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The impact that disasters have on the physical world and society are extraordinary. Our very planet was shaped by plate-shaking earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and furious storms. Today, more than a million earthquakes occur each year! At least 1,000 of those cause property damage, and about 15,000 people perish each year. The National Geographic Society reports roughly 75 million people have died from earthquakes in recorded history. And that is not counting the hundreds of millions who have been lost in famines, plagues, floods, and other disasters. In addition, the annual cost in 1980 of property damage was approximately $40 billion.
Many people don’t realize that natural disasters can happen to them. It seems too remote. “It won’t happen to me.” It can be dangerous to have this type of mentality, because one can never be absolutely sure if he or she is immune from a global cataclysm. Don’t let a natural disaster catch you unawares and unprepared.
As many researchers and scientists have studied the occurrence of natural disasters and human response, they have come up with a sequence of phases, first described by J.W. Powell. They include:
Although we are able to assess property damage and death tolls, it is impossible to place a price on the socioeconomic effects on the world as a whole. Psychological impact, cultural treasures, and human potential are things that can never be recovered.
- the warning: when the threatening conditions are first registered
- the threat: when the majority of people become aware of the coming danger
- the impact: when the event hits
- the inventory: when victims realize what has happened
- the rescue: when immediate help of survivors is initiated
- the remedy: when deliberate and formal actions are organized
- the recovery: when individuals reestablish the old order or form a new, stable situation out of the disorder
However, through the pain and devastation, natural disasters do teach us important lessons. Scientists and engineers can study global cataclysms to learn more about our world and universe. By examining disaster sites and assessing damage, more can be done to safeguard our lives against catastrophe. Better building designs, structural materials, precautions, and warning systems can be created to save people and property. And most of all, disaster can teach each and every one of us just how precious life can be.
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