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Lessons from United States Natural Disasters

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There have been a number of high-profile United States natural disasters in the past two decades that have created significant emotional and physical damage to sections of the country. Important lessons have been learned by local, state and federal emergency officials that can be used to improve preparation and response to future national disasters.

Learning from United States Natural Disasters: Northridge Earthquake

The earthquake in January of 1994 was one of the most serious ever to hit the heavily populated Los Angeles area. The quake caused 57 deaths, more than 1,600 serious injuries and an estimated $20 billion in damage. More than 34,000 residential structures were heavily damaged or destroyed and 20 hospitals suffered significant damage. Emergency officials said one of the main lessons learned from the earthquake was the importance of being flexible in responding to disasters. People who lost their homes qualified for $3,000 immediate payments from FEMA, but were required to prove the loss and that the structure was their primary living quarters. Officials quickly eliminated that red tape in order to get money more quickly into the hands of people who needed it very badly. Also, the widespread damage and lack of insurance convinced California elected officials to create the California Earthquake Authority to make insurance more accessible.

Learning from United States Natural Disasters: Hurricane Andrew

Hurricane Andrew was one of only a handful of Category 5 hurricanes to ever strike the United States, blasting Homestead, FL on its way through the tip of Florida. Two days later, on August 26, the storm made a second landfall on the central coast of Louisiana. In all, 26 people were killed in Andrew and damage was estimated at nearly $27 billion - the overwhelming majority in south Florida. One of the many lessons learned from Andrew was the preparation required for long-term care facilities for the elderly. In Florida, as well as in other Gulf Coast states, elder care officials made hurricane evacuation plans a requirement for long-term care facilities.

Learning from United States Natural Disasters: Hurricane Katrina

The 2005 hurricane that hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi killed more than 1,800 people, injured nearly 4,000 others and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage. The storm hit just east of New Orleans as a Category 3 hurricane, but the storm surge pushed up to 28 feet of water onto a 20-mile stretch of southern Mississippi. The main lesson learned during Hurricane Katrina was the importance of staging enough assistance - in the form of troops, high water vehicles and supplies - close enough to the storm site to immediately get to victims. Additionally, FEMA was criticized after Katrina for poor communication between officials outside of the hurricane zone and those in the damaged areas.

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