Fewer Natural Disasters Hit U.S. Last Year

Risk Management, April 1989 | Go to article overview

Fewer Natural Disasters Hit U.S. Last Year


Fewer Natural Disasters Hit U.S. Last Year

Despite worldwide natural disaster records for intensity, destruction and loss of life, Americans last year escaped relatively unscathed by nature for the first time since the early part of the decade. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in a 1988 year-end review, disclosed that damages caused by weather, fires and other natural phenomena resulted in only 11 presidentially-declared major disasters. That total is the lowest since 1981, when 15 disasters were declared by former President Reagan.

By comparison, FEMA Director Julius W. Becton Jr. cites that an average of 27 declarations were made over the past five years, with an annual total federal obligation of $766 million. He places last year's obligation at an estimated $31.9 million, exclusing an additional $2.3 million provided by FEMA to help fight forest fires in Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Washington.

Mr. Becton attributes part of last year's lack of need for federal disaster aid to the protection offered by private and federally-backed insurance programs. In addition, he credits the resourcefulness of state and local governments in managing their emergency preparedness capabilities.

Mr. Becton adds, however, that last year was also marked by the absence of large-scale, costly disasters like the Whittier fault earthquake that struck southern California in 1987 and the multiple hurricanes that ravaged the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in 1985.

Unpredictability

"While the nation's citizens were fortunate last year, the fact is that no one can predict precisely when or where a disaster will strike, nor how severe the consequences of such an event will be," Mr. Becton says. "Those who doubt that need look no farther than the unimaginable destruction and devastating number of deaths caused last year by such global disasters as the Armenian earthquake, Hurricane Gilbert and the floods in Bangladesh. …

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