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date: 16 December 2017

Natural Hazards Identification and Hazard Management Systems

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Society expects to have a safe environment in which to live, prosper, and sustain future generations. Generally, when we think of threats to our well being, we think of human-induced causes such as over-exploitation of our water resources, contamination, soil loss, to name a few. However, natural hazards, which are not easily avoided or controllable, nor in many cases, predictable in the short term, have profound influences on our safety, economic security, social development, political stability, and every individual’s overall well being.

Natural hazards are all related to the processes that drive our planet. Indeed the Earth would not be a functioning ecosystem without the dynamic processes that shape our planet’s landscapes over geologic time. Natural hazards or geohazards, as they are sometimes called, include events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and ground collapse, tsunamis, floods and droughts, geomagnetic storms, and coastal storms.

A key aspect of these natural hazards is understanding and mitigating their impacts, which requires a fourfold approach by the geoscientist. The approach must include a fundamental understanding of the processes that cause the hazard, an assessment of the hazard, monitoring to observe any changes in conditions that can be used to determine the status of a potential hazardous event, and perhaps most importantly, delivery of information to a broader community to evaluate the need for action.

A fundamental understanding of processes often requires a research effort that typically is the focus of academic and government researchers. Fundamental questions may include for example: What triggers an earthquake; and why do some events generate large magnitudes, while most become small-magnitude events?

Any effective hazard management system must strive to increase resilience. Resilience is defined in a 2005 report of the U.S. National Science and Technology Council, Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction as “the capacity of a system, community, or society potentially exposed to hazards to adapt, by resisting or changing, in order to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning and structure.” The only way to gain resiliency is to learn from past events and to decrease risk. To succeed in increasing resiliency requires strong hazard identification programs with adequate monitoring and research components and very robust delivery mechanisms to deliver timely, accurate, and appropriate hazard information to a broad audience that will use the information in a wide variety of ways to meet their specific goals.