The federal government's role in planning for, mitigating, responding to and recovering from natural and human-made disasters dates to the Congressional Act of 1803, which was enacted to provide relief from the aftermath of a devastating New Hampshire fire (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2010). Later disasters in our nation’s history “reached catastrophic proportions in terms of deaths, injuries and property loss which focused government and public attention on the need to develop formal systems to respond to such events” (Waugh & Tierney, 2007, p. 27). By the 1970’s, more than 100 agencies were responsible for some element of emergency preparedness and response. Competing and sometimes duplicative programs were also instituted at state and local levels which compounded the complexity of response efforts. This broad-based, uncoordinated approach yielded a fragmented response posture, with roles and missions unclear across government, community and private sector lines.
Despite efforts to better organize response programs, “expectations regarding improved federal response to natural disasters were shattered by FEMA’s poor performance in dealing with hurricanes” (Waugh & Tierney, 2007, p.33). The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), created to ameliorate gaps in the federal response capability, was plagued by similar shortcomings (Fessler, 2008). These failures demonstrated “the nation’s emergency management system was broken and officials needed to rebuild local, state and regional capacities to reduce hazards and respond to emergencies” (Waugh & Tierney, 2007, p.4). The current paradigm, therefore, must be realigned “and the process of rebuilding should focus on two goals: developing the capacities of local emergency managers and first responders, and increasing the disaster resiliency of communities” (Waugh & Tierney, 2007, p.21). Agencies in all levels of government, private sector businesses, volunteer organizations and individuals-at-large must engage as stakeholders in sustainable hazards mitigation to assure an integrated framework exists for an effective response to disasters.
Mileti suggests there is no reason to abandon proven efforts on matters pertaining to hazard adjustment; that is, how humans cope with extremes in their environment through the cyclic process of preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation (Mileti, 1999, pp. 22 – 24). These mechanisms, though, can be improved upon by shifting our emphasis towards minimizing losses from hazards. A combination of strategies that enhance environmental and life quality, foster resiliency and responsibility, promote local economic vitality, assure cultural and inter-generational equity and endorse consensus building among stakeholders at the local level can be used to mitigate hazards. A direct benefit of this paradigm shift will be a reduction in catastrophic losses from disasters (Mileti, 1999, pp. 5 – 6).
Mileti’s approach calls for adopting wise, long-term land-use...