Date:  Aug. 1, 2012




Improved Disaster Resilience is Imperative for U.S.; National Resilience Vision and Culture of Resilience Are Both Needed, New Report Says


WASHINGTON — Increasing the nation's resilience to natural and human-caused disasters will require complementary federal policies and locally driven actions that center on a national vision, says a new report from the National Academies.  Improving resilience should be seen as a long-term process, but it can be coordinated around measurable short-term goals that will allow communities to better prepare and plan for, withstand, recover from, and adapt to adverse events.


"Without innovations to improve resilience, the cost of disasters will continue to rise both in absolute dollar amounts and in losses to social, cultural, and environmental systems in each community," said Susan L. Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina and chair of the committee that wrote the report.  "Enhancing our resilience to disasters is imperative for the stability, progress, and well-being of the nation."


Improving resilience is not the responsibility of any one federal agency, nor can it be encapsulated in a single policy, the report says.  Rather, functions of government at all levels should be guided by a set of principles and best practices that advance resilience.  The committee found gaps in resilience policies and programs among federal agencies and noted that resilience is diminished by ineffective coordination of roles and responsibilities.  The report calls for federal agencies to perform self-assessments of their programs and activities and share their analyses of key resilience programs with the public.  The executive branch should develop a clear national vision and framework for a comprehensive strategy toward improving disaster resilience, which can be tailored by regions, states, and cities for their specific needs and priorities. 


Although local conditions vary across the country, the report identifies universal steps that all communities can take to improve their disaster resilience.  Adopting and enforcing building codes and standards appropriate to existing local hazards and implementing risk-based pricing for property insurance would both achieve results.  The report adds that risk-reduction measures should combine tangible actions, such as building dams and levees and reinforcing critical structures, along with other efforts that include zoning laws, land-use planning, and communication strategies.  Long-term investments to improve resilience will need to come from both the public and private sectors.


To help communities assess resilience and track improvements, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with other federal agencies, state and local partners, and professional groups, should develop a national resilience scorecard, the report says.  The scorecard should be adaptable to focus specifically on the hazards that threaten each community and should measure the ability of critical infrastructures to withstand and recover from impacts of earthquakes, floods, severe storms, or other disasters, as well as rate social factors such as language and special needs related to minority status, mobility, or health that enhance or limit a community's recovery.  Although some numerical basis for assessment is necessary to monitor improvement, the scorecard should not attempt unreasonable precision in its measurements of individual factors, the committee said.


Strengthening resilience of individual communities and the nation will require more consistent hazard and risk assessments supported by centrally available disaster loss data.  The report recommends the development of a publicly accessible national repository that documents disaster-related injuries, loss of life, property loss, and impacts on economic activity.  The data would allow communities to make informed decisions about investments as well as serve as a basis for biennial status reports on the nation's resilience.


An event slated for October 2012 in Washington, D.C., will launch broader discussion and implementation of the committee's recommendations.  Other regional events around the country are planned for 2013 and will include participants from all levels of government, community and nonprofit organizations, the private sector, research community, and the public.


The study was sponsored by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Energy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Community and Regional Resilience Institute.  The study was a project of the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, and carried out by the National Research Council.  These private, nonprofit institutions -- known collectively as the National Academies -- provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.



Lauren Rugani, Media Relations Officer

Shaquanna Shields, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail



Pre-publication copies of Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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Division on Earth and Life Studies

Division on Policy and Global Affairs


Committee on Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters


Susan L. Cutter (chair)
Carolina Distinguished Professor of Geography, and

Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute
University of South Carolina



Joseph A. Ahearn1
Senior Vice President
CH2M Hill Ltd (retired)
Greenwood Village, Colo.


Bernard Amadei 1
Professor of Civil Engineering
Department of Civil, Environmental, and
Architectural Engineering
University of Colorado


Patrick Crawford
Director of Disaster Services
Feeding America



Gerald E. Galloway Jr.1
Glenn L. Martin Institute Professor of Engineering
University of Maryland

College Park


Michael F. Goodchild2
Professor Emeritus
Department of Geography
University of California

Santa Barbara


Howard C. Kunreuther
James G. Dinan Professor of Decision Sciences and Public Policy, and
Risk Management and Decision Processes Center
Wharton School of Business

University of Pennsylvania



Meredith Li-Vollmer
Risk Communication Specialist
Public Health - Seattle and King County



Monica Schoch-Spana
Senior Associate
Center for Biosecurity
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center



Susan C. Scrimshaw3


The Sage Colleges
Troy, N.Y.


Ellis M. Stanley Sr.

Director of Western Emergency Management Services
Dewberry LLC



Gene Whitney

Energy Research Manager

Congressional Research Service (retired)

Washington, D.C.


Mary Lou Zoback2

Consulting Professor

Stanford University

Stanford, Calif.





Elizabeth Eide

Study Director



1    Member, National Academy of Engineering

2    Member, National Academy of Sciences

3    Member,  Institute of Medicine