Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Outsmarting nature during disasters: Instead of winging it, planners need to think carefully about costs and benefits

Date:
February 17, 2014
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
The dramatic images of natural disasters, including hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the Tohoku, Japan, earthquake and tsunami, show that nature, not the people preparing for hazards, often wins the high-stakes game of chance. In a recent presentation, a geophysicist uses general principles and case studies to explore how communities can do better by taking an integrated view of natural hazards issues, rather than treating the relevant geoscience, engineering, economics and policy formulation separately.

The dramatic images of natural disasters in recent years, including hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the Tohoku, Japan, earthquake and tsunami, show that nature, not the people preparing for hazards, often wins the high-stakes game of chance.

"We're playing a high-stakes game against nature without thinking about what we're doing," geophysicist Seth Stein of Northwestern University said. "We're mostly winging it instead of carefully thinking through the costs and benefits of different strategies. Sometimes we overprepare, and sometimes we underprepare."

Stein will discuss his research in a presentation titled "How Much Natural Hazard Mitigation is Enough?" at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago. His presentation is part of the symposium "Hazards: What Do We Build For?" to be held Feb. 17.

Stein is the William Deering Professor of Geological Sciences in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of a new book, "Playing Against Nature: Integrating Science and Economics to Mitigate Natural Hazards in an Uncertain World" (Wiley, 2014) and the book "Disaster Deferred: A New View of Earthquake Hazards in the New Madrid Seismic Zone" (Columbia University Press, 2010).

Sometimes nature surprises us when an earthquake, hurricane or flood is bigger or has greater effects than expected. In other cases, nature outsmarts us, doing great damage despite expensive mitigation measures or causing us to divert limited resources to mitigate hazards that are overestimated.

"To do better we need to get smarter," Stein said. "This means thoughtfully tackling the tough questions about how much natural hazard mitigation is enough. Choices have to be made in a very uncertain world."

Stein's talk will use general principles and case studies to explore how communities can do better by taking an integrated view of natural hazards issues, rather than treating the relevant geoscience, engineering, economics and policy formulation separately.

Some of the tough questions include:

  • How should a community allocate its budget between measures that could reduce the effect of future natural disasters and many other applications, some of which could do more good? For example, how to balance making schools earthquake resistant with hiring teachers to improve instruction?
  • Does it make more sense to build levees to protect against floods or to prevent development in the areas at risk?
  • Would more lives be saved by making hospitals earthquake resistant or by using the funds for patient care?

The choice is difficult because although science has learned a lot about natural hazards, Stein says, our ability to predict the future is much more limited than often assumed. Much of the problem comes from the fact that formulating effective natural hazard policy involves combining science, economics and risk analysis to analyze a problem and explore costs and benefits of different options in situations where the future is very uncertain.

Because mitigation policies are typically chosen without such analysis -- often by a government mandate that does not consider the costs to the affected communities -- the results are often disappointing.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Outsmarting nature during disasters: Instead of winging it, planners need to think carefully about costs and benefits." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140217122400.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2014, February 17). Outsmarting nature during disasters: Instead of winging it, planners need to think carefully about costs and benefits. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140217122400.htm
Northwestern University. "Outsmarting nature during disasters: Instead of winging it, planners need to think carefully about costs and benefits." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140217122400.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins