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A SAFER FUTURE: Reducing the Impacts of Natural Disasters
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Several GISs could be adapted to process multihazard information. Such systems would make upto-date hazard and risk assessments available to local decision-makers throughout the nation. This information would enable planners, emergency managers, and other public officials to identify potential disaster vulnerability by integrating data on locations of population, essential facilities, natural resources, and hazards. It would be possible to project the consequences of new development, alternate land uses, and other actions. Business and industry could also benefit from natural hazard information systems when planning for safety and capital investment.
Research on the physical and biological nature of disasters. Further understanding of the physical and biological processes that cause hazardous events — such as the solid earth processes that generate earthquakes or the ecosystem changes that cause wildfires and outbreaks of insect pests — would contribute to more accurate and useful hazard assessments and to improved prediction capabilities. Risk assessments could be enhanced by research on how a single hazardous event can trigger a sequence of disasters. (See Figure 1.) The interrelationships of natural hazards and short- and long-term environmental changes should be given special emphasis.
Federal agencies and academic researchers currently conduct such research. Business should participate actively in this research because its actions have profound environmental impacts, many of which increase vulnerability to hazards. In addition, the United States would benefit from collaborating on the excellent work being done in Canada, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other nations.
Research on the social factors that govern response to natural hazards. As previously noted, lack of technical knowledge is rarely the primary obstacle to disaster reduction. Social, political, administrative, legal, and economic factors are the greatest barriers to implementing loss reduction strategies. Research on means to overcome these barriers will be critical to improving risk assessments and reducing vulnerability. Among the areas that should be studied are the ways that individuals and organizations discover, produce, and use hazard reduction information; barriers to use of disaster information; economic and other incentives to action; and means for marshaling political support for hazard reduction. Factors that govern communication and collaboration among physical, biological, and social scientists and engineers should also be studied.
Research on technological and societal strategies for disaster reduction. Improved hazard reduction practices should result from understanding incentives for and barriers to technological innovation; incorporating physical, biological, and social science knowledge into the initial stages of development planning; and reducing the costs of implementing technical and social strategies.
Different disasters can produce similar damage. Though it looks likean earthquake rocked this interstate to pieces, this Maine roadwaywas damaged by floodwaters and the resultant landslides. As is oftenthe case for local-level response, the local National Guard EngineeringGroup mobilized for cleanup and repair during the state-declaredemergency.