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Science for a risky world—A U.S. Geological Survey plan for risk research and applications

September 17, 2018

Executive Summary

Natural hazards—including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, hurricanes, droughts, floods, wildfires, geomagnetic storms, and pandemics—can wreak havoc on human communities, the economy, and natural resources for years following an initial event. Hazards can claim lives and cause billions of dollars in damage to homes and infrastructure as well as lost or compromised economic activity and threats to national security. They also can have adverse environmental, social, economic, and health effects that extend well beyond the immediate area, sometimes with global implications. Changes in population growth, climate, and urbanization may exacerbate hazard impacts.

Because of the potential severity of a single hazard event, reducing risk—the potential loss of societally important assets caused by these hazards—is a high priority for everyone, including policy makers, community members, emergency managers, resource managers, utility operators, business owners, and planners. These stakeholders demand usable, user-centric information to support decisions for planning a resilient future and for responding to and recovering from unanticipated events in more adaptable and cost-effective ways.

Meeting this demand requires maximizing the use of environmental observations; hazards science; and research on communications, social stressors, and human behavior to deliver risk information in forms that are accessible by decision makers and the public alike. To achieve this, scientists and stakeholders must collaborate to match community needs with actionable insights, research, products, and tools, using advances in technology to improve information discovery and delivery.