Edited Version of October13, 1999 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation

"World Disaster Reduction Day--
Where Do We Go From Here"

Amy Sebring
EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the October 13, 1999 online Virtual Forum 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 discussions, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the speakers to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Amy Sebring: Welcome to the Virtual Forum!

• For the benefit of our first-timers, if you see a blue web address, you can click on it and the referenced Web page should appear in a browser window.

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Today we are observing World Disaster Reduction Day, as part of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, IDNDR. I had hoped to find some information about how the day is being observed in the U.S. this year, but I have been spectacularly unsuccessful! I am under the impression that many folks thought that the Programme Forum that was held during July this year in Geneva was the final IDNDR event, as were we.

Anyway, we are going to try something a little different today, and that is to have a discussion. This will only work if you participate with your opinions and comments!

As the decade draws to a close, and we have heard no news yet as to what will happen to this effort in the future, the overall question is "Where Do We Go from Here?"

I have prepared a list of ten discussion questions, which may be found on the background page at <http://www.emforum.org/vforum/idndr99.htm>. If you have not had a chance to look them over, let's pause here a moment to give you an opportunity to do so.

In order to facilitate discussion, we will try dispensing with the question marks (?) today. I will put up each of the questions and ask you to respond. If you have a comment at that point, just put it in. I will ask you to try to think ahead a little as we go down the list, and start preparing any comment you may have for the next question. Some of the questions are phrased in terms for career emergency managers. If you are not one (or not one yet!) please respond in terms of your own experience.

First, I would like to relay a little of my own experience with this. I have found that the chief benefit of having "days" or "weeks" is they present an opportunity for public education. (The public may include local officials!) As I expect is typical, if an opportunity for an observance was presented, we could prepare a proclamation for the Mayor to sign, get a few (very few) minutes of City Council meeting time, and possibly a few seconds of TV news air time.

I will confess that although we observed severe weather awareness week, hurricane awareness week, etc. we never observed World Disaster Reduction Day! (I am going to use WDRD from now on.).

[Group Discussion]

Question #1:

Did you ever do anything in your community during the decade to observe World Disaster Reduction Day? If so what? (or for non-EM's, did you ever see anything in your local media pertaining to it?)


Amy Sebring: We have already had some responses to this question. Please repeat it for benefit of those who may have missed it.

Linda Underwood: The only time I've seen IDNDR is a small mention on the LAFD site.

John Anderson: Nothing here in Calgary, Canada.

Amy Sebring: Yes, and John, Canada was the only National Committee that I could find had something on there Website about this year's observance!

Rick Wood: WDRD? Never did hear anything about such a thing that I can recall here in Sunny SoCal. I did not know the term until just now.

Steven Arnold: Nothing in southern Ohio/northern Kentucky area.

John Anderson: What about the Aussies?

Amy Sebring: John, I looked up the Aussie link but could not find anything current.

Craig Marks: In Puerto Rico there was nothing. Not even any "One year later hype" from the media. I think everybody was just glad it was a quiet year and nobody wanted to temp fate by talking about it.

John Anderson: They get the convention business and then forget about it?

Cam King: Small article in one paper in Winnipeg and small mention in Globe and Mail

Amy Sebring: Well that is something, Cam.

Isabel McCurdy: Nothing here in British Columbia, Canada!!

Amy Sebring: Jennifer, anything in Houston TX?

Jennifer Suter: Nothing here

Terry Storer: Nothing from Illinois, including the State EMA.

Amy Sebring: Ok, I think we are beginning to see a pattern here, with small exceptions.

Cam, what did the article in Winnipeg say?

Amy Sebring: Pop in when you are ready, we have already had a comment on the next question.

John Anderson: Maybe it's premature IFRC just announced it was next decade we should be watching for.

Question #2:

Did you ever receive any briefing materials from anybody and/or did you use the press kits provided by the IDNDR?


John Anderson: Nada...zero...nothing here.

Amy Sebring: I will say I never received any briefing materials.

Cam King: Very little - just recognized the day and a bit about disasters around the world - especially related to weather.

Amy Sebring: Well, at least that is something Cam!

Craig Marks: Nada - zip -- and I asked CD here for materials on anything for the Explorer CERT program we are trying to get started.

Amy Sebring: Anyone else re briefing materials?

Isabel McCurdy: Nothing !!

Cam King: Had to search on the Internet - nothing from the UN, Emergency Preparedness Canada or Provincial EMO.

Amy Sebring: My next question is somewhat political. One year when I asked our Public Information Officer for the state if there were any media kit available for WDRD, I was informed no because of its association with the United Nations.

Question #3:

Do you feel that because the IDNDR has been a UN program, that it has been downplayed in the U.S.? What is the general attitude toward the UN in your jurisdiction? Or Canada, or other countries?


John Anderson: In Canada, we pride ourselves on full support and have faith in the UN,

warts and all.

Amy Sebring: So the attitude is generally good; it sounds, John.

John Anderson: Yes.

Isabel McCurdy: We totally support the UN in Canada.

Cam King: Probably a little higher in Winnipeg than other areas as Canada's Foreign Minister is from here. They also have a fairly active United Nations Association here

Amy Sebring: US comments on this? Linda? Rick? Steven?

Gil Gibbs: The comments I hear from locals are too vulgar. Don't know what the problem is.

John Anderson: Jesse Helms is your problem

Amy Sebring: I think while many in U.S. support UN, that this has been a conservative issue for many years.

Craig Marks: I think there is a bit of Big Brother suspicion and fear of spending money on others at our own peril.

Terry Storer: My feeling is that the UN is something that one studies in the Illinois school system, not something that the average person is involved with.

Rick Wood: I work where the sneakers meet the sidewalk, so I don't know what the 'official' feeling is about the UN, but on the street it seems to be something that is not all that much talked about or considered. Besides, no one talks about disasters until they happen, right?!?

Amy Sebring: There is somewhat a tradition of isolationism in U.S., which goes way back to our founding probably.

John Anderson: Except the Red Cross and others who know what's about to happen.

Munich Re among them, world's largest insurer.

Amy Sebring: Ok, let's go on. As I mentioned earlier, we have heard nothing further yet regarding a continuing international framework for disaster reduction. In the general summary of the concluding Programme Forum (there is a link from the background page) Robert Hamilton, from the U.S. National Committee notes that "It is of the utmost importance that such a framework is provided in the future beyond the decade," because it has "... greatly assisted many nations in focusing attention on the threat posed by natural hazards and the means for mitigating their impacts." We have seen some new attention to mitigation under FEMA Director Witt and Project Impact in the last couple of years, and by some of the state agencies.

Question #4:

Do you think a framework of some type such as IDNDR is needed in the future to continue to focus attention on disaster reduction? If so, do you favor continuing on with the UN framework, or should there be some other international form?


John Anderson: I'll go with the UN. OCHA/UNEP. Maybe co-opt NATO.

Amy Sebring: I expect that goes for our other Canadian participants today?

Gil Gibbs: Whomever has the most experience, would be the logical choice.

Rick Wood: I think it is a good thing to focus on, and the UN is a structure that already exists, so why not use it.

Craig Marks: Having served on three UN missions in the Special Forces I find the UN to be rather unorganized, too expensive and untrustworthy. I would opt for some other association.

John Anderson: Kofi is changing that.

Cam King: I agree with John as there are few other international organizations that have the capacity to undertake such a programme.

Amy Sebring: Interesting, Craig. Perhaps their formal structure is too cumbersome?

Craig Marks: They throw a task force together and the wheels don't seem to mesh into a single piece of machinery.

Amy Sebring: It is difficult to think of another world-wide organization with the scope, although it is interesting that development interests such as the World Bank are now seeming to at least be paying lip service.

Cam King: Our military (retired generals) would agree with Craig after their experiences with the UN in New York.

Craig Marks: International Red Cross or maybe we need to invent something. UN has a lot of agendas, not just disasters.

John Anderson: I hear there are a lot of turfing arguments among them, at the UN.

Rick Wood: That's the problem when you mix metric cogs with imperial gears, Craig. :-)

Amy Sebring: Obviously governments need to be involved in some capacity. Dr. Hamilton also notes in the Scientific and Technical Committee Report that the idea of using National Committees had mixed results over the course of the decade -- some active, some inactive.

Question #5:

How should future US participation in an international disaster reduction framework be organized? Who should be included on any such US committee? Or any other national committee?


John Anderson: Over 60% of the lifesaving at Turkey was done by the locals but the aid was bilateral. I say give it to the military.

Amy Sebring: Interesting. Other comments?

Craig Marks: FEMA has worked the bugs out of the system. Why not internationalize them as the lead agency for US response overseas?

Amy Sebring: My feeling on this is that the committees we have had have been too high level and not reflected the stakeholders adequately.

John Anderson: Command and control. Quick response is what's needed.

Amy Sebring: What interests should be represented?

Gil Gibbs: Again, it seems that we need to look at those with the most experience!

Cam King: There was a Canadian Committee that got started well after the Decade began and from whom little has been received. Not even sure who was on it but don't think there were many, if any, practitioners on it.

Craig Marks: The military has dropped 46% and OPTEMPO has gone up 112% in 10 years. We are supposed to kill people and break things. We really don't have time for long term disaster relief ops. Much more than 2 weeks and the military needs to be out!

John Anderson: :-)

Cam King: OPTEMPO?

Craig Marks: Operations Tempo --- away from home

Amy Sebring: I would certainly want the military to be included, since they are being given a role in "complex emergencies" these days!

John Anderson: Policy says they will need to be trained in it for the future

Amy Sebring: Who else? Public? Different professions?

Rick Wood: I see I'm not the only one who thinks the guys with guns and tanks aren't exactly the best choice, though the military has the response capability. I wonder if they can ever have disaster mitigation as a primary rather than a secondary goal.

John Anderson: Disasters are sneaking up on us through global weather changes. This constitutes a security threat, hence military jurisdiction. Give them blue helmets, maybe green.

Craig Marks: That's what they sell the congress to get funding. I was deployed over 200 days last year. The average deployment for a Green Beret is 270 days a year.

Gil Gibbs: After Somalia, I'm afraid that some areas will have real problems with response!

Cam King: Does the military have a "lead role" responsibility if we are trying to implement community based management. - Can be a real culture clash.

Amy Sebring: Thanks for that segue, Cam!

Craig Marks: Keep trying, John. If the military is to be heavily involved, then we need to identify it and build accordingly. We can't do it with the current force structure.

Isabel McCurdy: Canada's military is considered the "last resort".

Amy Sebring: Continuing on. Dr. Hamilton also notes in the general conclusions "National, regional and international efforts towards disaster prevention and mitigation are essential, but should be seen as supportive of community-based actions."

Question #6:

What could a national committee or coalition for disaster reduction do to support community-based actions, assuming they had no major dollars to spend on it? What should elements of their "strategic plan" include?


Craig Marks: If this is on the national level, we need a committee that is not considered not just another committee that really ends up diverting funds from where the problem is.

John Anderson: A call on equipment and resources from the national body, from the local.

Amy Sebring: We mentioned earlier that they could at least continue to focus attention on this.

Cam King: Raise public awareness! Support research and application! Lobby politicians at all levels.

Rick Wood: That sounds to me like it calls for a bunch of 'spin doctor' types to get the Public Service Messages out and a lot of grass roots groups participating. I think that becomes a planning and organizational nightmare.

Amy Sebring: I think with the right composition, they could also facilitate discussion between the various stakeholders.

John Anderson: Nevertheless, the locals will always have a better grasp of the needs.

Isabel McCurdy: Make information simple!!

Amy Sebring: I am a great one for folks talking to each other, that don't normally talk to each other on a regular basis.

John Anderson: Me too.

Amy Sebring: Right Isabel!

Craig Marks: Public awareness is the key. I remember the guy with the CD helmet conducting the drop drills at my school in Los Angeles in the early sixties. We seem to have lost the public's interest since FEMA was created and most locals look to them to solve all their problems. It must emphasize public awareness and participation

Cam King: Promote and facilitate strategic alliances in all emergency management functions.

John Anderson: Quit the turfing arguments!

Amy Sebring: How about working toGETHer!!

Terry Storer: PR, research, lobbying all revolve around funding. Without it no one would accept the challenge.

Craig Marks: It's taken the Army 25 years to get radios that talk to the Navy. Good luck.

Amy Sebring: Well, we will assume that they at least have a little money to spend Terry!

Speaking of which, one of the general conclusions is a recommendation for adopting reliable, standardized data on losses to measure progress towards reduction over 5, 10, 20 year periods.

Question #7:

Do you feel that if the true total costs of disasters were quantified and made known, that this might assist in obtaining funding for mitigation?


John Anderson: Yes, by all means.

Craig Marks: Again, that comes with educating the public.

John Anderson: ReliefWeb is doing a good job here. Continuous improvement noted.

Rick Wood: Quantification seems to be the only means of communicating impacts to government.

Cam King: Yes, definitely - especially for mitigation - would/should serve as a wake-up call.

Gil Gibbs: I'll agree, Craig - massive public education!

Linda Underwood: Yes. Also information about how many disasters we (U.S.) have had. I saw a great map of Presidential Disaster Declarations at <www.bakerprojects.com/fema>.

Rick Wood: Even the Red Cross leads it's blood drives with the estimates of need and the level of available blood products.

Amy Sebring: We seem to have very sketchy estimates at the moment.

Craig Marks: We need to be careful to not "spin" the numbers. I've seen some stuff in the past where the number crunchers made themselves look silly with their projections.

John Anderson: It's a function of local costing, yes?

Cam King: This would be especially helpful if there was some way to get a real handle on the costs e.g. volunteer labour and donated goods, etc.

Amy Sebring: Costing at all levels, John, But also less tangibles like business losses, economic impacts. Pain and suffering! Maybe we should get some lawyers working on it!


John Anderson: Indonesia: $4.4B before health care costs of which $25M fire suppression.

Craig Marks: You have to bring the numbers into something folks can reach out and touch, feel and understand.

Amy Sebring: Craig, sometimes they seem to get sooo big that they are hard to relate to.

John Anderson: Like the Defence Budget? NOT.

Amy Sebring: Perhaps we need per capita costs e.g.

John Anderson: Good idea, Amy.

Craig Marks: If we stopped wasting 15% of the defense budget, the military could add 50,000 troops

Amy Sebring: Continuing on. The relationship between environmental degradation and disaster is becoming increasingly understood and witnessed as in Hurricane Mitch last year, and I expect the current flooding in Mexico as well.

Question #8:

Do you think that it might be helpful that if any project is required to perform an environmental impact analysis as a condition of federal or state funding, that it be required to analyze the potential affect on risks from natural hazards?


John Anderson: Hard to do with wildfire.

Amy Sebring: Why, John?

John Anderson: How do you know what a season will look like in advance?

Craig Marks: I think that is a component of education. Do that AND require information on things like new houses --- Warning this house will withstand a CAT 3 hurricane.

John Anderson: Nevada, worst ever; who'd a thunk it? Reseeding in the Billions.

Amy Sebring: My understanding is we have problems here in U.S. with government projects being among the offenders.

John Anderson: Does this surprise me?

Amy Sebring: I suspect U.S. is not alone in this regard?

John Anderson: Not alone. How do you budget for an ice storm?

Amy Sebring: Any other comments about environmental aspects?

John Anderson: People need to know about the creeping insidious climate change affects; these are intangible.

Amy Sebring: Let's hear from some other folks as we continue, please.

Craig Marks: Education is hard with weather, because some guys are out to get ratings so global warming this and that and then you have the coldest winter in 100 years and our credibility is shot.

Question #9:

Back to our World Disaster Reduction Day. In the future, do you think a well-coordinated national, state, and local level "Disaster Reduction Day" could be useful?

State or provincial.


John Anderson: Municipal too.

Amy Sebring: I would like to hear at least a yes or no from everybody on that last question.

Gil Gibbs: Getting the public to understand what it's about is No. 1, then go from there.

Linda Underwood: Yes.

Craig Marks: It has to be focused at the lowest community level to be successful. YES.

Rick Wood: I think a WDRD would be useful, especially on the local level. I also think that one day a year is not enough to keep the interest up and the information fresh in minds.

Isabel McCurdy: Yes!!

Cam King: Not sure. We may have become "jaded" by the number of "days" such that the public don't care any more. Should be a more concerted and co-ordinated year round activity supported by all governments and agencies

Amy Sebring: Terry, Peter? Don? Tom?

Peter Devenis: YES!!

Isabel McCurdy: Celebrating our successes!!

John Anderson: Gotta start with something.

Amy Sebring: Ok, I think we have somewhat of a consensus.

Question #10:

If you received a media kit in advance, what would it contain and would you use it?


Terry Storer: Yes it would be useful, but the plausibility of doing it is questionable.

John Anderson: Lots of charts, easy pictorials, cartoons; targeted at the local realities

here.. sour gas escape, for example.

Craig Marks: Need background sheets with lots of info facts and tips for developing a local event.

Amy Sebring: I would want a draft proclamation, something easy to adapt to local community. Event and media suggestions.

Linda Underwood: HTML. We could put it on our web site.

Amy Sebring: Isabel, I like the celebrating successes idea.

Cam King: If well enough in advance, could release it to the local media, agencies, etc. To often they arrive the week of the event. Should provide information consistent with the standardized response set up by ARC/FEMA, etc.

Isabel McCurdy: Information in many languages.

Amy Sebring: Good re: HTML, Linda; and languages, Isabel.

Isabel McCurdy: Simple positive proactive steps !!

Don Hartley: As an EMA person with 25 years of media career, a kit would have to highlight local rather than something on a grander scale that most people would just ignore.

John Anderson: Take Mexico for example; one year fires, then next floods.

Don Hartley: Disaster education is like politics, it's most effective at the local level.

Amy Sebring: Right Don, but I think some aspects of "world solidarity" on this issue would not hurt.

Rick Wood: It needs to arrive early, and have more information than a local region would need, but the region could take the info that applies. The lead time and the ease of info use seems critical to me.

Terry Storer: "Age friendly". Useful for kids, adults, and seniors.

Craig Marks: But who cares if it isn't in their backyard. Sorry, but true.

Rick Wood: That's the major problem that I see, Craig.

Don Hartley: I agree, but most people are unfortunately centered on what affects them and their pocketbook.

John Anderson: Munich Re: cares and so do the airlines hoteliers which want to promote eco-travel.

AmySebring: Great. I hope this has been useful, we are about out of time. Thanks to all of you very much for participating so well today. Let me go ahead and get the announcements out of the way, please. But I ask that you stick around a little longer and give me some feedback on this format.

We have one new pledge since yesterday, Linda Underwood with CERT-Los Angeles.

< //bell http://www.emforum.org/pledge.wav>. Thanks, Linda! Glad you came back to be with us today! If you have not made a pledge to join us for at least one session per month, please consider doing so and see <http://www.emforum.org/eiip/pledge.htm> for further info.

Next Tuesday we are pleased to have Dan Robeson, emergency management student at University of North Texas, to talk about the International Emergency Management Students Association (IEMSA). Please pass the word to any students you might know!

Next Wednesday, Steve Borth from FEMA EMI will be here to seek some feedback for a potential new course on preparing for mass events. He is assembling a focus group for this purpose, and we are hoping that some of the members will also be able to participate on-line.

We will adjourn the session for now, but you are invited to remain for open discussion.