Natural Hazard Mitigation Association
Doing More with Less:
Mitigation in a Changing Environment
2012 International Hazard Mitigation Practitioners Workshop
July 17-18, 2012
Omni Interlocken Resort
Broomfield, Colorado

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Session Title: Plenary 2: Overcoming Mitigation Challenges and Moving Forward

Date/Time:     Wednesday, July 18, 2012                        8:30 am – 10:00 am


  • Bob Anderson, Senior Engineering Geologists, California Seismic Safety Commission


  • Barbara Carby, Director, Disaster Risk Reduction Centre, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus
  • Rosemarie Geier Grant, Program Director of Research, Technology Research and Innovation Laboratory, Building Technology Research Unit, State Farm Insurance
  • William H.  Hooke, Director, Policy Program, American Meteorological Society


  •      Lisa Grow Sun, Associate Professor, Brigham Young University Law School


Barbara Carby began by discussing the history of the University of West Indies and the long history of mitigation in the Anglophone Caribbean region, including the 1985 groundbreaking international conference on mitigation in Jamaica, Jamaica’s 1998 drafting of a national mitigation policy, and the 2011 development of a model mitigation policy for English speaking regions by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).  She also discussed the importance of mitigation for the region, pointing out the damage (both economic and in terms of lives lost) from the Haiti earthquake, as well as from Hurricane Ivan.

Dr.  Carby described successes of mitigation in the region, including obtaining grant money for retrofitting roofs after hurricanes, as well as a community level model plan that guides communities in hazard analysis and development of mitigation plans that are specific to the community and that set community priorities.  One rural community in Jamaica—Ashkenish—had success with using science to inform mitigation measures after large cracks in the ground indicated the beginning of landslide activity.  Landslide susceptibility mapping was performed and houses in danger were relocated to safer areas based on the landslide maps.  At the national level, hazard assessments are now incorporated in environmental impact assessments and the national emergency management agency is included in development planning.

Dr.  Carby noted that there is always a gap between theory and practice, and that one major practical challenge is the very high exposure of national assets to hazards and the fact that there is no policy for retrofitting vulnerable critical facilities and infrastructure.  (One exception is the road to the airport, which is being raised to withstand a category 3 storm with funding from the Chinese government).  She also noted that, in Jamaica, both the very rich and the very poor inhabit high hazard areas.  She said the poor inhabit the fringes of urban waterways on unstable slopes, and the rich occupy unstable land above Kingston, with a combined estimate of 600,000 to 700,000 people living on unstable slopes.

Barbara Carby explained that another practical challenge is keeping hazard maps updated, because mapping is usually completed with grant funding, and there is no provision in the budgets of technical agencies to continue hazard mapping prograMs. She said the use of probabilistic risk analysis is not yet widespread, but Jamaica is moving toward an internet-based and open access risk atlas that will allow the public to view maps, although currently, local authorities do not consistently use hazard maps.  She said a major question is how to ignite sustained, large-scale public interest in mitigation.  She pointed out that government funding cutbacks are also likely to affect university-funded research but there are opportunities to include mitigation approaches under the climate change adaptation banner, and Caribbean countries are taking advantage of these opportunities.


Rosemarie Geier Grant presented a private sector perspective on mitigation challenges, opportunities, and successes.   She noted that new and innovative approaches to hazard mitigation are both sociological and technical.  She said State Farm Insurance has been learning more about what its customers want and need, learning more about what messages resonate with customers, and developing “visuals” to communicate risk.  She said the company has found that the timing of the messaging matters a lot.  She provided an example where it was found to be more effective for people get a message about hailstorm mitigation (focused on impact resistant roofs), when they are considering installing a new roof.  She said the company is also investigating how to communicate more effectively with different age groups, testing, for example, the use of text messages with younger consumers and putting mitigation information on the Internet’s YouTube).

Ms. Grant explained that one major challenge for mitigation is that lots of research is geared toward new construction, whereas there is not much focus on retrofitting existing homes.  She said funding is a constant challenge, as is the fact that architectural design tends to be divided into silos by type of mitigation–wind, flood, seismic–even though homes often face multiple hazards.  She also pointed out that there is not much quantifiable statistical data to establish the cost-effectiveness of mitigation measures because of the long feedback loop; hazard mitigation measures may not pay dividends for twenty or thirty years, so much of the evidence about the effectiveness of mitigation is more anecdotal than statistical.  She contrasted this with automobile injury programs, where the feedback loop for mitigation measures, such as child booster seat laws, is much shorter.

Ms. Grant illustrated approaches taken by the insurance industry, requiring versus encouraging mitigation such as in Florida, where State Farm gives discounts for wind mitigation for homes, which is a mandatory program through the state, or the impact resistant roofing program for hail is a voluntary discount program.  She noted however, for wildfires, State Farm will not ensure homes that have not cleared defensible space, even though that means State Farm might lose some customers.  She said the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition has used video to help publicize the advantages of home fire sprinklers.


William Hooke began by discussing the fact that the challenge of mitigation today is that we need mitigation approaches that are cheap, quick, and effective.  He asked the audience, what NHMA and the Last Supper have in common, explaining that the answer is the power of an idea and a viral approach.  He said NHMA has a powerful idea and needs a viral emergent approach.

He proposed that there are four emergency approaches that can become viral:  1) getting the policies right; 2) utilizing place-based approaches and social networks; 3) developing and equipping leaders, which is easier than convincing everyone; and 4) building on a foundation of facts.  He emphasized that we must solve tomorrow’s problems with tomorrow’s tools, instead of yesterday’s tools.

Dr.  Hooke concluded by identifying five policy changes that would make a difference:  1) no adverse impact development, as advocated by the Association of State Floodplain Managers; 2) learning from experience, building on the example of the aviation industry which has kept the number of accidents basically steady even though the number of flights has increased dramatically, by having the National Transportation Safety Board analyze every aviation accident to find out why it occurred; 3) keeping score; 4) fostering public-private strategic partnerships, recognizing that the private sector is a disaster victim, vector, critical infrastructure provider, emergency responder, and recovery driver; and 5) reaching out to and revitalizing the U.S.  Department of Commerce, rather than working through DHS or FEMA, because of its expertise in business continuity, economic development and vulnerable populations.  He suggested the development of new leaders is also critical.

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