General Public

  Universal Individuals need to assume a level of responsibility in prevention and mitigation.  

Governments cannot protect in all circumstances


Governments enact codes based on engineering studies in an effort to require building standards that will protect their population.  It is important to understand that these codes are based on past incidents/disasters and anticipated potentials.  No one can see into the future, nor predict all circumstances. For example, after 4/19/1995, federal buildings were rated to provide a greater level of security.  The World Trade Center was tested to withstand an airplane hitting the building, but the test was based on 1970s airplanes.  Northridge building codes were based on studies following the 1971 San Fernando earthquake.  The New Orleans levee system was a multi-decades project that lacked sufficient upgrade of both technology and maintenance and was predicated on a wetlands barrier that had disappeared.  Individuals need to meet the prevailing codes but also assume a responsibility of vigilance and caution, rather than expect the government to be the sole party responsible for safety.

Homes under water in New Orleans/Global Security

People owe it to themselves and their families to make safety a priority. People in New Orleans are angry at the government for mandating strict building codes designed to mitigate damage in another disaster, when they should be scrambling to meet these codes to avoid the type of losses experienced after Katrina.  It is not uncommon in Florida for individuals to skirt the stiff building codes designed to protect them from hurricanes. The government needs to help after disasters, but individuals also need to help themselves.

Public funds should be allotted to help those who are willing to meet mitigating standards but are unable to accomplish this on their own.  Fortunately, although slow, there is a movement in this direction by both government agencies and insurance companies. 

Follow instructions and help each other.

Public Awareness and Evacuations

In New Orleans, evacuation was mandated and it was announced that the Superdome would not be available.  Thousands of people began trekking to the Superdome, which in the past had been their collective point of safety.  It was not manned or stocked with supplies because during mock Hurricane Pam, the Superdome was found not to be a viable collection point for those who had failed to evacuate.  Why did people not know that this was no longer considered a viable point of safety?  What could have been done to direct them to a different location?  Had a different location been identified?

Discussions during Collective Reflection II in Oklahoma City emphasized the need to provide continual education on safety issues for the general public, especially in the wake of other extreme events, when awareness and reception may be at their highest.

Before the 2006 hurricane season, new and extensive literature about evacuation and self-protection was blanketed across the Gulf Coast states.  It was impossible to walk into a business without being faced with this new literature.  However, the process must be continual to make those at risk aware.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum distributes a flyer, created in partnership with the FBI, on citizen awareness in helping to prevent a terrorist attack.  The flyer travels to schools in an educational trunk and has been distributed to Museum visitors during special exhibits related to terrorism.  Citizen awareness is one of the nation’s most valuable tools in keeping all of us safe from both man-made and natural disasters.  The value of promoting citizen awareness was proven when an employee in a video store reported concern over the content of a tape; the report led to the prevention of several acts of terrorism at Fort Dix, New Jersey, 2007.

Response efforts – rescue and recovery, volunteering

If no professional/trained responders are present, help each other.  Check on your neighbors.  Pool your resources.  Group efforts have a higher rate of success than individual efforts.  Analyze the situation and approach it positively.  Humans can survive great hardships and experience great resilience if they approach the situation with a can do attitude.

Once first responders control the site, we must follow their instructions to the letter, even if we disagree.  First responders are trained.  We cannot rescue or recover others with the same level of safety as a trained responder.  In fact, we can hinder the rescue and recovery by endangering ourselves and others.  Trust in the trained personnel and keep your distance. 

The Oklahoma Standard has been defined as a new level of caring.  It was first publicly noted when some members of the media observed that citizens in Oklahoma ran toward the Murrah Building immediately after the bombing rather than away from the building.  When a need for blood was broadcast, it had to be followed by an advisory to stay home, because more people lined up than were needed.  When an announcement was made that work boots were needed at the site, workers pulled up and took off their boots and left them.  First responders from out of town found that they could not go to a restaurant and pay for their own meals.  Either the restaurant owner would refuse their money or another diner had already covered the ticket.  The legend of the “Oklahoma Dollar” is based upon a first responder commenting that he was leaving Oklahoma with the same dollar he had when he arrived because, during his entire stay in Oklahoma, he had been unable to spend that dollar.

A standard of individual response was set that exceeded any that had been experienced before.  Why?  No one knows, but it left two lasting legacies. It would be expected at all future disasters.  This is why looting in the wake of a disaster is so abhorrent.  The circumstances created by massive trauma require helping one another, not preying on one another.  The Oklahoma Standard established a challenge for the people of Oklahoma to never lower the baseline.  It is why the people of Oklahoma must continue to reach out to help others after a disaster and why they feel driven to bring hope from the rubble of other disasters.

What to take when you evacuate

Important documents

The Department of Homeland Security has developed an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit that can be ordered from FEMA (, FEMA 532/August 2005).  It will help in identifying the types of documents that will be of value to you during the recovery process.

Photographs of your house and the contents of your house

All vehicles that can practicably be moved on wheels (cars, trailers, boats, etc.)

In some instances of tornadoes and hurricanes the insurance loss for vehicles has been almost as great as with real property.  (Interview with Jo Wolf, 02/12/2007)

Cleaning up after an incident/Caution when entering a building

Trees and homes destoryed in Hurricane Andrew Homestead, FL/NASA
  • Before entering a damaged building, check to make sure the structure is not in danger of collapsing
  • Open windows and doors to let the air circulate and to help protect you from any leaking gas
  • Do not light any type of open flame
  • In a flood, look out for animals, especially snakes.  Any kind of animal may have taken shelter in your building.
  • Be careful walking around.  Floors and steps may be covered with debris such as nails and broken glass, and, in the case of flooding, may be slippery with mud.

Between October 2005 and March 2006, three national housing organizations – Enterprise Community Partners, the National Center for Healthy Housing and NeighborWorks America – teamed up to investigate how to safely and affordably decontaminate flooded homes in the Gulf Coast region.  They produced the field guide for clean-up of flooded homes, Creating a Healthy Home, which can be obtained from any of these organizations.

Finding honest and reliable contractors is very important.

After Hugo, Charleston recommended requiring state licenses to help protect their constituents from fraudulent contractors.  Louisiana, using the improved technology by 2005, developed a website ( to provide information on hiring a contractor, licensing verification, a pricing guide, and how and where to report fraudulent activity.  This information was also provided in hardcopy form and widely distributed as a Contractor Guide.

Take steps to make yourself and your property safer.

Don’t just follow local building code, exceed it.  The Unified New Orleans Plan for recovery makes the point that when asking public agencies to assist, individuals and communities must demonstrate willingness to protect themselves.  “By taking action ourselves, we are taking more responsibility for our lives, property and public investments, thereby demonstrating the City’s commitment to mitigate its flood risk and justify our request for Category 5 protection.”  (UNOP draft, January 20, 2007)

For areas prone to hurricanes and high winds, in the wake of Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Clemson University established the Wind Load Test Facility and researchers took up the challenge to find ways to make low-rise structures safer from the awesome winds associated with hurricanes.  They have produced a guide for individuals to follow in new construction, repairs and/or any alterations to a residence, “What Homeowners Can Do To Make Their Homes Stronger Against High Winds.”  This guide can be downloaded in PDF format at

Taking every step possible to mitigate potential damage from future disasters in hazard prone areas is the best way to protect your investment, as well as protect your community.


Texas, Louisiana and Florida have the highest homeowner insurance rates in the country.  The primary factor for Florida rates is the huge hurricane risk.  Not only does Florida have more exposed coastline than almost any other state, the concentration of population, high rises and other construction in southeast Florida is unmatched.  Fifty-five percent (55%) of every dollar paid by insurance companies for hurricane damage in the US has been paid in Florida.  After Hurricane Andrew, homeowner insurance rates increased 100% statewide and 200% in southeast Florida.  These increases were considered necessary, because Andrew demonstrated hurricane insurance in Florida was significantly under-priced.  Rates remained fairly steady during the late 1990s, but have begun to rise again recently, although nowhere near the magnitude of the post-Andrew era.  The top 10 private market insurers raised rates an average 7% in 2000, 3 % in 2001, 22% in 2002 and 2.7% in 2003.  Recent increases have been driven by higher claim payments for mold and water damage, as well as the need for some carriers to set aside additional funds for the inevitable “Son of Andrew.” Following Hurricane Andrew, Florida created the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund to replace private market catastrophe reinsurance used up by Andrew.” (Florida Insurance Council)

Message on home in New Orleans/Pratt Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment
  • Mold

    A national concern regarding mold has led to increased litigation for insurance companies.  Homeowner rates in Texas doubled in two years because of mold claims filed by about 1% of the state’s policyholders.  Mold claims produced significant rate increases in California as well.  (Florida Insurance Council)

  • Rewards and penalties for mitigation measures

    Insurance companies should reward those who build in a way that meets the obligation of mitigating loss.  At the same time, they have every right to punish those who are not willing to help themselves.  However, insurance companies should not punish everybody for the unwillingness of some to meet minimal standards of safety.  There is some movement this direction by companies allowing discounts for mitigating safety measures.

    According to the Penn Institute on Urban Research, "Private insurers are comtemplating how best to structure insurance for natural disasters and whether to provide more comprehensive levels of coverage in one omnibus policy. Insurers also recognize that they have an opportunity to encourage families and businesses to protect themselves by making their buildings more disaster resistant." (Daniels 3)

Risk Perception

Risk assessment and risk perception by individuals, or even communities, are not necessarily the same.  After 9/11 many people refused to fly, fearing another terrorist attack.  However, this may have been the safest time to fly given the increased vigilance in security and the essence of a terrorist attack being surprise.  People living below sea level in New Orleans, in spite of risk assessments and the concerns raised by the FEMA Hurricane Pam exercise in 2004, failed to increase their vigilance on the levees, purchase flood insurance, or take loss reduction measures with respect to their property.  In California, insurance demand increases for earthquake insurance after a quake occurs.

This lack of threat perception on the part of individuals impacts the ability of the community leaders to act on professional threat assessments.  “The way that individuals perceive risks – and behave in dealing with them – often creates enormous disaster management problems.” (Daniels 7)

Recovering financially

Disasters can cause great damage to the financial stability of an individual or a family.  “Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues” has been prepared as a public service of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), AICPA Foundation, the American Red Cross, and the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE).  It is available through your local American Red Cross or can be viewed and/or downloaded at

Recovering Your Mental Health

Individuals react differently to the stress caused by disasters.  “Most people are resilient through faith, family, friends, a safe place and a listening ear.”  (Harmon interview 2007)  The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), has provided a helpful guide for the individual in recovering stable mental health, Dealing with the Effects of Trauma: A Self-Help Guide.  To assist adults working with children, SAMHSA has provided Psychosocial Issues for Children and Adolescents in Disasters and, for those working with senior citizens, Psychosocial Issues for Older Adults in Disasters.  If Crisis Counseling is available in your community in the wake of a disaster, copies of the above guides should be available in their headquarters.  If not, copies can be obtained from

Recovery from a disaster tends to fall into four phases.

  • The Honeymoon Phase is the time during which those who have experienced disaster are likely to share feelings of common purpose and mutual support.  They foresee early return to normal, even as they assess the damage done to property and living patterns.
  • The Inventory Phase is likely to be a time when disaster survivors are more interested in discussing their thoughts about details of the event than exploring their feelings.
  • The Disillusionment Phase may set in within several months or even after a year or more.  This phase, when the realization sets in that rebuilding is not immediate, is often accompanied by frustration with officials and a feeling that those affected by the disaster are “on their own” even before fundamental challenges in the recovery process can be resolved.
  • The Reconstruction and Recovery Phase is when individuals accept that, in order for recovery to progress, they must be a participant, not a dissident. 

There is no clear cut line between these phases; rather it is an individual evolutionary process that varies with each individual.  (SAMHSA literature)

Resources for Help 

American Red Cross
American Red Cross National Headquarters
2025 E. Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone    202.303.4498

Clemson University
Department of Civil Engineering
Clemson, South Carolina 29634
Phone     864.656.3311

Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.
10227 Wincopin Circle, Suite 500
Columbia, MD 21044
Phone     410.964.1230

Louisiana Department of Natural Resources
Technology Assessment Division
617 N. 3rd Street
P O Box 44156
Baton rouge, LA  70804-4156

NeighborWorks America
1325 G. St., NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20005
Phone  202.376.2600

NeighborWorks America is a national nonprofit organization created by Congress to provide financial support, technical assistance and training for community-based revitalization efforts.

After Katrina, NeighborWorks partnered with Tulane University School of Architecture students to create designs for affordable homes and to build four prototypes as models for New Orleans.  They completed their first of the four models in October 2006.  It was a three-bedroom, two-bath house, built in 15 weeks by “smart, but unskilled students’ in the School of Architecture. (The Times Picayune, 10/17/2006)

NeighborWorks® American has eight district offices across the United States

Penn Institute for Urban Research
Eugenia L. Birch & Susan M. Wachter
University of Pennsylvania
127 Meyerson Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
1 Choke Cherry Road
Rockville, MD 20857

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