Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Implemented by the Organization of American States
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Caribbean Regional Program


Hazard Mitigation Planning Resource Page

Hazards are a part of our environment there is little that can be done to stop or alter the progress of events such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. Many opportunities exist, however, for altering the consequences of those hazards. The risk of damage is increased by developing in hazard-prone areas, disruption natural stabilizing mechanisms or designing and constructing to inadequate standards. Alternatively, the risk of damage and loss of life can be continuously reduced by incorporating hazard awareness and risk reduction into the planning and daily operations of public and private agencies and organizations. Integrating hazard mitigation into existing and future activities reduces the overall cost of hazard mitigation and is critical to enabling the sustainable development of hazard-prone areas, such as the Caribbean. Adequate preparation for recurrent natural hazards will positively affect future economic vitality and development. Arguments for appropriate mitigation can be found in the paper Disaster Risk Reduction as a Development Strategy. Support for a comprehensive approach to hazard mitigation and response in the Caribbean was given recently in the Plan of Action of the CARICOM Ministers of Human Settlements and the document Partnership for Prosperity and Security in the Caribbean, which was signed at the Caribbean/United States Summit in May 1997.

Hazard vulnerability reduction needs to be designed and implemented in an integrated development framework. Hazard mitigation planning can provide this necessary framework for hazard risk reduction. It is a comprehensive approach to understanding both the character and effects of hazards on a region and the context for response to those hazards. Hazard mitigation planning can encompass a wide range of hazards and involve representatives of a broad spectrum of disciplines and interests. To support the practice of mitigation planning in the Caribbean region, the Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project (CDMP) has developed a hazard mitigation planning methodology, which is described in the document Planning to Mitigate the Impacts of Natural Hazards in the Caribbean. Steps in this approach include (see diagram for another perspective):

Hazard Assessment and Risk Mapping

Studies that assess hazards provide information on the probable location and severity of dangerous natural phenomena and the likelihood of their occurring within a specific time period in a given area. These studies rely heavily on available scientific information, including geologic, geomorphic, and soil maps; climate and hydrological data; and topographic maps, aerial photographs, and satellite imagery. Historical information, both written reports and oral accounts from long-term residents, also helps characterize potential hazardous events. Ideally, a natural hazard assessment promotes an awareness of the issue in a developing region, evaluates the threat of natural hazards, identifies the additional information needed for a definitive evaluation, and recommends appropriate means of obtaining it. Available resources to assist hazard mapping activities in the Caribbean are provided on the CDMP Natural Hazard Mapping Resources Page.

CDMP Activities In the spring of 1999, the CDMP held a workshop on hazard mapping and vulnerability assessment for disaster coordinators and physical planners from throughout the Caribbean, to provide an overview of existing hazard information and assessment techniques. CDMP has also supported hazard assessment pilot projects throughout the region. From the inception of the project, CDMP has supported the development of tools for storm hazard modeling. The TAOS/L storm hazard model has been used in assessing coastal storm surge, high wind and wave hazards associated with coastal storms for Antigua, Belize, Dominica and Jamaica (Montego Bay and Kingston). CDMP has also produced more detailed publications, which describe the TAOS model (The Arbiter of Storms: A High Resolution, GIS Based System for Integrated Storm Hazard Modeling) and an application of TAOS in Belize (Storm Hazard Assessment for Belize). See the CDMP Publications page for more information. In addition to storm hazard assessments, the CDMP has conducted assessments of hazards associated with landslides and earthquakes in Jamaica (as part of the Kingston multi-hazard assessment) and with river flooding in Belize. All CDMP hazard assessments have been designed to serve as examples for future hazard assessments in the region.

Vulnerability Assessment

Vulnerability assessments estimate the degree of loss or damage that would result from the occurrence of a natural phenomenon of given severity. Vulnerability can be estimated for selected geographic areas, e.g., areas with the greatest development potential or already developed areas in hazardous zones. The techniques employed include lifeline (or critical facilities) mapping and sectoral vulnerability analyses for sectors such as energy, transport, agriculture, tourism, and housing.

CDMP Activities CDMP has supported a variety of vulnerability assessments within different sectors, including a) vulnerability assessments for Caribbean electrical utilities, b) vulnerability audits for schools/shelters in the Eastern Caribbean, c) a probable maximum loss estimate for selected countries in the Eastern Caribbean, and d) community-level vulnerability assessments in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. See the CDMP publications page for publications describing loss estimation—Estimation of Building Damage as a Result of Hurricanes in the Caribbean, A Primer (June 1996)—electrical utility vulnerability assessments—Hurricane Vulnerability and Risk Analysis of the VINLEC Transmission and Distribution System (July 1996), and Vulnerability Audit. St. Lucia Electricity Services Ltd. (September 1995) [inception report and final report]—and the Hazard Mitigation and Vulnerability Assessment Study for Jeremie, Haiti.

Institutional Capability Assessment

A capability assessment reviews the ability of a government, individual or company to address hazards. Such an assessment should review technical ability, financial resources, legal and institutional frameworks and political will. A capability assessment can reveal gaps in existing response and control capabilities as well as take credit for currently functioning mitigation activities. This assessment can help identify policy and structural changes that must be made to institutionalize mitigation. Some mitigation options may be eliminated from consideration due to barriers to implementation identified during the capability assessment.

Hazard Mitigation Plan and Policy Development

Hazard and vulnerability assessments alone cannot effect a change in current or future vulnerability to hazards. Information gained from the assessments must be incorporated into plans and actions to reduce this vulnerability. Development of comprehensive hazard mitigation policies and plans is underway or complete in the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands, Barbados, St. Lucia and Jamaica. In 1999, the CDMP supported national hazard mitigation planning consultations in Belize, Grenada and Trinidad (a report from the Trinidad workshop is available for review). Under the Asian Urban Disaster Mitigation Programme, a USAID-funded program that is related to the CDMP, a multi-hazard mitigation project is being undertaken in Sri Lanka, which aims to undertake hazard mapping, vulnerability assessment and development of mitigation options to address the identified hazards.

For a US-based examples, Pawtucket Rhode Island's "Strategy for Reducing Risks from Natural Hazards", a local hazard mitigation plan is available for review on the web. Also, the State of Oregon, through its state-wide planning legislation, requires local planning efforts to address natural hazards, through its Goal 7: Areas Subject to Natural Disasters and Hazards.

Implementing Hazard Mitigation

Many different approaches to hazard mitigation are available, depending upon the hazards and the available response mechanisms. In the building and construction sector, for instance, CDMP has worked with both the formal and informal building sectors, with the aim of raising the hazard resistance of construction throughout the region. In the formal sector, CDMP has worked with the UN Committee on Human Settlements (UNCHS) on the development of national building codes and guidelines throughout the region. Economic arguments in support of hazard mitigation are outlined in the CDMP document Cost/Benefits of Disaster Mitigation in the Construction Industry. In 1998, CDMP completed a study of selected infrastructure projects that failed due to the effects of natural hazards. Products of this study include guidance on mitigation criteria for infrastructure design and a manual on the inclusion of hazard mitigation in projects, when using consulting services. The Investing in Mitigation: Costs and Benefits section of the CDMP web site describes the results of this study and provides links to related resources. The Caribbean Development Bank has begun the inclusion of mitigation criteria in infrastructure design to ensure the long-term viability of the projects it funds. In the informal housing sector, CDMP has developed the Hurricane Resistant Home Improvement Program. Guidance and lessons learned from this project have been incorporated into the Hurricane Resistant Home Improvement Program: Toolkit. See the document Use of Storm Hazard Mapping in Development Planning for a description of the use of hazard information to guide development decisionmaking, using storm hazard information as a case study.

CDMP Mitigation Planning Workshops

Hazard mitigation planning is inherently an interdisciplinary undertaking. Physical and development planners, disaster managers, public works agencies, housing officials, community organizations and the private sector need to be involved to ensure the success of a comprehensive hazard mitigation program. On two occasions, the CDMP has brought together disaster coordinators and physical planners from throughout the region to discuss hazard mitigation planning and to support discussion and coordination between these groups on hazard vulnerability reduction.

CDMP/CDERA Mitigation Planning Workshop (St. Lucia)

The CDMP mitigation planning methodology was introduced in July 1997 at a regional workshop on hazard mitigation planning, organized as a collaboration between the CDMP and the DERMS project of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA). Workshop participants included national development planners and national disaster coordinators from the region. The need for greater attention to be paid to hazard vulnerability reduction was underscored in the speeches during the opening ceremony of this workshop by Dr. Kenny Anthony (Prime Minister of St. Lucia) and Jennifer Worrell (Regional Disaster Advisor for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.) The guidance document Planning to Mitigate the Impacts of Natural Hazards in the Caribbean describes the hazard mitigation methodology presented at the workshop. On the final day of the workshop, participants adopted a resolution promoting hazard mitigation planning throughout the region. Further details about this workshop are described in a CDMP progress bulletin.

A paper that provides an overview of the CDMP hazard mitigation planning methodology —The Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project: Supporting Sustainable Responses to Natural Hazards—was presented at the Caribbean Conference on Geographic Information Systems in Trinidad, November 1997.

Subsequent to this workshop, CDMP has provided assistance to Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago for national hazard mitigation planning activities. In St. Lucia, CDMP assisted with a national consultation on the existing draft hazard mitigation plan in the fall of 1998. Jamaica has undertaken the development of a comprehensive national hazard mitigation policy and plan, also with the support of CDMP. Belize, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago are holding national discussions on hazards and hazard vulnerability reduction during 1999.

CDMP Hazard Mapping and Vulnerability Assessment Workshop (Grenada)

During the week of 1 March 1999, the Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project hosted a four-day regional workshop on Natural Hazard Mapping and Vulnerability Assessment. Over 30 physical planners and disaster coordinators from throughout the Caribbean met to review the development of hazard maps for the major natural hazards that affect the Caribbean, the use of these maps to develop assessments of vulnerability of life and property to these hazards and the incorporation of this hazard information into development planning, development control and emergency management.

The objectives of the Natural Hazard Mapping and Vulnerability Assessment workshop were to 1) demonstrate the importance of incorporating hazard maps into planning decisions; 2) provide sufficient information on individual hazards to understand and use maps of those hazards; and 3) guide the use of this hazard information in planning and decisionmaking through vulnerability assessment and multi-hazard analysis. In bringing together disaster managers and physical planners from throughout the region, additional benefits were realized through furthering dialogue both between these professions and within the region on hazard mapping and vulnerability assessment.

Mitigation Planning Guidance Documents and Resources

Other hazard mitigation planning documents exist to complement CDMP's Planning to Mitigate the Impacts of Natural Hazards in the Caribbean. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed a document entitled Building Disaster Resistant Communities: Guidebook. The State of Florida's Department of Community Affairs produced The Local Mitigation Strategy: A Guidebook for Florida Cities and Counties, which follows a similar approach to the CDMP's, but in a workbook format.

Other Links

CDMP home page: Project Contacts Page Last Updated: 20 April 2001