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Principles and Challenges for Reducing Risks from Disasters

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This chapter provides a framework and a set of guiding principles for designing alternative strategies for reducing losses from low-probability, high-consequence events.
This chapter is from the book

This framework highlights the importance of expert assessment of the risk, as well as the importance of understanding how the public perceives the risk. These two elements should serve as a basis for developing and evaluating strategies to manage risk. Seven principles provide guidance to leaders in designing measures that will reduce losses in advance of a disaster and in developing efficient and equitable means to aid the recovery process following a catastrophe.

The past decade has been particularly devastating on the natural disaster front, especially in developing countries. The tragic tsunami of December 2004 killed more than 280,000 people in Southeast Asia. Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 killed an estimated 140,000 in Myanmar. A 7.9-Richter-scale earthquake in the same month killed nearly 70,000 and left some 5 million homeless in China. Widespread flooding in Mozambique following a tropical storm in February and March 2000 displaced more than a million residents.

Even in a developed country like the United States, which has extensive experience with natural catastrophes and ample resources to prepare for them, the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons proved devastating. Hurricane Katrina, which hit Louisiana and Mississippi at the end of August 2005, killed 1,300 people and forced 1.5 million to evacuate—a record for the country. Economic damages were estimated at more than $150 billion.

The world experienced comparably catastrophic shocks in 2008. The subprime mortgage crisis of mid-2008 overwhelmed dozens of financial companies in the United States, from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to Lehman Brothers and AIG. The stock market crash in the autumn destroyed more than a trillion dollars in investor wealth worldwide. The great credit squeeze directly impacted Main Street in developed countries and "No Street" in emerging economies, leading to worldwide recession in 2009.

This book provides experience-based and research-informed insights into how individuals engaged in disaster mitigation can better manage the risk associated with both natural and unnatural calamities. Here we provide a framework that highlights the importance of linking risk assessment and risk perception in designing strategies for managing risks in our increasingly interconnected world. The framework also outlines a set of guiding principles for the role that leaders can take to mitigate those risks and effectively respond when the possibility of an extreme event turns into reality.

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