Love Canal was an environmental disaster that occurred in the 1970s as a result of a chemical company dumping hazardous waste in a community’s water canals. Leaders from a neighborhood association began to investigate the high rates of cancer and birth defects in the area. Hooker Chemical (affiliated with Occidental Petroleum) denied responsibility for their actions and liability could not be proven initially. However, the case was later settled and President Carter helped to relocate the victims of this man-made disaster.
The Three Mile Islandincident started on March 28, 1979 and illustrated again the dangers of modern technology. This nuclear power plant located in Pennsylvania experienced a release of reactor coolant. This failure was not noticed initially and some radioactive krypton escaped. Although there was no significant risk of injury, the U.S. Regulatory Commission gave mixed messages about what was taking place and trust in the government was eroded. This event illustrated the importance of effective warning and evacuations.
Mt. St. Helens erupted in Washington State on May 18, 1980. The eruption occurred on one side of the volcano cone, and the lateral blast resulted in a major debris flow of lava, rocks, ash, water and sediment. The disaster killed at least 57 people and destroyed numerous homes, roads and bridges. A major debate ensued about the government’s designation of restriction zones and the difficulty of enforcing people’s safety. This event taught that the government, logging corporations and citizens all play a role in creating or limiting vulnerability.
TheExxon Valdez oil spill took place on March 24, 1989. The ship’s captain, a known alcoholic, left the helm and instructed others to navigate the ship through inbound lanes (due to the presence of ice bergs in the outbound lanes). The ship ran aground at Bligh Reef, and this resulted in the spill of 10 million gallons of oil in Prince William Sound. The response to this environmental disaster was inadequate and the oil killed thousands of animals.
Hurricane Hugo hit North and South Carolina on September 22, 1989. Rated at Category 4 status, this storm killed 35 people, destroyed bridges that linked islands to the Carolinas, and caused extensive environmental damage. FEMA’s response to this disaster was slow and some politicians complained that the agency was led by “bureaucratic jackasses.” This disaster highlighted again the need for effective post-disaster operations.
The Loma Prieta earthquake occurred on October 17, 1989 immediately before a World Series game in San Francisco. The quake registered 7.1 in magnitude, killed 63 people, and injured approximately 4,000 others. The disaster resulted in a collapse of the Nimitz Freeway and produced major fires in the Marina district (where debris from the 1906 earthquake was deposited). This disaster illustrated the importance of mitigation, the need for earthquake insurance, and the disparity of recovery activities across diverse groups of people.
The Oakland Hills Firewas ignited on October 20, 1991. The firestorm erupted when a small grass fire expanded the following day. The dry, windy conditions along with the mountainous terrain allowed the fire to spread quickly. Water shortages and narrow roads inhibited fire fighting strategies. The blaze killed 35 people and destroyed 3,500 homes and hundreds of apartment units. The response was characterized by interoperability problems among the various units that arrived from around the state to fight the fire. This event was responsible for the development of California’s Standard Emergency Management System.