Maps Show Areas Where People Most Prone to Death by Natural Disaster

By Matthew Harwood

New maps created by two academics may help emergency management policy makers and local emergency responders reduce fatalities from natural disasters or at least plan accordingly.

The New Scientist has posted the maps, which chart the areas of the United States where nature piled up the highest body counts by county between 1970 and 2004. The maps come from a study in the International Journal of Health Geographics written by Kevin Borden, a geography professor at the University of South Carolina, and Susan L. Cutter, director of the Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute, also at the University of South Carolina.

According to the study's abstract, "Significant clusters of high mortality are in the lower Mississippi Valley, upper Great Plains, and Mountain West, with additional areas in west Texas and the panhandle of Florida." If someone were to choose to live in a region least susceptible to nature's wrath, she'd choose the urbanized Northeast or the Mid-West.

And while earthquakes and hurricanes get all the press, most people die from harsh seasonal weather patterns. Heat or drought accounts for 19.6 percent of deaths, while severe summer and winter weather kills 18.8 percent and 18.1 percent, respectively. "Geophysical events"— such as earthquakes, hurricanes and wildfires—kill less than 5 percent of people combined.

Borden and Cutter write:

What is noteworthy here is that over time, highly destructive, highly publicized, often catastrophic singular events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compared to the more frequent, less catastrophic evens such as heat waves and severe weather (summer or winter).

Because the study used county-level mortality data, the researchers believe their findings can help reduce the number of fatalities in two ways. Policy makers can use the data to allocate more resources to areas where there is a greater likelihood people will die. Policy makers can also use the study and map to warn people in high-mortality areas of the danger and what they can do to reduce their risk.


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