Extreme Natural Hazards – the review

Some time back in August, Suzie (a friend from a ‘blog elsewhere), mentioned the Royal Society extreme natural hazards meeting that I linked to a few posts ago. I was expecting to be at a loose end by the time it came around so I signed up, as it happened I wasn’t at a loose end – but I appreciated the break from work anyway.

The meeting was one of the dozen or so discussion meetings that the RS holds every year, these tend to be focused on a narrow-ish field in new or rapidly changing science. This idea for this particular meeting had its genesis in the news coverage of the boxing day tsunami. The theme of the two day meeting being the hazards and problems humanity faces on the planet.

There were around 150-200 people in attendance at a guess, everyone from Open University undergraduates to PhD students up to professors and the director of the USGS at Yellowstone and various people from disaster management bodies and insurers.

There were interesting talks on asteroid impacts (nothing likely for quite some time, good chance we could do something about it if we saw it coming), major landslides (just a matter of time, nowt we can do), earthquakes and why they strikes places like Bam in Iran (people live there because of the water, the water is there because of the faults, the faults lead to earthquakes) and volcanoes (we should get a couple of days warning before any go off near populated areas, shame we need at least a week or more to evacuate people). Pretty much everyone managed to work the T word (tsunami) into their talks.

A couple of the later talks mentioned schemes in the coastal region of Bangladesh for storm surge and tsunami shelter. Large platforms supported a few meters above the ground on pylons fixed deep into the soil someway in land provide a safer place for villagers to shelter, as well as storing food and water and medical supplies in crisis times. A low tech solution that has proved successful.

Much of the rest of the discussion time was spent attempting to come up with other simple, cheap solutions. Everyone seemed to agree that more funding for monitoring and research was required to enable early warnings to be given in time to save lives, also important was the need to educate people in the at risk areas. Education in both construction techniques that may prevent their house collapsing on them and killing them in an earthquake, as well drills for evacuation or duck & cover preparations.

The meeting ended on a positive note overall, at present number of lives saved per dollar spent is appallingly low, but there is good reason to expect that this can be significantly improved with education and early warning. It is hoped that this improvement will come about before the first disaster that kills a million people occurs (very likely to happen in next 30 years or so according to models), we are already on the way to a million with the 1/4 million or so that died in the boxing day tsunami. People left in good spirits and some with the enthusiasm (and power) to go and make a difference.

One other issue to note, it seems that geology and the earth sciences in particular have many more pretty girls than physics does *sulk*.