What is Disaster Mitigation?


Mitigation can be defined as:

“the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. Mitigation is taking action now (before the next disaster) to reduce human and financial consequences later (analyzing risk, reducing risk, insuring against risk).”

Mitigation is valuable to society in these ways:[1]

  • It creates safer communities by reducing loss of life and property damage. For example, the rigorous building standards adopted by 20,000 communities across the country are saving the nation more than $1.1 billion a year in prevented flood damages.
  • It allows individuals to minimize post-disaster disruptions and recover more rapidly.
  • It lessens the financial impact on individuals, communities, and society as a whole. For example, a recent study by the Multi-hazard Mitigation Council shows that each dollar spent on mitigation saves society an average of four dollars.

Protective Actions for Life Safety

Disaster Response[3]

When there is a hazard within a building such as a fire or chemical spill, occupants within the building should be evacuated or relocated to safety. Other incidents such as a bomb threat or receipt of a suspicious package may also require evacuation. If a tornado warning is broadcast, everyone should be moved to the strongest part of the building and away from exterior glass. If a transportation accident on a nearby highway results in the release of a chemical cloud, the fire department may warn to “shelter-in-place.” To protect employees from an act of violence, “lockdown” should be broadcast and everyone should hide or barricade themselves from the perpetrator.

Protective actions for life safety include evacuation, sheltering, shelter-in-place, and lockdown. Your emergency plan should include these protective actions. If you are a tenant in multi-tenanted building, coordinate planning with the building manager. Below are description of the various protective actions to an emergency:[2]

Prompt evacuation of employees requires a warning system that can be heard throughout the building. Test your fire alarm system to determine if it can be heard by all employees. If there is no fire alarm system, use a public address system, air horns or other means to warn everyone to evacuate. Sound the evacuation signal during planned drills so employees are familiar with the sound.

If a tornado warning is broadcast, a distinct warning signal should be sounded and everyone should move to shelter in the strongest part of the building. Shelters may include basements or interior rooms with reinforced masonry construction. Evaluate potential shelters and conduct a drill to see whether shelter space can hold all employees. Since there may be little time to shelter when a tornado is approaching, early warning is important.

If there is a severe thunderstorm, monitor news sources in case a tornado warning is broadcast. Consider purchasing an Emergency Alert System radio - available at many electronic stores. Tune in to weather warnings broadcast by local radio and television stations.

Subscribe to free text and email warnings, which are available from multiple news and weather resources on the Internet.

Scenario: A tanker truck crashes on a nearby highway releasing a chemical cloud. A large column of black smoke billows into the air from a fire in a nearby manufacturing plant. If, as part of this event, an explosion, or act of terrorism has occurred, public emergency officials may order people in the vicinity to “shelter-in-place.”

You should develop a shelter-in-place plan. The plan should include a means to warn everyone to move away from windows and move to the core of the building. Warn anyone working outside to enter the building immediately. Move everyone to the second and higher floors in a multistory building. Avoid occupying the basement. Close exterior doors and windows and shut down the building’s air handling system. Have everyone remain sheltered until public officials broadcast that it is safe to evacuate the building.

An act of violence in the workplace could occur without warning. If loud “pops” are heard and gunfire is suspected, every employee should know to hide and remain silent. They should seek refuge in a room, close and lock the door, and barricade the door if it can be done quickly. They should be trained to hide under a desk, in the corner of a room and away from the door or windows. Multiple people should be trained to broadcast a lockdown warning from a safe location.


Recovering From a Disaster

Recovering from a disaster is usually a gradual process. Safety is a primary issue, as are mental and physical well-being. If assistance is available, knowing how to access it makes the process faster and less stressful. The following recovery actions from the Red Cross can assist you:[4]

Checking Your Home: Structural Elements - Make sure the structure of your home is sound and safe to enter when returning after an evacuation.

Checking Your Home: Utilities, Systems and Household Items - Evaluate major systems and other essential items once your house is deemed safe to enter.

Staying Safe in the Immediate Aftermath

  • Check the area around you for safety. In the case of biological, chemical or radiological threats, listen for instructions on local radio or television stations about safe places to go.
  • Have injuries treated by a medical professional. Wash small wounds with soap and water. To help prevent infection of small wounds, use bandages and replace them if they become soiled, damaged or waterlogged.
  • Some natural hazards, like severe storms or earthquakes, may recur in the form of new storms or aftershocks over the next several days. Take all safety precautions if the hazard strikes again. For an earthquake aftershock, remember to DROP, COVER and HOLD ON just like you did during the initial earthquake.
  • Avoid using the telephone (cellular or landlines) if a large number of homes in your area have been affected by a disaster. Emergency responders need to have the telephone lines available to coordinate their response. During the immediate post-disaster time period, only use the telephone to report life-threatening conditions and call your out-of-town emergency contact.
  • Remain calm. Pace yourself. You may find yourself in the position of taking charge of other people. Listen carefully to what people are telling you, and deal patiently with urgent situations first
  • If you had to leave your home, return only when local authorities advise that it is safe to do so. Also, be sure to have photo identification available, because sometimes local authorities will only permit people who own property in a disaster-affected area back into the area.
  • Except in extreme emergencies or unless told to do so by emergency officials, avoid driving during the immediate post-disaster period. Keep roads clear for rescue and emergency vehicles. If you must drive, do not drive on roads covered with water. They could be damaged or eroded. Additionally, vehicles can begin to float in as little as six inches of water. Vehicles such as trucks and SUVs have larger tires and are more buoyant. However, even though these vehicles are heavier than a standard sedan, the buoyancy caused by the larger amount of air in their tires actually makes these vehicles more likely to float in water than smaller vehicles.
  • If the disaster was widespread, listen to your radio or television station for instructions from local authorities. Information may change rapidly after a widespread disaster, so continue to listen regularly for updates. If the power is still out, listen to a battery-powered radio, television or car radio.
  • If the area was flooded and children are present, warn them to stay away from storm drains, culverts and ditches. Children can get caught and injured in these areas.

Recovering Emotionally - Care for yourself and your loved ones in the hours, days and weeks following a disaster.

  • Helping Children Cope With a Disaster. Children often become distressed after a disaster, especially if it has directly impacted them or someone they care about.  They may also feel sad or sorry for others and want very much to help them.[5]
    • Inform children and start the conversation. Start by asking them what they may have already heard about the event; correct any misinformation or misunderstanding they may have. Provide information to them in simple and direct terms, without unnecessary detail.
    • Help children cope with their distress. Instead of trying to tell children that they shouldn’t feel that way after a disaster, help them learn how to cope with troubling feelings. Share with them some of your reactions and feelings and how you coped with them (such as talking with others, writing about your feelings, or doing something positive to help others).

Recovering Financially - Work with your insurance company, prioritizing bills, reaching out for help, and replacing important documents.


FEMA’s Mitigation Best Practices Portfolio

FEMA – Mitigation Best Practices[7]

In the wake of disasters, people often wonder whether there is a way to protect both people and property from such devastating losses. The answer is a resounding “Yes” and mitigation is the way to provide that protection. Hazard mitigation means taking action to reduce or prevent future damage, preferably before a disaster strikes.

Throughout the United States, many individuals, businesses, and communities have been taking action to combat disasters. The FEMA Mitigation Best Practices Portfolio is a collection of ideas, activities/projects and funding sources that can help reduce or prevent the impacts of disasters. To take a look at what is possible and to get ideas for your own situations, browse through the portfolio and see what others have been doing. You can access the stories by using subject tabs or by filtering based on your needs.[6]



  1. FEMA – What is Mitigation?: http://www.fema.gov/what-mitigation
  2. Ready.gov – Emergency Response Plan: http://www.ready.gov/business/implementation/emergency
  3. Image Source: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/blog/category/emergency-response [Accessed: April 23, 2014]
  4. American Red Cross – Recovering after a Disaster or Emergency: http://www.redcross.org/find-help/disaster-recovery
  5. CDC – Public Health Matters Blog: http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2013/09/helping-children-cope-with-a-disaster/
  6. FEMA’s Mitigation Best Practices Portfolio – Website: https://www.llis.dhs.gov/bestpracticeslist
  7. Image Source: https://www.llis.dhs.gov/bestpracticeslist [Accessed: August 16, 2013]