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5. Mitigate risks and build resilience from natural and human-made hazards

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, volcanoes, landslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, 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 holistic, intelligent, and rapid. Although R&D has led to safer communities, improved forecasts to save lives and enhanced planning 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 can contribute to mounting threats from natural hazards.

The average cost 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, with overall losses of $125 billion and 1,322 fatalities and the earthquake/tsunami in Japan in 2011, with overall losses of $235 billion and 15,500 fatalities, can greatly strain a nation’s ability to deal with direct damage costs and indirect economic, social, and cultural losses. Geoscientists, working in cooperation with emergency managers, developers, insurers, 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 continual use of observational, analytical, and monitoring tools, geoscientists can help educate decision makers and the public about risks, in some cases forecast the timing, direction, intensity and targeted region for a natural hazard, and help 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 number of natural disasters from 1980 to 2010 from Munich Reinsurance Company, NatCatService. A natural disaster is defined by being above a certain economic cost and/or number of fatalities level as determined by Munich Re.

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

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 supporting and strengthening:
    • 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 Institute 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 a well-coordinated and effective program across four agencies.
    • Maintain a robust and effective external grants program for research to complement federal efforts.
    • Maintain a robust and effective external grants program for preparedness and mitigation through a non-competitive funding pool that is assessed based on practicality and cost/benefit.
    • Support the recommendations of the National Research Council’s 2007 decadal survey, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, to conduct and support geoscience R&D, assessments, and monitoring.
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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 Geoscience Policy.

    Posted on October 17, 2012; Last Updated on October 17, 2012


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