Where is the secret list of potential US natural disasters?
July 14, 2015 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by this New Yorker piece, it seems like there ought to be a list of natural disasters that will possibly, probably happen and that we're really not preparing for (like the Yellowstone supervolcano).

Does FEMA have one? (I mean this in the least conspiracy-theorist way possible - like, a contingency plan resources page.) US is of most interest, but also happy to read about other areas. I specifically do not want to know about disasters "we" (humanity) are preparing for (like, Japan seems to have everything ready for earthquakes).
posted by quadrilaterals to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want things that will probably happen in our lifetime? And things that we can actually prepare for? Because the Yellowstone super volcano is neither predicted to erupt soon, nor could we do much to prepare for it on more than a few day timescale - and that would just be evacuating half the country as ridiculous earthquakes began.

A professor of mine did some work putting together a likelihood vs timescale plot that covers most of these events. Something similar might be available on NOAA's website.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:55 AM on July 14, 2015

Here's the list FEMA shares with the public for preparedness. Includes both volcanoes and "space weather."

It's not focused on super-disasters, though. Just ordinary disasters.
posted by amaire at 9:04 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Popular Science had a nice graphic dividing up the USA by the highest-risk natural disaster, mostly to point out that no place in the US is safe from disaster, only that the disaster varies and the risks from it vary. I cannot find that graphic yet.

They also have a series of heatmaps of property and life risk from common natural disasters.

Oh, here's a good one from PopSci, identifying, by region, which natural disaster is most likely to kill you in a given spot.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:06 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

USGS - appears to be rather old now
Congressional Hazards Caucus - 2000?
FoodStorage.com Risk analysis by state / disaster type
posted by bellastarr at 9:08 AM on July 14, 2015

Hurricane-wise, NOAA's National Hurricane Center has prepared an extremely user-friendly document called THE DEADLIEST, COSTLIEST, AND MOST INTENSE UNITED STATES TROPICAL CYCLONES FROM 1851 TO 2010 (AND OTHER FREQUENTLY REQUESTED HURRICANE FACTS). The whole thing is a good read, but most directly answering your question: among the OTHER FREQUENTLY REQUESTED HURRICANE FACTS is an answer to the question "How long has it been since a hurricane or a major hurricane struck a given community?" on page 23. Figure 5, a few pages below, includes an estimated return period for areas along the US East Coast. The NHC also has an extensive readiness section on their website.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 9:08 AM on July 14, 2015

Wikipedia has an article about Global Catastrophic Risk, for the "extinction of humans" sorts of events.

One thing that will probably eventually happen but we're not terrifically well prepared for is an earthquake along the New Madrid fault. In 1812 a quake near Memphis rang bells in Philadelphia. But there's not a ton of modern data on the fault, we don't totally understand how it works (it's in the middle of a flat, old part of the continental plate ... not along a subducting edge), and there are apparently a few different ways that earthquakes can get triggered in that sort of fault. And some researchers think the fault is permanently shut down.
"In October 2009, a team composed of University of Illinois and Virginia Tech researchers headed by Amr S. Elnashai, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), considered a scenario where all three segments of the New Madrid fault ruptured simultaneously with a total earthquake magnitude of 7.7. The report found that there would be significant damage in the eight states studied – Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee – with the probability of additional damage in states farther from the NMSZ. Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri would be most severely impacted, and the cities of Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri would be severely damaged. The report estimated 86,000 casualties, including 3,500 fatalities; 715,000 damaged buildings; and 7.2 million people displaced, with 2 million of those seeking shelter, primarily due to the lack of utility services. Direct economic losses, according to the report, would be at least $300 billion."
But it's not a place with a lot of quakes so there isn't a lot of quake preparedness or quake infrastructure, and it's harder to predict the New Madrid fault than the West Coast "Ring of Fire" faults, so it's hard to make good assessments about spending preparedness dollars when we can't really even predict how frequent and destructive these events are likely to be.

Here's some Worst Case Scenarios that I thought were kind-of interesting, and now I kind-of want to read the book.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:20 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Have you checked the FEMA National Preparedness page? Establishing public awareness of disaster preparedness is one of FEMA's goals. Each of FEMA's nine region offices works with state and local entities to identify all potential disaster threats that exist, from most likely to most unlikely. The scale and impact of each kind of disaster is assessed based on potential scenarios. FEMA staff works with the state and local agencies to develop disaster preparedness and action plans. Exercises and simulations based on information and predictions of about what could happen are conducted to test the plans. The Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium maintains the planning for the New Madrid earthquake. FEMA Region X is a lead player in planning for the Cascadia quake.
posted by X4ster at 11:59 AM on July 14, 2015

If you cast your net a little further abroad (well, a lot further abroad) you can find gems like the Auckland evacuation plans.

Auckland is built in a volcano. It last erupted on a large scale about 600 years ago. The Māori have an oral history of that one.

If it ever cooks off again in a big way, New Zealand will have to evacuate its largest city - possibly permanently.

But it's OK - we have a plan!
posted by Combat Wombat at 10:46 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

You may want to read Maciej Ceglowski's recent (like, yesterday) two-part piece on the New Madrid Seismic Zone at idlewords.com:

Confronting New Madrid
Confronting New Madrid (Part 2)
posted by McCoy Pauley at 11:09 AM on July 16, 2015

« Older Leather Key Chain?   |   I need a new go-to site for film criticism Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.