The field of emergency management is undergoing great change in the 1990s. As an issue, emergency management is finding greater public support. The principal reason for the increased public and government interest is the unusual number of recent catastrophes. Major earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, droughts, nuclear accidents, wars, floods, and other disasters are frequent occurrences and television coverage is compelling. The international media provided graphic accounts of the devastating hundred-year floods in northern Europe and the Kobe earthquake in Japan. Less dramatic, but no less devastating, disasters such as the persistent droughts in Africa and Australia may be less familiar to people outside of the regions, but their effects are broadly felt. The wars that have caused famine, displacement and homelessness, disease, and devastation of populations have become all too familiar to the international community. Millions have died and many more have been physically and psychologically injured. The economic impact of the disasters has been staggering and some impacts have yet to be fully realized. The health costs of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, for example, will likely be paid by generations of Ukrainians. While the negative effects of the 1989Exxon Valdez oil spill on Prince William Sound are touted as resolved, the long-term impact on that fragile environment remains. The human and economic costs of disaster are addressed internationally through the activities of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, but concerns have been raised about the slow adoption of adequate mitigation programs ( National Research Council 1994).
While scientists improve their capabilities to predict earthquakes, the frequency and intensities of cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons), and the development of droughts and floods, other natural phenomena increase the risks to society. Terrorist attacks, including bombing of aircraft in flight and the World Trade Center in New York City, have the potential to be as destructive as natural and technological disasters. Bombings of oil and gas pipelines, mines, oil rigs, gas storage facilities, dams, and transportation facilities can be catastrophic in terms of property damage and the loss of human life. Natural hazards, too, are becoming more dangerous as people build homes and businesses along flood-prone rivers and on storm-prone coastlines, with too little regard for seismic, fire, and wind hazards. Society continues to create new hazards, from super-toxic biological materials to high speed trains.
The challenge may be to develop a flexible strategy for managing a variety of environmental hazards and preparing for a variety of potential disasters. That would require a commitment to address known hazards, to identify potential hazards, and to cultivate public awareness of hazards to assure appropriate responses by individuals, families, communities, and states. Increased professionalization of emergency management personnel and agencies and increased scientific expertise that can be brought to bear in the assessment of environmental risks and the prediction of disasters are positive developments in that regard. At issue, however, is how to reduce the levels of risk to minimize costs without seeming to overregulate individual behaviors. For example, it is often suggested that private insurance can take the place of government programs. But, it is also argued, can government officials refuse to provide aid to those who chose not to purchase insurance when those victims of disaster may number in the thousands? More stringent construction standards and land use regulations, too, may keep people out of harm's way if officials and voters can be persuaded to support the regulations. The fundamental questions are: how much risk is there and how much are citizens willing to spend to reduce the risk?
WILLIAM L. WAUGH, JR.
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--, and Ronald John Hy, ed., 1990. Handbook of Emergency Management: Policies and Programs Dealing with Major Hazards and Disasters. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
EMINENT DOMAIN. The right of government to acquire private property for "public use" in exchange for "just compensation"; also known as condemnation. This