| See the updated Operation Fresh Start Web site for the latest sustainable disaster planning information. Operation Fresh Start is designed to empower individuals and communities as they recover from hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters by providing resources and tools that can help rebuild communities, businesses, and homes using sustainable principles and technologies.
Natural disasters are a dramatic example of people living in conflict with the
environment. Televised scenes of wind-ravaged subdivisions, flooded main streets, and
burned-out homes give us pause. We feel for those forced by nature to start over.
Such disasters have become all too common in recent years, and their frequency
continues to escalate. From 1990 to 1996, the insurance industry paid out $48 billion
worldwide for claims from weather-related losses. Claims payments totaled just $14 billion
for the entire decade of the 1980s!
Acts of nature are not inherently catastrophic. Hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods
and the like are simply natural occurrences. They only become disasters when they conflict
with people and property. The more development in a hazard area, the more disastrous the
Unfortunately, few parts of the U.S. are hazard-free. The Federal Emergency Management
Agency estimates that as much as 75 percent of the nations housing stock is
susceptible to natural hazards. An estimated 10 million homes are at risk from
flooding--25 million from wind hazards, and 2 million from coastal storm surges. About 50
million homes are in counties with significant earthquake risk.
Development continues unabated in the riskiest of areas, along the coasts and
floodplains in the U.S. Communities in these high-risk regions, by definition, are not
sustainable. Residents cannot count on the communities survival for generations to
come. Some live in fear that the next rain or wind storm could mean the end of normal
life. These are people and communities at risk, locked in a costly, life-threatening
gamble with the environment.
Sustainable development offers a way out. For some communities, the only solution is
relocation, moving entirely off the floodplain, out of harms way. For others,
sustainable development means restricting new construction in particularly vulnerable
areas, elevating structures to remove the threat of flooding, or building smarter,
stronger buildings that are more hazard-resistant. Post-disaster evidence and inspections
following Hurricane Andrew revealed that insurance losses could have been reduced in some
cases by as much as 50 percent if building codes had been properly enforced. Adopting more
stringent codes shows promise to reduce losses even further.
Sustainable development can help prevent acts of nature from becoming disasters. Just
as industries around the country are finding it smarter to prevent pollution rather than
clean it or attempt to control it, disaster-prone communities are starting to embrace
sustainable development as a means to remove or at least mitigate their
conflict with the environment.
Theres a bigger-picture side to this, as well. Sustainable development implies
not only disaster-resistance but also resource efficiency the prudent use of
energy, water, and materials to ensure supplies for future generations. While at first
glance this facet of sustainable development may seem unrelated to disaster prevention, in
truth theyre intricately tied. An increasing body of evidence points to human energy
use specifically the burning of fossil fuels as a factor in global climate
change. Global climate change, in turn, may be at least partially responsible for the
increased number and severity of storms. By making efficient use of energy resources,
disaster-prone communities that employ sustainable development are also doing their part
to slow global warming and temper the very storms that threaten them.
Striving for sustainability is a daunting task, even for those communities that aren't
disaster-prone. Changing the way we use resources and approach development is slow-going
and often frustrating. But steps are being taken throughout the U.S. that, when tallied,
amount to a promising shift away from business as usual. Disaster-prone communities are
waking up to new scenarios that offer hope and stability, not risk and destruction. The
information that follows will inform you of those steps and will describe the resources
available to help further sustainable development and disaster reduction.
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