The article discusses the creation of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (idndr, 1990–1999), a global observance event that emanated neither from within the United Nations – for whom until then disaster management or rights of disaster victims had not been a real priority – nor from within civil society organizations or governments. In actuality, it was primarily a scientist-led initiative. This article suggests that this episode is a rare example of a joint effort on the part of a scientific community to create international scientific institutions to deal with the issue of disaster risk. The framing of the issue as “scientific” by earth scientists led the UN Secretariat and governments to embrace an issue that they had hitherto neglected. However, archival evidence also suggests that the eventual takeover of the project by the UN bureaucracy weakened the role of earth scientists in the idndr and changed its orientation.