Open-File Report 2007–1255

Open-File Report 2007–1255

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Statement of Problem

Americans are more at risk from natural hazards now than at any other time in our Nation’s history. In the United States each year, natural hazards cause hundreds of deaths and cost tens of billions of dollars in disaster aid, disruption of commerce, and destruction of homes and critical infrastructure. Although we have reduced the number of lives lost to many natural hazards, the economic cost of major disaster response and recovery continues to double or triple in constant dollars every decade. Southern California, in particular, has one of the Nation’s highest potentials for extreme catastrophic losses due to natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, landslides, coastal erosion, and floods. Estimates of expected losses from all these hazards in the eight counties of southern California exceed $3 billion per year (fig. 1). These numbers are expected to increase as the present population of 23 million continues to grow at more than 10 percent per year.

These losses can only be reduced through actions of the southern California communities. To be effective, these actions must be guided by the best information about hazards, risk, and the cost-effectiveness of mitigation technologies. Long-term solutions require broad perspectives that recognize the inter-connectedness of urban communities and the natural environment.

USGS scientists must provide scientific information that is beneficial to society. Decision makers (for example, planners, policy makers, emergency response officials) in southern California know that scientific information is not being fully used in decisions about natural hazards. Factors that impede the use of scientific information include incompleteness, uncertainties, decentralized sources, non-standardization, presentation format, incomprehensibility to the layperson, misinterpretation, and inaccessibility of information.

Decisions to improve resiliency to natural hazards can be grouped into two sets of problems in two time frames: (1) emergency response to a natural hazard event as it happens, and (2) long-range planning for building resiliency to multiple and periodic natural hazards. The demand for and supply of scientific information for these problems takes place in a complex decision-making environment. The two problems have the following characteristics in common.

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