Warner Pacific College
June 21, 2011
Society’s Vulnerability to Natural Hazards
I was watching a program the other day that showed news footage of the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco. A rescue worker was yelling on a megaphone “fill your bathtubs full of water” in anticipation that water systems could be impacted and that there may be limited access to water. I immediately thought I need to keep my shower very clean at all times, in case of an emergency!
I have lived in the Pacific Northwest all of my life, and always thought this was one of the safer locations to live in the United States. I have never felt that our region was very vulnerable to natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, droughts, and other extreme weather conditions. Other than a couple minor earthquakes, and the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens, I cannot remember being even mildly impacted or threatened by a natural disaster. In 2005, following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Forbes magazine ranked the safest and least safe places to living in the United States. My assumption was confirmed. Of the top ten safest places to live in the U.S., seven were cities or areas within the Pacific Northwest. Ironically Honolulu, Hawaii ranked as the number one safest place to live in the United States. I believe if these rankings came out today that Hawaii’s threat of being impacted by tsunami would result in Honolulu not being ranked as high. (Forbes, 2005)
Some people are more cautious and take the needed steps to prepare their family and home should they be hit by a natural disaster. They keep numerous plastic jugs of water, a stockpile food, packets of batteries, emergency medical kits, and they may even have an evacuation plan along with some sort of safety shelter. For me, my emergency preparedness plan consists of not much more than a clean bathtub.
Our world appears to be more vulnerable to natural hazards than ever before in my lifetime. The earth’s physical systems are changing, resulting in global warning and other extreme meteorological events, and with more people tightly packed in metropolitan areas rather than spaciously distributed in rural areas, the larger cities are more vulnerable to sever devastation should a natural disaster hit those cities. (Mileti, 1999)
It’s difficult to really contemplate the vulnerabilities of societies in regions beyond the United States. I cannot imagine how people in less technologically advanced countries prepare for natural hazards, especially in those places where they are highly vulnerable. Therefore, my world-view of natural disaster preparedness does not extend outside of the U.S., and in reality, not much further from my bathtub.
There really is not much a person can do to “plan” for a natural disaster, but there are a number of things that can be done to lessen the impact these disasters have on society. The United States could improve land-use planning and limit expansion in areas that are perceived as highly vulnerable. We need to ensure that our buildings are constructed with strong enough infrastructures to withstand the destructive impact of natural hazards like earthquakes and tornadoes. We can also provide extensive training to citizens on what to do should a natural hazard hit their area. This should be done on the local level so it is specific to the individual areas, and the threats that may impact those communities. These communities need to also organize rescue teams that are prepared to respond and assist during a natural disaster. (Mileti, 1999)
Many times countries, states, cities, and communities do not take the necessary steps to carefully prepare for these disasters and mitigate the overwhelming affects. As a result they are left with a significant death toll, billions of dollars in damages, and maybe one or two clean bathtubs.
Clemens, S. (2005, August, 30). Forbes Magazine. “Safest And Least Safe Places In The U.S.”.
Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/2005/08/30/safestplaces-insurance-realestate-cx_sc_0830home_ls.html
Mileti, D. (1999). Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States.
Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press and the Joseph Henry Press.