Every year, the United States experiences dozens, if not hundreds, of natural hazard events that vary in size and impact from the incredibly large (like a hurricane or wide-spread flood) to the rather localized (like a sinkhole in a backyard). Regardless of the size or impact, every hazard event is unique, and they all provide an opportunity for USGS scientists to learn more about their causes and the best ways to help communities prepare for events, stay safe when they occur and recover once they are over.
This year, one of the more significant natural hazard events that garnered a lot of attention was the Ridgecrest earthquake sequence that started on the 4th of July in the Searles Valley in south-eastern California. USGS scientists were out in force to study this series of events in order to better understand the various dynamics of earthquakes like these so that information and data can be studied and analyzed in order to keep communities prepared and safe.
USGS work included conducting aerial and ground reconnaissance of the extensive surface rupture, deploying temporary seismic and geodetic stations to record aftershocks and coordinating efforts with military, state, local and academic partners.
The data collected and knowledge gained will help scientists identify which faults broke during the earthquake, determine the extent of faulting and surface displacement and locate areas of ground failure to better understand the earthquake and its aftershocks. Some of this information helps us refine the USGS National Seismic Hazards Model, which is a series of maps that reflect what we know about where shaking is likely to occur over decades — information that is used to develop building codes and design structures to withstand the expected shaking.
Additionally, hurricanes have the potential to impact – in sometimes devastating ways – large areas of the country, from the Gulf of Mexico all the way up the eastern seaboard and in the Pacific. While the number of hurricanes and tropical storms can vary from season to season, all it takes is one storm to make it a hurricane season to remember. This year, people in the northwestern Bahamas are just beginning their long road to recovery after Hurricane Dorian decimated parts of the island nation Sept. 1 through Sept. 3, and people from Florida to North Carolina’s Outer Banks are continuing cleanup efforts after Dorian skimmed along the nation’s Atlantic coastline.
For Dorian, USGS coastal change experts released several coastal change hazard forecasts as the storm approached, up until the storm’s strong surge and waves began to impact the nation’s shorelines. USGS field crews deployed more than 350 storm-tide sensors and rapid deployment gauges from Florida to Virginia to document storm-tides and flood waters triggered by the hurricane. The scientific assessments based on data collected during Dorian can help communities recover from the effects of this storm and prepare for future storms. During hurricane seasons, the USGS provides scientific data that can inform decision makers as they make choices to protect the lives and property of millions of Americans.
The more we know about hazards, the more we can guard ourselves against their destructive impacts. The USGS is leading the way in providing information to support readiness and preparation for natural hazards. Our scientists, emergency managers, and administrators work with federal, state, and local agencies to understand hazards, communicate their potential risks and impacts and inform ways to mitigate large-scale loss of life and property.
USGS: Start with Science
The USGS works with many partners to monitor, assess and conduct research on a wide range of natural hazards. USGS science provides policymakers, emergency managers, and the public the understanding needed to enhance family and community preparedness, response, and resilience.
By identifying potential hazard scenarios and using USGS hazards science, federal, state, and local agencies can mitigate risk. For example, USGS science can be combined with population distribution to inform evacuation routes; local building and land-use codes to reduce impacts to critical facilities; emergency preparedness plans to ensure appropriate steps are taken before, during, and after an event. In addition, USGS science can inform large infrastructure investments – such as dams and reservoirs – and improvements to private property standards and materials, which all help to make homes and community structures more resilient to natural hazards.