Storm preparedness: how natural hazards become natural disasters

Whether you like math or not, this is one equation that you just can’t ignore:

  • Hazard X Vulnerability = Risk of Disaster

In simple words, this means

  • Remove either the hazard or the vulnerability and you get rid of the potential for disaster.

A hazard can become a disaster only if there is vulnerability or a weakness. For example, the 1998 ice storm seriously affected the lives of one in four Canadians. Why? It’s easiest to answer this if we think about what would have happened if the same storm had hit 150 years earlier. In fact, a big ice storm in 1838 may have been considered nothing more than a nuisance or even a mild curiosity. This is because Canadians in the mid-1800s were not dependent on electricity for their energy needs or on ice-free roads and runways for transportation. Between those two periods of time, Canadians built new infrastructures that became central to our lifestyles, but those infrastructures also made us vulnerable to a major ice storm in 1998. An ice storm in 1838 and one in 1998 are the same hazard--the only difference is the vulnerability.

Hurricanes and tropical storms are a kind of natural hazard, and people in eastern Canada are generally vulnerable to these types of storms. Some people have suggested that the best way to remove the potential for a natural disaster is to get rid of these disasters altogether. Whether or not this is even a good idea (hurricanes may play an important role in regulating the heat of the earth). We shouldn’t sit back and wait for someone to figure out how to make hurricanes go away, because the storms will keep coming in the meantime.

That leaves tackling the vulnerability as our only real chance to prevent a disaster. History shows that the two common threads among major weather disasters are awareness and preparation. Ask yourself three questions:

  1. Am I fully aware of the threat of tropical cyclones where I live? 
  2. Am I fully aware of my vulnerability to the effects of these storms?
  3. Do I know what to do to now, and when a storm is approaching, to be prepared?

Your answer to these questions will determine whether tropical cyclones could become a personal disaster for you. Living in the 21st century, with all of its progress and advantages, has in some ways put us at a disadvantage, by putting us in a more vulnerable position when storms like hurricanes strike. Therefore, it’s as important as ever for each of us to consider our own vulnerability.

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