INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
In recent years, the United States has experienced a decline in the number of lives lost as a result of natural hazards. At the same time, the associated economic costs of these events—both atmospheric (hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, heat, droughts, and floods) and geologic (volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis)—are escalating.1 Between 1978 and 1989, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief fund expenditures totaled about $7 billion. In the next dozen years, however, that number increased almost fivefold, to over $39 billion (GAO, 2002).2 The costs of weather-related disasters have doubled or tripled each decade over the past 35 years (Mileti, 1999, p. 66).3 During the 1990s, an estimated $13 billion in losses resulted each year from extreme-weather events (Pielke and Carbone, 2002).4 Examples of these trends are charted in Figures 1.1 through 1.3, which show federal disaster relief payments and losses from U.S. hurricanes.
The United States has made great strides in its ability to protect its citizens during disasters. Compare, for instance, the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan to California's 1994 Northridge earthquake. With a 6.9 magnitude, the Kobe earthquake caused an estimated $200 billion in damage, and more than 5,000 lives were lost. The Northridge earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.7, caused over $40 billion in damage but resulted in the loss of only 59 lives. Building code improvements and other efforts to sustain infrastructure are widely believed to have played an important role in limiting casualties.____________________