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CINDI: Learning from Natural Disasters

by Magda Salazar

July 8, 1999

With hurricane season upon us, the Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information (CINDI) at the United States Geological Survey's headquarters in Reston, VA, is well aware of the natural disaster damage that can occur.

As part of its operation, CINDI looks at the effects of previous natural disasters to help minimize the future loss of life and property. In doing so, CINDI also reinforces the need for new and emerging information technologies so that people can make well-informed decisions before a disaster and make appropriate responses. As part of the plan to keep people updated, information regarding natural disasters can be accessed through CINDI's web site.

According to Susan Russell-Robinson, USGS coordinator for CINDI, "The purpose of the program is to gain a better understanding of natural disasters."

How CINDI Works

Inside smoky glass doors on the second floor of USGS, CINDI houses stacks of computers that pull data from various earth science information programs such as the global earthquake network, a national system of stream gages and regional volcano observatories.

To help make information easy to access and understand, the center works to identify the areas hit by disasters and define what can be done in the future to avoid similar damage and loss of life.

"CINDI is looking at a way to present natural disaster information in a clear straightforward manner with supportive pictures and graphics so that anyone, from scientists to curious citizens can easily grasp the concept, " said Russell-Robinson.

Hurricane Mitch: a Case Study

"Last year, Hurricane Mitch not only was a large hurricane in intensity with high winds but it stalled first off the coast of Central America and so saturated the area, Russell-Robinson said. "There were massive landslides which then led to massive mudflows which then led to massive flooding that wiped out huge areas."

The CINDI staff members were able to piece together that necessary information to help people get back on solid ground.

They used maps, aerial photography shots and satellite imagery in compiling basic information that people needed to know. With these resources available to them, USGS team members were able to determine where roads, power lines, and rivers used to exist and were also able to determine areas of need where means of transportation was no longer available. It is this kind of information available from CINDI that Russell-Robinson hopes can "start to give a better assessment of natural disasters."

According to Russell-Robinson, "Now, they [the Central American government] can look at targeting recovery operations to rebuild connections for transportation, moving supplies, materials and people. They want to rebuild them in places that will withstand this hurricane season where even a small hurricane by comparison could come in with heavy rain and make all that mud move again."

Digital Resources for the U.S.

For the upcoming season, Russell-Robinson said, "The CINDI is currently evaluating needs along the Eastern, Gulf, and Western coasts of the United States. CINDI is also working in a planned way to build digital resources that characterize the United States and its territories in preparation for domestic natural events."

About the Author

Magda Salazar is an intern at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, VA. You may contact her at