Learning from Natural Disasters
by Magda Salazar
July 8, 1999
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
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
to Susan Russell-Robinson, USGS coordinator for CINDI, "The purpose
of the program is to gain a better understanding of natural disasters."
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.
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.
Mitch: a Case Study
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."
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."
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."
is an intern at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, VA. You may
contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org