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USGS National Mitigation Strategy to Reduce Losses from Landslide Hazards
by Paula L. Gori and Elliot C. Spiker
 

In communities across the United States, landslides cause human suffering, including 25 to 50 deaths annually, billions of dollars in economic losses, and environmental degradation.  Recent el Nino weather patterns of above normal precipitation in communities in the Pacific Northwest, California, and elsewhere have resulted in increased number of destructive landslides.  These events have caused unusually high financial losses to local government, railroads and other utilities, and private businesses and individuals who bear the burden of rebuilding or relocating.  The extent of economic losses has raised public awareness of the impacts of landslides.

With development expanding into more land susceptible to ground failure and society becoming more interdependent, landslide hazards and resultant losses will increase unless and until the United States adopts a comprehensive strategy to mitigate landslide hazards at the federal, state, local, and private level.  Today no such strategy exists.  States, local governments, transportation departments, and numerous federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), handle landslide hazards independently of each other.  In 1999, the U.S. Congress, concerned over the lack of a comprehensive strategy, directed the USGS to address the widespread landslide hazards facing the Nation.  The USGS was asked to prepare a strategy that would involve all the parties that have responsibility for dealing with landslides (See Public Law 106-113).  The USGS derives its leadership role in landslide hazard related work from the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 (Stafford Act) (See 1974 Disaster Relief Act 42 U.S.C. 5201 et seq.).

At the request of Congress, USGS recently completed a report entitled, “National Landslide Hazards Mitigation Strategy:  A Framework for Loss Reduction” (See USGS Open-File-Report 00-450.)  The report was the result of an ongoing landslide hazards initiative by the USGS (See R. Updike, Comment in Geotimes, September 1999), input from landslide experts garnered at numerous stakeholder meetings, and input from representatives of scientific and professional societies, as well as federal and state agencies.  The strategy outlined in the report (here-after referred to as “Strategy”) was built on the premise that no single agency, level of government, or program can independently reduce losses from landslide hazards.  The Strategy outlines a new public-private partnership that encourages the use of scientific information, maps, and monitoring in emergency management, land-use planning, and public and private policy decisions to reduce losses from landslides.  Drawing on 25 years of experiences and suggestions of scientists, public officials, and professionals, the Strategy proposes a major, long-term effort and a commitment of all levels of government and the private sector to reduce losses from landslide hazards in the United States.  The Strategy calls on the federal government, in partnership with state and local governments, to provide leadership, coordination, research support, and incentives in the areas of landslide hazard mitigation. The objective is to encourage communities, businesses, and individuals to undertake mitigation measures to minimize potential losses prior to landslide events and to employ mitigation measures in recovering from landslides.

The primary goal of the Stategy within the next 10 years is to reduce the number of deaths, injuries, and economic costs caused by landslides.  The Strategy proposes nine major elements, spanning a continuum that ranges from research to the formulation and implementation of policy and mitigation.  These elements are:

1. Research – Developing a predictive understanding of landslide processes and triggering mechanisms,
2. Hazard Mapping and Assessments – Delineating susceptible areas and different types of landslide hazards at a scale useful for planning and decision-making,
3. Real-Time Monitoring- Monitoring active landslides that pose substantial risk,
4. Loss Assessment – Compiling and evaluating information on the economic impacts of landslide hazards,
5. Information Collection, Interpretation, and Dissemination – Establishing an effective system for information transfer,
6. Guidelines and training – Developing guidelines and training for scientists, engineers and other professionals, and decision-makers,
7. Public Awareness and Education – Developing information and education for the user community,
8. Implementation of Loss Reduction Measures – Encouraging mitigation actions, and
9. Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery – Building resilient communities.

The USGS has an important role in each of the above nine elements as a provider of landslide hazard information; however, the lead and key participants in each element differ with the nature of that element.

Implementation of the Strategy will require increased funding, better coordination among levels of government, and new partnerships between government, academia, and the private sector.  This cooperation will encourage innovative programs and incentives for hazard mapping and assessment, adoption of loss reduction measures, and implementation of new technology.  Specifically, the Strategy proposes:


The USGS is currently distributing the open-file report and working with state geological surveys and scientific and professional societies to encourage implementation of the Strategy.   As one of the first tasks of the Strategy, USGS and the American Planning Association (APA) are developing guidelines for land-use planners to implement landslide hazard mitigation measures.  To obtain information about this new project, visit the APA Internet site at http://www.planning.org/Landslides.

To obtain a copy of the “National Strategy to Reduce Losses from Landslide Hazards:  A Framework for Loss Reduction (USGS Open-File Report 00-450),” visit the USGS Landslide Hazards Program homepage on the Internet at http://landslides.usgs.gov or write to USGS Information Services, Box 25286, Denver, CO 80225.

Gori and Spiker are authors of the above Open-File Report and Strategy. They can be reached at USGS, 906 National Center, Reston, VA 20192  (pgori@usgs.gov and espiker@usgs.gov).


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