Monday, January 4, 2021


The street view on Google Earth (above) is one of a suburban road called Nystulia, in a modern neighborhood in the village of "Ask," outside Oslo, Norway.  The gentleness of the hill and the appearance of the stately homes and condos belie the dangers beneath.

During a five year period (2003-2007), at the request of the government and developers, the Norwegian Geological Institute released a series of reports on the soils in the area and made a series of recommendations for development.  According to the NGI, there was a danger of landslide. The NGI recommended mitigation measures, including the following:

  • Relief/excavation of higher terrain to reduce load
  • Filling of lower terrain and the ravine valley to act as a backfill or counterweight for a possible landslide
  • Erosion protection

At some point, permits were granted and development moved ahead.  According to the NGI, it’s unclear how many of these recommendations were followed or how extensively the developers considered them.  Regardless, now 15 years later, a significant landslide event just two days before the end of 2020 swallowed dozens of buildings and has killed at least seven (with another 3 missing).  A landslide blog (here, with the original article here and and update article here) posted this photo of the aftermath. The yellow arrow (added here) shows the location of the Google camera that had captured the image above.  Sadly, many of the structures depicted in that photo (along with those inside) fell victim to the tragedy.

 Clearly engineering solutions to this problem weren’t enough.  And, once again, as so often the case in events of this magnitude, the lesson learned is clear: The only way to truly be safe from some dangers is to stay as far away from them as possible.  That lesson resonates with one family interviewed by the New York Times:

“The village has suffered quite a tough blow,” said John-Magnus Restad, a pilot who lives with his wife and son about half a mile north of the site. He added that they were not sure they would stay in Ask. Though they knew the area lay on quick clay, he said he never believed “a slide of this proportion could happen.”

But the decision was clear for Trine Johnsgard, 60, who said she and her husband, Kjetil Johnsgard, who live about 80 yards away from the gorge, were lucky to escape their home with their dog Linus, a wallet and one cellphone.

“I hope we don’t have to move back, because we don’t dare to,” Ms. Johnsgard told the newspaper VG, adding that she worried about the value of her home, which is on a street called Nystulia, where many of the missing had lived. “No one wants to move to Nystulia now.”




Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Share. And then push for action!

A recommendation led me to an excellent piece in Nature Magazine dealing with the value of sharing information in building resilience among nations and communities.  The article cites a number of recent events that, had better information been available (and acted upon appropriately in advance), could have resulted in fewer deaths and less loss of property.

The article notes, for example, the lack of proper building code enforcement in Nepal and poor flood mitigation in parts of Southeast Asia were, in part, due to a lack of communication of “best practices” among those that need them most.  But the problem isn’t limited to developing countries.  Industrialized nations, as well, don’t heed the lessons learned from others, like those in the text box below copied and pasted here from the article.  Indeed, this blog itself started to help fill, in a small way, the need to disseminate information on this topic more widely to the general public.

But having the best information is only part of the solution.  Those that listen must then act on what they hear and encourage, entice (e.g., through reward programs), and perhaps even coerce through legislation, others to do the same.  The Nature piece continues:

Sadly, hazard mitigation is not a vote-winner. It pits long-range investments against short-term political cycles — even though it is cheaper to prevent losses than to rebuild after them. Reinforcing the levees of New Orleans, Louisiana, against hurricane storm surges would have cost ten times less than rebuilding neighbourhoods after Hurricane Katrina. It is more politically expedient to respond afterwards when constituents are demanding assistance. Public awareness of the scale of disaster risks is hindered by the breadth and complexity of research, spanning the natural, social and health sciences, law, humanities and engineering.

This says it all.  Planning has a no more important role than in preventing or reducing the impact of hazards to human life.  Disaster risk reduction policies should be a high priority for governments all around the world who should not only understand the risks they face, but (according to the article) “strengthen risk governance to manage risks across all sectors; invest in risk-reduction measures that promote resilience; and enhance disaster preparedness and responses so that [their] nations build back better in their recovery.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Resource Update: APA Hazard Mitigation Policy Guide (2020)

The American Planning Association (APA) recently approved a landmark Hazard Mitigation Policy Guide (a free download) intended to help communities and municipalities structure a planning process that will result in the most effective and achievable hazard mitigation plans and policies.  By way of introduction, the guide describes the three parts of an effective resilience strategy and likens it to a “three-legged stool comprised of Mitigation, Adaptation, and Response/Recovery.”  

 The guide continues:

·       Hazard Mitigation comprises a series of actions that lessen the severity or intensity of the hazard’s impact when it strikes and begins with avoidance and minimization.

·       Adaptation entails modifying the natural or built environment to make it more suited to changed or changing conditions and situations. Adaptation can also mean changes in community behavior that better safeguard human and environmental health when faced with the stresses imposed by hazards of all types.

·       Response/Recovery is the response during and after an event to protect public safety, health, and well-being and, ultimately, to facilitate community recovery through repair or replacement, ideally to a more resilient condition.

All of these are necessary components of resilience. Planning that focuses on one to the exclusion of the others will not support true resiliency. However, a strong mitigation program can lessen the need for and expense of response and recovery.

I highly recommend this timely addition to Hazard Mitigation literature!