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International Activities


(Facing page) North face of Mount
Everest. (Photograph by Judy Fier-
stein.) (Above) Ayers Rock, Aus-
tralia. (Photograph by Jean

The U.S. Geological Survey continued to be
active in international studies in science and

technology as an adjunct to its domestic pro-
gram during fiscal year 1988. Authorization for the for-
eign investigations is provided by the Organic Act, as
revised, and the Foreign Assistance Act and related leg-
islation. Activities are conducted under bilateral or mul-
tilateral agreements that require approval by the U.S.
Departments of the Interior and of State. The follow-
ing factors largely influence decisions as to whether the
studies are in the interests of the U.S. Government:
• Domestic research objectives will be expanded in
scope and achieved through the comparative studies of
scientific phenomena nationally and internationally.
• Information about existing and potential foreign
resources of interest to the United States will be
obtained and incorporated in worldwide data bases.
• Scientific knowledge, understanding, expertise, and
reputation of the USGS and of the United States in the
earth sciences will be broadened and appropriately rec-
ognized internationally.
• Relations with foreign counterpart institutions will
be developed and maintained and the programs will
facilitate scientific cooperation, technology transfer, and
data exchange.
• International programs of other Federal agencies,
academia, and the private sector will be supported; in
particular the Department of State will receive adequate
scientific information required to formulate foreign
policy objectives and decisions.

Funds for USGS technical assistance to foreign countries, including all training programs either within or outside the United States, are supplied by other Federal agencies, international organizations, or foreign governments. Assistance programs provide for transfer of technology to foreign nationals by advice, training, and demonstrations. A small amount of the funds annually appropriated to the USGS for research is used in cooperative ventures with foreign counterpart organizations that also supply funding and/or servicesin-kind. Cooperative projects range from individual scientist-to-scientist discussions, correspondence, and exchange visits on topics of mutual interest to jointly staffed, formally organized, bilateral scientific research and multilaterally coordinated investigations focusing on a variety of scientific phenomena.


Many staff scientists represent the USGS or the U.S. Government while they serve as officers, committee members, or participants in international organizations, commissions, and associations. One example of such representation is evident in the many hours of effort provided by the USGS, in cooperation with hundreds of other U.S. earth scientists, in the preparation and presentation of the 28th International Geological Congress in Washington, D.C., during July 1989.

but the economies of many developing countries have been devastated by losses equal to a large percentage of their gross national product (GNP). Furthermore, the magnitude of the losses is increasing at a rapid rate as the building wealth of nations is expanded to meet the needs of rapidly increasing population, often without adequate consideration of the potential threat posed by the recurrent natural hazards, and without implementing effective loss-reduction measures because of lack of knowledge or lack of technical capability.


A Decade for Disaster Reduction

International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction

By Walter W. Hays


Throughout history, humanity has found itself in conflict with naturally occurring events of geologic, hydrologic, and atmospheric origin. This conflict has been demonstrated repeatedly when people build urban centers at the water's edge, in or near active fault systems capable of generating earthquakes, on steep slopes, near active volcanoes, or at the urban-wilderness interface prone to wildfires. Naturally occurring, recurrent events such as floods, windstorms, tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and wildfires have tested human-engineered works many times and have often found them unable to withstand the forces generated by the event. In the past 20 years, for example, events like these throughout the world have claimed more than 2.8 million lives and adversely affected 820 million people; single disasters have caused economic losses of billions of dollars. Industrialized countries like the United States and Japan have been able to absorb the socioeconomic losses of past natural disasters,

In July 1984, at the Eighth World Conference on Earthquake Engineering in San Francisco, Dr. Frank Press, President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, proposed the concept of a decade devoted to the reduction of losses throughout the world from natural hazards that are characterized by their rapid onset and the potential for causing great sudden loss. Later, the slowly developing hazards of drought and desertification were added. In early 1987, a panel of experts was convened by the National Academy of Sciences to develop a conceptual framework for the decade (1990–2000). On December 1, 1987, the United Nations passed a resolution by unanimous consent, supporting the establishment of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) and encouraging all nations to cooperate in achieving the decade's primary goal-to devise strategies to reduce loss of life, property damage, and social and economic disruption from natural hazards. Since then, the United Nations organized, within the framework of IDNDR, a committee of 25 international experts drawn from all over the world to advise them in their strategic planning for IDNDR. This committee met on July 5–6, 1988, in Geneva, Switzerland, and again on October 3–6, 1988, in New York City. Meetings in Morocco (January 1989) and Japan (April 1989) will complete the committee's activities to plan strategies for cooperative worldwide endeavors in collection, dissemination, and application of existing knowledge in loss reduction measures; identification of gaps in


(Clockwise from lower left) Wrecked house and other debris including a mobile home lodged on a damaged bridge 0.5 mile downstream from Drake, Colo., following a flash flood of the Big Thompson River in August 1976. Sliding of unstable earth materials undermined this canyon rim on a coastal terrace in the Pacific Palisades area of southern California; annual losses from landslides reach $2 billion per year. Yellowstone, Wyoming, on August 28, 1988. The North Fork wildfire is in the background. The convection column reached 50,000 feet. (Photograph by Bob Gayle, U.S. Forest Service.) Lava shoots 1,000 feet into the air during a high-fountaining episode of the 1983to present Puu 'Oo eruption of Kilauea Volcano. (Photograph by J.D. Griggs.) A lahar (mud flow triggered by the melting of snow and ice) in the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens reached the Toutle River, 25 miles west-northwest of the crater, destroying homes.


knowledge and initiation of new research to fill them; acceleration of continuing research that can yield additional insight into the physical processes of natural disasters; and transfer of technology.

Role of the U.S. Geological Survey

The USGS will have an opportunity to contribute substantially to the goals of IDNDR through the participation of the United States in the Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. National research programs of the USGS are designed to improve physical understanding of the mechanisms, to map the spatial and temporal distribution of the expected physical effects, and to foster the creation and implementation of loss-reduction measures to mitigate the physical effects of earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods, and, to a lesser extent, tsunamis. The USGS has considerable experience in mobilizing people and equipment following earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and landslides. The USGS has organized, convened, and contributed to hundreds of workshops, conferences, and training activities on geologic and hydrologic hazards in the United States and throughout the world; it has also contributed substantially throughout the world to model building codes, microzonation strategies, and preparedness planning

Many types of hazard maps are produced through USGS programs. In the United States, flood-hazard maps are constructed to quantify the threat from the approximately 6 million miles of riverine watershed and more than 6 million dwellings and nonresidential buildings located in flood plains. All States are at risk from flooding, precipitation, snow melt, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and the storm surges generated in hurricanes. Ground-shaking and ground-failure hazard maps are constructed to depict the primary hazards expected from earthquakes occurring in the approximately 150 zones capable of generating earthquakes throughout the Nation. No State is free from these two earthquake hazards, although the frequency of damaging earthquakes is much greater in Alaska and California than in the remainder of the Nation. Landslides occur in all the States and Territories;

California, Alaska, Utah, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Puerto Rico, Ohio, Washington, and American Samoa have the most extensive landslide problems. Parts of Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico are at risk from the effects of potential volcanic eruptions. Damaging tsunamis in the past have struck Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Hazard maps are an integral part of loss-reduction strategies implemented by State and local governments. They contribute to a wide range of risk management strategies, such as • Prevention Controlling the source of the event in a way that changes the physical characteristics of the physical phenomena generated in the event. • Protection-Building structures to withstand the physical phenomena generated in the event. • Land-use control - Identifying and avoiding sites where an event is expected to have the greatest severity. • Site modification- Modifying the physical characteristics at the site of man's works in order to increase the likelihood of survival in an event. • Alert and warning-Providing advance notice to the affected population on the location, severity, and time of an impending event. • Short-term protection - In response to an alert or warning, performing actions to strengthen existing structures and lifeline systems so that they will be able to withstand an impending event. • Emergency preparedness — Making comprehensive plans to deal with the entire spectrum of expected requirements from an event. • Indemnification-Spreading the potential economic losses from an event over a large population through insurance and other financial strategies. • Recovery planning - Making plans to accelerate the recovery process after a disaster-generating event.

People throughout the world stand to receive considerable benefit from the IDNDR. As we cooperatively learn more and share that knowledge through the IDNDR, we can be more effective in reducing losses from natural hazards worldwide.

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