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4. Natural Hazards

How will we mitigate risk and provide a safer environment? The geoscience community provides the knowledge, experience and ingenuity to meet society's demands for natural resources, environmental quality and resilience from hazards. Here we outline the critical natural hazard needs of the nation and the world at the outset of the twenty first century and provide policy guidance to grow the economy while sustaining the Earth system.

What Is The Need?
What Are The Policy Recommendations?
Additional Resources
What Is The Need?

Natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, severe storms, floods, heat waves and drought, exact a significant toll on society. Our goal as a nation should be to develop resilient communities where losses are limited and recovery is rapid. While research and development have led to safer communities, improved forecasts to save lives and better planning and design to limit damage, there are ominous signs of increasing risks, especially to the built environment. Climate change and other alterations to the environment are increasing the risks from natural hazards. Increasing development in high risk areas, increasing population density in urban communities and aging infrastructure all contribute to increasing the threats from natural hazards.

The average costs of property damage from natural hazards in the U.S. has been increasing (Figure 5) because of population growth and greater development in risk-prone areas. Single catastrophic events, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (which is estimated to have cost more than $140 billion in property damage alone) can greatly exceed the nation’s ability to deal with direct damage costs and indirect economic, social and cultural losses. Geoscientists, working in cooperation with emergency managers, developers and others, are needed to understand the natural and human factors that may make Earth processes more hazardous and to help develop strategies to mitigate their risks. With cutting edge advances and steady use of observational, analytical and monitoring tools, geoscientists can help to educate the public about risks, in some cases forecast the timing, direction, intensity and targeted region for a natural hazard and help to develop strategies and technologies to reduce the risks. Research and development have served the nation well in saving lives and improving community resiliency and must be maintained to deal with the greater needs of a growing population and an expanding economy.


Figure 5: The cost of natural disasters in five year periods has increased over time because of greater development and greater wealth in more risk-prone regions. Graph is from “Why the United States Is Becoming More Vulnerable to Natural Disasters” by G. van der Vink et al., EOS, November 3, 1998, p. 533 and Munich Reinsurance Company, NatCatService.

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

Natural Hazards: Given the need to make the nation less vulnerable to natural hazards, the geoscience community suggests the following national policy directions.

  • Federal and state governments, businesses, academic institutions and communities should be effective partners in support and strengthening of:
    • Research into the links between natural hazards and Earth processes.
    • Real-time and long-term monitoring of Earth processes and the collection and management of data and models.
    • Modeling that combines geophysical, hydrological, ecological, societal and economic aspects of disaster scenarios.
    • Preparedness, education and mitigation efforts, focusing on the most risk-prone areas.
    • Incentives to reduce high-cost and/or high-density development in more risk prone areas.
  • Federal agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the Department of Agriculture, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should:
    • Coordinate natural hazards research, monitoring, training, education and public outreach efforts. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program is an excellent example of such a well-coordinated and effective program across four agencies.
    • Work closely with other federal agencies, states, tribal and local governments.
    • Maintain a robust and effective external grants program for research, preparedness and mitigation to complement federal efforts.
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Additional Resources

Links to references, supplementary, and/or updated information.

Full Report (PDF)

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With a burgeoning human population, rising demand for natural resources and a changing climate, it is critical to more fully integrate Earth observations and Earth system understanding into actions for a sustainable world.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted on July 7, 2009; Last Updated on September 22, 2009


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