The Web as Safety Net: Weather-Related Catastrophes and Other Natural Disasters

By Keiser, Barbie E. | Searcher, January 2002 | Go to article overview

The Web as Safety Net: Weather-Related Catastrophes and Other Natural Disasters


Keiser, Barbie E., Searcher


While the entire world is consumed with grief over the losses resulting from the 9-11 acts of terror, natural disasters take a toll each and every year. Indeed, as final edits are being made to this article, a rare, late season hurricane has just struck the island of Cuba, wreaking havoc.

Weather-related catastrophes include storms of all sorts (typhoons, cyclones, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, wind, lightning). Many of these lead to floods or ignite fires, though there are certainly other causes for these tragedies. Other types of natural disasters are the result of seismic activity (e.g., volcanoes and earthquakes).

Insurance companies that focus on catastrophic risk assessment are an underutilized resource for information related to disasters. The Risk and Insurance Library at Harper Risk Inc. [http://www.harperrisk.com/library.htm] provides links to many disaster-planning sites [http://www.harperrisk.com/disaster.htm], including earthquakes, fire research, flood, lightning, and weather. Publications from EQE International are available on the firm's Web site, http://www.eqe./index.html, including an Earthquake Home Preparedness Guide and a Disaster Reports Archive Index (1989-present). Archived copies of the firm's Review (1989-1996) are available. The Risk Management Solutions home page [http://www.com/publicationsriskinc.com] contains a wealth of information concerning catastrophes from a company that has developed hurricane modeling software and performs wind risk assessments throughout the world. It presents "event reports" on specific earthquakes, hurricanes, and windstorms.

In addition to the Web sites covering multiple forms of catastrophes, such as those listed in Table 1 beginning on right, others focus on single, specific types of disaster. What follows is a review of selected Web sites that deal with the full range of each type of catastrophic event.

Earthquakes and Engineering

The American Heritage Dictionary defines an earthquake as "a series of elastic waves in the crust of the Earth, caused by sudden relaxation of strains accumulating along geologic faults and by volcanic action, and resulting in movements in the Earth's surface." Sites dealing with earthquakes generally fall into two categories, focusing either on predicting earthquakes (based on seismic activity) or on preventing property damage by conducting research and recommending construction practices that engineer highways and buildings to withstand intensive seismic activity. Among the best in each category are those from academic institutions, many of which have research centers sponsored by government agencies.

The IRIS Consortium [http://www.iris.edu] is "a university research consortium dedicated to exploring the Earth's interior through the collection and distribution of seismographic data IRIS programs contribute to scholarly research, education, [and] earthquake hazard mitigation." The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology consists of four major programs:

* The Data Management System, "charged with the collection and distribution of seismological data to the community"

* The Global Seismographic Network, "responsible for the deployment and maintenance of permanent seismic recording stations around the globe"

* The Program for Array Seismic Studies of the Continental Lithosphere, which "operates a pool of over 400 portable seismic instruments that are available to the academic community"

* Education and Outreach, "charged with providing information, tools and resources to all levels of the educational community and the general public"

The Center for Earthquake Research and Information Web site [http://wwwceri.memphis.edu] is divided into four major areas. The Public Information area deals with earthquake facts (statistics, recent earthquakes, education for children, largest earthquakes). Seismic Information deals with seismographic data and a Rapid Earthquake Information System that concentrates on the Central U. …

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