Edited Version March 19, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Panel Discussion

"Linking Disaster Management to Sustainable Development
in the United States"

Featured Panelists

Stuart Claggett
President and Chief Operating Officer
Global Environment & Technology Foundation
Co-sponsor of the National Town Meeting

Ken Patterson
President's Council Member on Sustainable Development
Planning Director
National Town Meeting

Priscilla Scruggs
Project Impact Team
FEMA Mitigation Directorate

The original transcript of the May 19, 1999 online Virtual Forum Panel Discussion is available in 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 presenters to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the EIIP Panel Room!

Our topic today is "Linking Disaster Management to Sustainable Development in the U.S." and next month we will look at this same theme in the international context.

Background information for today's session is located at http://www.emforum.org/vforum/990519.htm and a number of links to other sites and two reports may be found there, as well as short bios for today's panelists.

A quick reminder of the protocol for any first timers --

We will have approximately 30 minutes of presentation and 30 minutes of audience Q&A. Please do not send private messages to our panelists or the moderator during the session as it makes it difficult to follow the flow of the discussion. We will review the instructions for Q&A just before we begin that portion of the program.

We felt that today's topic would be timely due to the recent conclusion of a National Town Meeting on Sustainable Development, and that a strategy of linking disaster management, particularly mitigation, to the broader concept of sustainable development might be promising, especially as we approach the end of the decade, and look forward to the next century.


We are pleased to have a very distinguished panel with us today:

Stuart Claggett is the President and Chief Operating Officer of the Global Environment & Technology Foundation, and co-sponsor of the National Town Meeting.

Ken Patterson is a member of the President's Council on Sustainable Development and directed the planning for the National Town Meeting.

Priscilla Scruggs is a member of the national team for the FEMA Mitigation Directorate's Project Impact initiative and also participated in the town meeting.

We also invited Dennis Mileti from the Natural Hazards Center of the University of Colorado at Boulder but he could not be with us today, for reasons you will hear later. Instead, we have a message from our good EIIP friend, David Butler with the Center, which I will convey toward the end.

We will start off with Mr. Claggett, whom we asked to answer the question, "What is sustainable development?" and to tell us about his organization and its involvement with the town meeting. Thank you for being with us today, Stuart.


Stuart Claggett: Glad to be here! Thank you for the time.

America has been struggling with the term Sustainable Development for a number of years as have many other nations on our planet. The term has evolved into several different meanings with the base foundation being cut with the United Nations' agenda 21 and therein laid the problem for many Americans. Simply put, we do not like to be directed by the United Nations on how to live.

That being said, many in the world around us and our media did not believe that the American public believed in sustainable development. I am glad to report they were wrong. Whether we define it in terms of quality of life or economy, equity, and environment, it is alive and well in the United States. Many of us are just now understanding that many of the programs, policies and projects we are involved in can and are contributing to a sustainable America. You can see examples in the program listing at http://www.sustainableusa.org. But take the time to view that later.

The PCSD vision statement says, "A sustainable United States will have a growing economy that provides equitable opportunities for satisfying livelihoods and a safe, healthy, high quality of life for current and future generations." Whether we build upon this statement or extract from it, everyone can play a part in this movement.

The National Town Meeting held in May 1999 has created momentum in America. Ken will report more on the event itself but to say America is not focused on this issue is a substantial untruth. We saw involvement from all sectors of the country with substantial overflow that could not be captured in this event alone. It reaches from how we build smarter for disasters to electric vehicles.

The future of this in America is strong. This morning, I attended a breakfast with the congressional economic council and it was brought up four times. A big change. The powerful messages of the CEO's and youth at the town meeting also speaks to the fact that it is here to stay and is moving forward.

On a side note, here at GETF, we are exploring the many ways we can use remote sensing to help in disaster planning for a more sustainable economy. It is a powerful tool.

In closing, I encourage all of you to see how it fits with what you do. If you need some help figuring it out, you can contact me at [email protected]. For more information on GETF, you can visit the Website at http://www.getf.org and for more on Sustainable USA www.sustainableusa.org which is now moving from a conference site.


Amy Sebring: Thank you, Stuart. Next, we have Mr. Patterson whom we asked to tell us about the outcome of the town meeting and the activities of the President's Council. Thank you for coming today, Ken.

Ken W. Patterson: It is my pleasure.

First, I would like to introduce the Presidents Council, who co-sponsored the National Town Meeting with the Global Environment and Technology Foundation. The Presidents Council on Sustainable Development is a Presidentially appointed advisory committee, created in 1993, to advise this Administration on developing a U.S. sustainable development strategy. It is a federal blue ribbon panel with people from business, non-governmental organizations and government. It works by consensus and is non-partisan.

The PCSD has just released its final report, entitled Towards a Sustainable America: Advancing Prosperity, Opportunity, and a Healthy Environment for the 21st Century. The report contains over 140 specific actions Americans can take to realize a new prosperity for our families and communities.

The Council reached agreement on how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the climate; make environmental management systems more effective, flexible, and accountable; develop metropolitan and rural strategies for building livable communities; and foster U.S. leadership on sustainable development. With the report, its work is finished.

The National Town Meeting was the resort of almost two years of planning. The idea came from two PCSD members; Ray Anderson of Interface, Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of commercial carpet and Carol Browner, Administrator of EPA, to convene a meeting to celebrate sustainable development and create national dialogue about it.

Many organizations and agencies were involved in the planning, including FEMA.

The principal goals of the National Town Meeting were to celebrate the work already being done across America by communities, businesses, organizations and individuals to foster a more sustainable future for this country. We wanted to bring together thousands of people from widely diverse backgrounds and with different expertise who share a common concern for our future.

We wanted to get all these people talking to each other and sharing information and tools that will help secure an improved quality of life, and to build a network of interested national, local leaders. We also wanted to encourage more people to get involved by making and tracking commitments.

The meeting was quite a success. We estimate that between 3500 and 4000 participated in all or part of the events in Detroit. And that another 60,000 people joined in the meeting via satellite or webcast connection at 120 concurrent events throughout the country. In addition, to a great slate of nationally-recognized speakers, there were 140+ workshops, including several on emergency planning issues (disaster mitigation as an opportunity for sustainable growth).

We believe that upwards of 250,000 people took part in some aspect of this national discussion that has occurred since last summer, including this National Town Meeting.

Over 700 commitments were made by individuals and organizations-- ranging from providing environmental education to one million school children to the establishment of new research centers to pledges by communities to sustainable growth.

I'd also like to add another definition of Sustainable Development.

The definition used most often to describe sustainable development is, "development that meets the needs of the present without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

That's about it for an overview. Have I covered everything you hoped for in this part?

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Ken. Next we have Ms. Scruggs. We asked Priscilla to tell us about the link between disaster mitigation and sustainable development and her involvement in the town meeting. Thank you for connecting with us, Priscilla.

Priscilla Scruggs: Thank you, Amy.

As a result of Global climate changes, disasters are occurring more frequently and are affecting more areas of the country. Experience and statistics show that disasters wreak havoc with the local economy and can be fatal to small businesses within the community. The good news is that these disasters can be predicted and steps can be taken to reduce their impact.

As part of the Project Impact process, FEMA encourages and/or helps communities establish a collaborative partnership made up of representation of the various groups in the community. These groups, which consist of public, private and non-profit organizations, pool their knowledge, skills and resources to design a disaster-resistant plan that largely consists of mitigation.

To be successful, this process requires civic engagement and is grounded in the concept of local stewardship. By working towards disaster resistance and implementing mitigation, a community is not only protecting its physical environment but its fiscal one as well.

An evaluation of a community's disaster resistance should coincide with community changes and coincides with other sustainability issues. After all, part of good stewardship is protecting your environment.

Another term for mitigation is damage prevention, which like any other prevention activity, boils down to basic common sense.

I would like to close by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to participate and thank you.

Amy Sebring: Thank you, Priscilla. Before we go to Q&A, I would like to take this opportunity to deliver a message from David Butler, that I think contains some exciting news and explains Professor Mileti's whereabouts.

From David: "Sorry I can't be here/there (where is a person in cyberspace?), but given today's topic, I wanted to mention a notable development that is occurring as we chat."

"The results of a National Science Foundation study on disasters and sustainable development are being unveiled at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, by the study's principal investigator, Dennis Mileti, Director of the Natural Hazards Information Center at the University of Colorado."

Asked to assess the state of hazards management in the U.S., Mileti concluded that "effective disaster mitigation will only happen if it becomes part of a larger program to develop sustainable communities."

"Here is the news release about that study: DEALING WITH NATURAL HAZARDS REQUIRES A NEW APPROACH.

The cost of natural hazards is going up and is expected to keep rising, according to a major scientific study released in 1999 by the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center at the University of Colorado.

Center Director, Dennis Mileti, led a team of 132 experts from across the nation to carry out the study, which discovered that in some cases, steps taken to reduce the impact of natural hazards may actually make the situation worse when more extreme disasters occur.

Since 1989, the cost of natural hazards in the United States including floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and wildfires have frequently averaged $1 billion per week.

The five-year, $750,000 study, summarized in "Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States," (Joseph Henry Press, Washington, DC, 1999), was funded by the National Science Foundation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The team of experts was charged with updating a similar study done at the University of Colorado in the early 1970s: what is known and not known about natural hazards and society's programs to reduce damages from them.

The current study took stock of information in all the social, physical, and natural sciences, and engineering, and then analyzed that information to answer the question, "Why, despite all our knowledge about the causes of, consequences from, and remedies for disasters, do losses continue to rise?"

The study concluded that, among other reasons, large catastrophes are getting worse and will continue to get larger because of many of the things in the past that has been done to reduce risk. For example, building a dam or levee may protect a community from the small and medium-sized floods the structure was designed to handle. But additional development that occurs because of this protection will mean even greater losses during a big flood that causes the dam or levee to fail. Such incidents occurred during the 1993 flooding in the Mississippi River basin.

A central problem is that many of the accepted methods for coping with hazards have been based on the idea that people can use technology to control nature's "problems." However, the study's findings indicate it is wrong to think of natural hazards as problems because problems mean there are solutions. The much more basic issue is how communities engage in non-sustainable development. A society's development is not sustainable if its buildings fall down in major earthquakes.

While actions taken to mitigate disasters, such as building codes that require buildings to withstand certain magnitudes of earthquakes, save lives and dollars in the short term, it also means that hazards risk is being shifted to future generations, much like the national debt.

Consequently, there is a need to change the culture to think about designing communities for our great grandchildren's children's children. The report urges local officials to "design future disasters" for their communities actually setting the number of deaths, injuries and dollar losses they are willing to accept and be responsible for as the result of the most extreme disasters their community could face during the next 100 to 200 years.

The study, which is expected to guide research and policy in the field of natural hazards over the next 20 years, is also intended to change the way people look at natural disasters in the future.

Until people are ready to address the interdependent root causes of disasters and do the difficult work of coming to a negotiated consensus about which losses are acceptable, which are unacceptable, and what type of action to take, the nation's communities will continue on a path toward ever-larger natural catastrophes.

The details about the book: Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States. Dennis Mileti. 1999. 376 pp. $47.95+$4.50 shipping and handling.

Order from National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 20055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; fax: (202) 334-2451; WWW: http://www.nap.edu/bookstore.

We appreciate David Butler sending that along. I have also been told that ABC World News Tonight will feature a piece on disasters, although I do not know if it is related to the Press Club event or coincidental.

Now, let us get on with the Q&A. If we run out of time, you are invited to return to the Virtual Forum room after we conclude our session for open discussion.

Audience, please enter just a question mark (?) at any time to indicate you wish to speak, go ahead and compose your question or comment but hold it until you are recognized, then click on Send. Please indicate to whom your question is addressed. We are ready to begin.

[Audience Questions]


Claire Rubin: Who has the lead and where is information available?

Amy Sebring: Claire, are you asking about future directions?

Claire Rubin: Current and future reference sources for sustainable development.

Amy Sebring: We do have a link to the PCSD report, Claire, on the background page, which may be a good starting point.

Ken W. Patterson: The PCSD ends in June. It is unclear what federal entity might shepherd sustainable development. The Clinton Administration has listened to the PCSD and incorporated sustainability into policymaking. From the livability initiative in this year's budget proposal to energy efficiency measures, sustainability has become part of the mainstream in federal decision-making, just as it has become "mainstream" across America.

More needs to be done to advance sustainable development. We need to move ideas into action. But as the PCSD itself has said, sustainable development requires the initiative and action of countless people from all across America. The federal government can best serve as a catalyst and booster of good ideas and local initiatives.


Ken W. Patterson: Stuart, would you like to talk about continued work with EPA?

Stuart Claggett: Sure Ken. Numerous organizations are using SD in their programs. As part of our cooperative agreement with EPA we will continue the Website as a resource on SD for all of America.


Avagene Moore: To Stuart and Ken: From your close work with the NTM, what was the most important thing you learned personally about the whole idea of a sustainable America?

Ken W. Patterson: The most exciting thing for me was listening to our Youth panel share their vision of the future. We had 21 youth selected from all over the country who were brilliant and committed!

Stuart Claggett: For me, it confirmed that it exists here in America and I will say the statements by the youth were great.


Avagene Moore: Priscilla, will FEMA be adopting "sustainable development" in other programs in Mitigation? Will you be using the term in addition to Project Impact and mitigation measure?

Priscilla Scruggs: From our perspective, it's already there. I neglected to mention that Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery have all evaluated their existing programs to ensure that they are consistent with the goals of disaster resistance and sustainability.


Amy Sebring: Thank you, Priscilla. I would like to just comment that a number of important themes seem to be in common; the necessity for much longer term planning than we are used to doing in this country and the importance of local or regional efforts. Stuart, Ken, or Priscilla, do you find these themes in common? These ideas were also emphasized by Professor Mileti in his remarks to the National Press Club this morning.

Ken W. Patterson: And the importance of building partnerships with your usual and unusual "bedfellows".

Stuart Claggett: Local and regional participation is key.

Priscilla Scruggs: I agree. Partnership and stewardship are all common themes.


Amy Sebring: Stuart, did you have an additional comment?

Stuart Claggett: It is where SD lives! It is not in Washington. Start locally.


Terry Birkenstock: This is a very interesting topic --- thanks for the presentation. I don't want to throw cold water on the discussion but I have to question whether sustainability is really in the mainstream yet in the US. Just because we have local or regional planning doesn't mean it’s sustainable. I don't hear the term used very often and I suspect there are many people, groups, businesses perhaps, that see sustainability as slow or no-growth, and therefore would oppose it. Has Congress embraced it?

Stuart Claggett: Congress has been a naysayer. They do not know what SD is. They are waking up however as demonstrated by participation in the town meeting. They are like most of us --- What is it? I agree that local and regional does not mean it is sustainable but the economy can grow with it. It is not a cost. We have shown that with data from environmental management systems.


Amy Sebring: Ken, your comments on political will?

Ken W. Patterson: Although you may not hear SD used, you are hearing from the White House and the Congress the terms "smart growth" and livability, narrower, yet very important aspects of sustainability. We had good Congressional involvement in Detroit. I think the potential is there to capitalize on the national interest at the grassroots level.


J. Lees: It appears that to carry out sustainment in disaster mitigation one must know not only what is in the environment, but one must be able to predict what will happen. What investment is being made in developing the information tools needed to carry out this analysis?

Stuart Claggett: There has been work by SAIC on the use of remote sensing and data analysis that I think FEMA asked for.

Priscilla Scruggs: FEMA is constantly looking for new technologies that will help us predict our environment. Stuart mentioned remote sensing which is currently being used to develop flood hazard analysis. There is also the use of Geographic Information Systems to map databases for decision-making and software being developed for loss estimation with respect to earthquakes. EPA, HUD, and NOAA are also working on software, as well.

Amy Sebring: If I may add also, J., an important recommendation made by the National Science Foundation study is to conduct a comprehensive, nation-wide hazards analysis. This was also a need pointed out by FEMA's Capability Assessment for Readiness a year ago.


Stuart Claggett: Priscilla, when communities meet on mitigation, do they also consider (especially disaster prone areas) how to redevelop using sustainable building materials and how to recycle from the destruction? We can't control nature but we can control our use of resources affected by disasters.

Priscilla Scruggs: Some communities more than others. However, we are trying to spread the word. Communities in Oregon, for example, are very attune to environmental considerations. Most of our other communities typically look to reclaim high risk areas for open space.

Terry Birkenstock: I just wanted to mention that there is an International Joint Commission Study in the Red River Basin that is trying to build some tools related to J. Lees' question, too. A Virtual Basin-wide Database and Decision Support System linking data and models for doing what-if analyses for different flood scenarios. This type of forum is a very useful tool as well.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Terry, and the Second Assessment calls for just those local and regional networks very much in tune with what Project Impact has been trying out.

We are just about out of time, and again our appreciation to our panelists today who have given their time to be with us. Also our appreciation to the audience for your participation. YOU are the reason we do this! Please consider joining us next month when our panel will discuss this same theme on the global scale.

A text transcript will be available this afternoon via the Transcripts link on our home page and the reformatted versions early next week.

Before we close the Panel Room for today, reminders about next week's events.

Next Tuesday's Round Table will be hosted by IAEM, and then next Wednesday, in the Tech Arena, we are pleased to have the Frishberg brothers, Leo and Michael, of Cliffside Software. You may be familiar with their software product, Plan Ahead, for exercise design. Leo will be presenting a session on using the software for After Action Reporting and follow-up, something that sometimes just seems to slip through the cracks.

We will close down the Panel room now, but you are invited to join us back in the Virtual Forum room to personally thank our guests and for open discussion.