Just as surely as snow turns to water, disasters are inevitable, and Utah's disaster experts must continue pressing their efforts to prepare the state for catastrophes, said Public Safety Commissioner John T. Nielsen.

"We can anticipate catastrophic disasters," said Nielsen. "Hazards need to be identified, and we must identify those areas most vulnerable and then develop a plan to mitigate the effects."Nielsen's comments came Thursday during the Governor's Conference on Comprehensive Hazards Reduction in Park City. The conference is to promote planning and preparation for future disasters, both natural and man-made.

The conference came a day after an explosion at a rocket fuel plant in Nevada, an explosion at a refinery in Louisiana and a skyscraper fire in Los Angeles - a point that wasn't lost on those attending the conference.

"We cannot wait for an incident to happen to begin taking preparatory actions," said Gov. Norm Bangerter. "It would be tragic if an accident occurred that could have been prevented through proper planning."

Utah is among the states most prepared to deal with disasters, and Nielsen said it is his goal to put Utah on the leading edge of hazards training, mitigation and response.

Utah's emergency planning programs are recognized throughout the nation as among the best anywhere. Many have been adopted by federal authorities as national pilot programs.

Nielsen also praised the state's Hazardous Materials Institute, a program to train those who respond, enforce and regulate hazardous materials. The state has even been approached by federal authorities about employing the institute as the training agency for all western states.

"There is a growing concern in this country that a major disaster will occur," he said, citing the proliferation of deadly chemicals and radioactive substances in the workplace.

The conference, which continued Friday, dealt with such wide-ranging issues as Superfund cleanups, dangerous chemicals, hazardous wastes, landslides, floods, drought, dam safety and earthquakes.

Utah also received praise from Riley M. Chung, director of the Division of Natural Hazard Mitigation at the National Academy of Sciences. Chung, the keynote speaker at the conference, said Utah's programs are leading the way for the nation.

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Utah is the first state to designate the 1990s as the decade of natural hazards mitigation, something that reflects the high priority the state places on preparation and mitigation. The Utah proclamation, signed by Bangerter, mirrors a United Nations resolution.

Chung said the sharing of information, or "cross-pollination," by scientists, engineers and emergency response experts must be planet-wide.

"Natural disasters don't observe geographical boundaries," he said. "It affects nations large and small, rich and poor and of all political persuasions."

Chung encouraged Utah authorities, as well as those from other states, to share their experiences with neighboring states and countries. Scientific cooperation, the use of supercomputers and satellites, and the advanced application of theory can all be used to "reverse the impact of disasters on society."

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