Professor David Terrell
Warner Pacific College
November 20, 2010
Natural Hazards and Society’s Vulnerability
In today’s society, how many 22 year old men own a piece of property and have a nice house on it to call home? This situation is exactly where I was eleven years ago before a large storm hit that had warm temperatures and a high volume of precipitation. My neighbors and I were vulnerable to the natural hazards that Mother Nature had in store for us that spring. As we continue to live in a comfortable bubble without thoughts of “what if,” we are continually increasing our odds of losing what we have accumulated by living the American dream.
Being vulnerable is something many of have in our day to day lives. Many would believe vulnerability refers to our emotions and how relationships can make us susceptible to pain and sorrow. In this paper, vulnerability is going to have a different interpretation. Vulnerability will be referred to as “any condition of susceptibility to external shocks that could threaten people’s lives and livelihoods, natural resources, properties and infrastructure, economic productivity, and a region’s prosperity” (Iadb, 1999). The idea is make people more aware the vulnerabilities due to the environment that we have in our lives. Think of all the things we are vulnerable to. In the last ten years, our planet as seen devastating earthquakes, tsunami’s, and hurricanes. Many people that live in Washington State think of possible volcano activity any time natural disasters are talked about. What about flooding? It occurs annually but our hands are tied when it comes to changing the natural flows of water runoff.
I bought my first home in 2001 after I had saved every penny I made for about three years. This purchase was incredibly important because of the feeling of accomplishment it gave me. I really loved my fixer-upper and spent all my extra money on it. I had remodeled the kitchen, re-carpeted the entire house, and fully landscaped the front and back yards. My plan was to fix it up and sell it in a few years when I could afford an upgrade. I was single at the time and shared my home with only my dog Roxy. I had no idea how vulnerable I was to losing my prized possession.
On one warm and rainy spring day I learned that there was a distinct possibility of a flood in the area that I lived in. We had enjoyed a cold and blustery winter filling the mountains with snow, which I loved at the time. The lengthy duration of this rain storm couple with the snow melting in the mountains called for a 100 year flood. I immediately became stressed realizing the natural environment that I often enjoyed threatened the home I had worked so hard on. I instantly began researching what I could do. I placed all my furniture on the second floor and put the items in my garage on top of the counters. My neighbors informed me of a place on a nearby dike that needed a sandbag wall with the possibility of blocking off our community. I was told it had secured our neighborhood from floods several years earlier. An estimated 500 people met at the dike within a couple hours and began building a wall from the sandbags delivered by county workers. In the next twelve hours we built a sturdy wall approximately one mile long and six feet tall.
The next morning about ten hours after we finished the wall, the river crested about two feet below the top of our wall. Our neighborhood occurred damage thanks to the diligent work of so many people. Many of us worked harder than we had in a very long time and I believe it was the fear and vulnerability we felt. In the end I lost nothing, but gained an incredible feeling of community togetherness brought on by this possible disaster.
Today’s society is increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters. We live on rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean and on the banks of beautiful rivers that flow through our communities. We have to realize the magnitude of possible danger these natural wonders contain and have a plan of action if a disaster occurs.
Reducing Vulnerability to Natural Hazards: Lessons Learned from Hurricane Mitch. (1999). Retrieved from http://www.iadb.org/regions/re2/consultative_group /groups /ecology_ workshop_1.htm