US researchers find disaster relief laws unsuitable for modern threats

March 25, 2009

New York University Professor Mitchell Moss suggests in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, that US Federal disaster relief legislation is dangerously out of date and must be reformed to provide for rapid relief after a catastrophe.

The paper argues that the main US Federal Disaster laws, in the form of the Stafford Act, is too cumbersome to be of use for today’s complex crises.  The report’s author argues that the laws:


  • Not recognizing 21st century threats such as chemical, biological, nuclear or radiological attacks or accidents as legal grounds for a major disaster declaration by the President; 
  • Fail to establish a difference between the scale of rural and urban disaster – the Stafford Act offers the same level of aid for a blizzard in a rural community as it does for a major earthquake in a metropolis. 

It goes on to suggest that US lawmakers should,

  • Amend the definition of a “major disaster” to recognize 21st century threats such as chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks and accidents; 
  • Create a level of disaster specifically for “catastrophes” to cover incidents such as Hurricane Katrina and September 11 and to provide increased levels of aid beyond that provided at the “major disaster” levels

The press release can be found here and the full paper here.

Bruce Sterling (and others) on trends in 2009 (and beyond)

January 8, 2009

One of HFP’s favourite future thinkers and design critic Bruce Sterling is hosting a two week long discussion about global change in 2009 that has several relevant threads for HFP stakeholders and collaborators.

We will be pulling out a few quotes from this rather free form and irreverent conversation as relevant, possibly discussing them here in the future.   In the mean time, please enjoy some of the more interesting excerpts below, organized by relevant themes for humanitarian workers and disaster strategists.

On rapid change and our ability to forecast them:

When you can’t imagine how things are going to change, that doesn’t mean that nothing will change. It means that things will change in ways that are unimaginable.

On specialization and change:

…systems over-adapted to an artificial stability can’t keep up.

On ambiguity and change:

… abstractions and analogies aren’t as helpful when you’re into new territory without a map. And I dn’t think we’re talking about “mere credit collapse” – that’s just one piece of an entire complex unraveling.

On technology and urbanism:

Let’s just predict that in 2009 we’re gonna see a whole lot of contemporary urbanism going on. Digital cities. Cities There For You to Use. Software for cities. Googleable cities. Cities with green power campaigns. Location-aware cities. Urban co-ops. “Informal housing.”
“Architecture fiction.” The ruins of the unsustainable as the new frontier.

More to come in the future as the conversation unfolds. Track the conversation live here