Improving Natural Hazards Policies through Geoscience
Natural hazards are the results of Earth processes, which in some circumstances are exacerbated by human activity. Reducing the vulnerability of human populations, the built environment, and ecosystems to disastrous consequences from natural hazards is a social responsibility and an achievable policy imperative. Policy makers should address vulnerability to hazard impacts through promotion and adoption of effective strategies for risk reduction and resilience. Public policies that rely on geoscience are needed to investigate the causes of natural hazards, avoid those that are preventable, and limit the negative effects of hazards on public health, safety, and the environment. The Geological Society of America (GSA) urges scientists, policy makers, risk managers, and the public to work together to reduce our vulnerability to natural hazards. GSA strongly endorses greater integration of geoscience into prevention and mitigation programs, policies, and practices through:
- Government investment in research, monitoring, and outreach programs to better characterize the nature and distribution of natural hazards and their impacts on modern society;
- Increased focus on geohazards literacy in natural hazards awareness campaigns;
- Enlisting the resources of the private sector in hazards and disaster risk-reduction strategies;
- Effective communication and implementation of geoscience research and monitoring results to support functional public policy and private sector decision-making for mutual benefit; and
- Incorporation of geoscience into scientifically-sound educational programs at all levels.
This position statement (1) encourages increased public and private investments to reduce natural hazards vulnerability through better understanding of geologic processes; (2) emphasizes the crucial role of geoscience education and outreach in broadening the public’s understanding of their risk from natural hazards and the available options to reduce risk; and (3) promotes active participation of geoscientists in implementing public policy that will improve society’s resilience to natural hazards.
We inhabit a dynamic planet. Growing populations in hazard‐prone locations, combined with the interconnection of modern economies, are increasing the vulnerabilities and risks associated with natural hazards:
- More people than ever before live on lands subject to earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, landslides, tsunamis, volcanic activities, wildfires, and other hazards.
- We now transport and stockpile large quantities of hazardous materials and wastes at temporary sites and in structures whose integrity can be compromised by extreme events.
- Today’s large-scale, interdependent networks of critical infrastructure are both fragile and costly to repair. Cascading impacts could be felt for weeks, months, or even years, with exponentially greater effects in terms of life safety, public and economic health, and overall community viability.
- In the aftermath of many disasters, businesses close and either never reopen or fail. Emergency responders and critical care facilities are overwhelmed by sudden, immense, and sometimes long-term demand for their services. The costs of repairing buildings and infrastructure are often exceeded by the indirect socioeconomic costs associated with loss of jobs and business interruption. The impact of disaster experiences on mental health can also adversely affect the long term functional recovery of communities in post-disaster environments.
- Globalization of the world economy makes all of us vulnerable to disasters wherever they occur. Modern business practices such as just-in-time inventory management have created new vulnerabilities. Supply-chain interruption in one area may result in worldwide economic impact.
There is considerable value to society when science results in practical mitigation strategies that improve overall resilience to disasters. Therefore, GSA makes the following recommendations:
- Increased public investment is critical to improving our understanding of natural hazards and to characterize them and their impact over space and time. GSA supports funding to modernize and enhance monitoring networks so as to improve mitigation and emergency response by better characterizing the location, magnitude, and frequency of natural hazards. GSA also supports funding for programs related to the mechanisms and timing of natural hazard events, including the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope initiative, the U.S. Geological Survey hazards mission area and National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, the multi‐agency National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, NOAA’s National Tsunami Hazards Mitigation Program, FEMA’s Flood Map Modernization Program, and NASA’s earth science mission. GSA also supports proactive outreach programs to both the public and private sectors, the latter of which owns or operates approximately 80% of the nation’s critical infrastructure and can apply considerable resources toward greater resilience.
- Government agencies at local, state, national, and international levels have a special responsibility to integrate geoscience information and recommendations on natural hazards into land-use planning and sustainable development policies, as well as location, development, and long-term resilience of critical infrastructure. There must be a strong effort to coordinate hazard identification and risk-reduction activities across agencies and levels of government. The private sector and the general public should have access to reliable geoscience information to reduce vulnerability in areas of known natural or human-induced hazards, and to maintain critical operations inthe event of a disaster. Increased public investment in geoscience education and outreach is needed in order to promote informed land-use decisions.
- Geoscientists have a professional responsibility to inform the public about natural hazards and opportunities to build a more resilient society. Clearly explaining geoscience knowledge, particularly with respect to uncertainty, and promoting individual and collective behaviors that may minimize disaster impact, can increase adaptive capacity and functional capability during and after a disaster. To enhance society’s resilience and reduce the devastating effects of natural hazards, geoscientists must coordinate their efforts with engineers, architects, building code and standards developers, business leaders, public utilities, emergency managers, policy makers, design professionals, investors, insurers, news media, educators, relief organizations, and the public, as well as with other scientists.
Adopted October 2005; Revised November 2008; April 2012; October 2017