that constantly presents challenges to multi-lateralism.

Claire Rubin: Yes, but if we don't start thinking bigger and thinking in terms of getting help from others, emergency managers will get swamped and people will be harmed.


Amy Sebring: Wouldn't you agree, Kevin? (no details please) In coping with disasters, there is more than enough work to go around. However, funding is very limited, and "we" have to compete for it.

Kevin Farrell: Yes, I do!

Amy Sebring: Especially pre-disaster funding.

Kevin Farrell: What funding? Oh, you mean "reactionary spending"!

Amy Sebring: Go ahead, Cindy; you don't need to use question mark anymore.

Cindy Rice: We may have to compete or we may coordinate and collaborate like we're doing here and have less of the re-inventing the wheel.

Final Question:

Claire Rubin: Where is it that you are succeeded?

Amy Sebring: Yes, there are definitely economies and efficiencies to be realized.

Kevin Farrell: Yes, I liked the last line in slide #2 . I'm going to get back to pounding out a report. See you next time!

Amy Sebring: Yes, me too Kevin! Kevin is referring to the nice plug for EIIP. Thanks Claire. Thank you all for being here with us today.

Claire Rubin: Thanks again.