Warner Pacific College
May 22, 2014
Vulnerability means the potential to be harmed. Vulnerability to natural hazards is thus the potential to be harmed by natural hazards. Some people and places are more vulnerable to certain hazards than other people and places. While any one extreme event may be unusual, there are broad trends in natural hazards. These trends are due to characteristics of both natural systems and human systems. By characterizing these trends, we can understand who and what is vulnerable and in what ways they are vulnerable. This in turn helps us reduce vulnerability and, when extreme events occur, reduce the damage. This work saves lives, and much more. Some disaster trends over time generally speaking, disasters are becoming less deadly but more costly. Fewer people are dying in disasters, but damages are costing more in dollars. Improved science and technology is a main reason that fewer lives are lost. We are now better at forecasting disasters, and our buildings and other structures can better withstand the physical impacts. This increases our resilience to hazards. Growth in population and the economy is a main reason that more money is lost. Simply put, society now has more of value that is exposed to hazards. Even though much of this is also more resistant to damage, the total dollar amount of damage has been increasing.
The risk of specific natural hazards varies widely from region to region. For example, floods tend to occur in low-lying areas near water. The Sahel region (the southern edge of the Sahara desert in Africa) is periodically plagued by droughts. Forest fires tend to occur (as you might guess) in forests. Earthquakes and volcanoes tend to occur near boundaries of tectonic plates. Many of the world’s earthquakes and volcanoes occur along the edge of the Pacific ocean, along the boundaries of the Pacific Plate. This region is known as the Ring of Fire for its intense volcanic activity. Within the United States, some regions are more vulnerable to natural hazards than others. For example, Pennsylvania has a relatively low vulnerability, whereas Florida has a relatively high vulnerability. Pennsylvania gets a lot of hot weather in the summer, cold weather in the winter, and rainfall throughout, but while this all can be inconvenient or unpleasant, it is usually not dangerous. Florida, on the other hand, doesn't have to bundle up so much in the winter, but it does face frequent hurricanes. Some studies show that elderly people are more vulnerable than younger people due to the fact that not only can they not move as fast as younger people. Also there are some tests that state that men are also more likely to survive longer than women in a natural disaster based on the soul reason that they tend to be stronger and they are more prone to being handy outdoors.
Currently Oregon is showing us it’s vulnerability to the natural hazards of flooding, hurricane force winds and landslides. It has been in the news every day for the last week. A mother and child were killed when the car they were riding as passengers in was suddenly swept away from a creek overflowing in a grocery store parking lot. Passes to the coast have been closed due to landslides and damage to roads along with flying debris from hurricane force winds. Houses have been flooded and others have shifted off their foundations. Mount Bachelor Ski Resort closed last week because of extreme snow fall making it hazardous if not impossible to reach the resort with a concern for avalanches. In 1998 the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries cited five categories of natural hazards that include floods, landslides, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis (Earthquakes and other natural hazards in the Pacific Northwest, 1999). They further state that all five of these hazards have occurred in the last century. I remember becoming stranded at my mother in laws while visiting her in Beaverton during the flood of 1996/97.
I believe that was the same year as the worst ice storm I remember. I had been in Fairview and had to slip and slide my way home, it was quite frightening. We had another ice storm in 2003 and I had a new baby and lived on the second floor of an apartment building with rickety stairs made out of wrought iron and stone. I didn’t feel safe trying to carry my new baby down those stairs and chose to stay inside my apartment. I was fortunate enough to have my adult step daughter bring me supplies when needed. In April 2011, the Oregon House of Representatives unanimously passed House Resolution 3 (sponsored by Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach), which directs Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC) to “lead and coordinate preparation of an Oregon Resilience Plan that . . . makes recommendations on policy direction to protect lives and keep commerce flowing during and after a Cascadia (mega thrust) earthquake and tsunami.” The Plan and recommendations were delivered to the Oregon Legislative Assembly February 28, 2013.
The Oregon Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan (NHMP) identifies and prioritizes potential actions throughout Oregon that would reduce our vulnerability to natural hazards. In addition, the plan satisfies the requirements of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure that Oregon is eligible to receive hazard mitigation and disaster assistance funds from the federal government. The current version of plan was approved on March 5, 2012, and this update will be adopted in early 2015. The State Interagency Hazard Mitigation Team (State IHMT) provides project oversight and policy direction. The Oregon Military Department, Office of Emergency Management facilitates and supports the IHMT, and manages federal mitigation planning and disaster assistance funds. The Department of Land Conservation and Development manages the project. A vulnerability analysis is a methodology which documents the extent of exposure that may result from a hazard event of a given intensity in a given area. The analysis provides quantitative data that may be used to identify and prioritize potential mitigation measures by allowing communities to focus attention on areas with the greatest risk of damage.
A vulnerability analysis is divided into five steps: asset inventory, methodology, date limitations, exposure analysis for current assets and areas of future development. Emergency Management Performance Grant funding requires local hazard vulnerability analyses be current and updated within the past ten years. The State of Oregon requires the update every five. The City of Portland’s Hazard Vulnerability Analysis was updated in 2006 and will be updated in 2011. The Citywide Asset Report outlines criteria for replacement and maintenance of city-owned infrastructure and buildings. The 2008 report specifically identified risk analysis from unforeseeable occurrences as a factor to be considered in the study. Risk consequences and likelihood of failure were outlined as process elements that each bureau should incorporate into their asset management plan. The 2008 report concluded that most bureaus have limited capacity to predict likely failure modes for assets and have not estimated the likelihood and consequence of asset failure. City facilities were estimated at $23.1 billion in replacement value (Appendix H Reference: Portland 2009i). City assets include parks, structures and infrastructure.
A conservative exposure-level analysis was conducted to assess the risks of identified hazards. This analysis is a simplified assessment of the potential effects of the hazards on properties at risk without consideration of probability or level of damage. I am really happy that Oregon has this plan because it will come in handy when global warming takes its toll. The earth is changing and with it comes great responsibility and this puts us in great danger as well. I will do my part to make sure I have a contingency plan will you?