National Preparedness Month: USGS Helping People Prepare For Natural Hazards
August 30, 2013

National Preparedness Month: USGS Helping People Prepare For Natural Hazards

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

As National Preparedness Month begins, it may be a good time to reflect on the threats we face around us, including damaging hurricanes, devastating wildfires, extreme heat waves and severe drought, among others.

To help keep us informed, the US Geological Survey (USGS) is planning to bring daily content in the form of preparedness information, posted over social media channels, alerting of the dangers we face and how to best prepare for them. People can find this content by following #30DaysPrep on Twitter or by visiting the Survey’s Facebook, Instagram and Google+ pages.

As wildfires continue to blaze through the Midwest and as the Atlantic hurricane season swings into full gear, now is the perfect time for individuals and communities to be prepared for natural hazards. The USGS “works with many partners to monitor, assess and conduct research on a wide range of natural hazards, providing policymakers and the public a needed understanding to enhance preparedness, response and resilience.”

Among the natural hazards we face, the USGS has outlined some of the most significant ones that Americans should be prepared for.


Topping the list are earthquakes. These are a national problem, with communities in no less than 37 states facing significant risks. The USGS has a wealth of informative tools to support earthquake loss reduction, including hazard assessments, scenarios, real-time earthquake monitoring and public preparedness handbooks.

The USGS and its partners developed an Earthquake Early Warning System this past April as part of Earthquake Awareness Month. While the system was developed with California in mind, it offers invaluable information for other regions as well.

People can sign up to receive earthquake notices through the USGS Earthquake Notification System as well as through the Survey’s social media channels. As well, tips and suggestions on how to be prepared in the event of an earthquake can be found at the USGS Prepare website and the Earthquake Country Alliance website.


Volcanic eruptions can cause utter devastation to regions surrounding such events. Lava, explosive blasts, ash clouds and pyroclastic flows can impact communities on a large scale. Noxious volcanic gas emissions have also caused lung problems far and wide. As Well, ash clouds have disrupted economies by diverting and delaying critical air traffic.

But in sharp contrast to earthquakes, preparedness efforts can be utilized hours, days or even months before an eruption, as volcanoes often show signs of unrest early on. With this in mind, the USGS developed the National Volcano Early Warning System to detect precursors to volcanic activity.

The USGS issues warning and alerts of potential volcanic hazards to emergency management authorities who can best handle potential threats. Currently, Alaska is facing increased threats from several active volcanoes. As well, Hawaii’s Kilauea is on high alert. For a status list of these and other volcanoes in the US visit the USGS alert and status page.


Landslides, mudslides and falling rocks and debris are dangerous and deadly hazards that can happen almost anywhere. The USGS is seeking answers to questions such as where, when and how often do these events occur, and how fast and far they may move. Areas that are most susceptible to landslides have been mapped by the USGS to identify what types of rainfall conditions will lead to such events. The USGS is also working closely with the NOAA’s National Weather Service on a Debris Flow Warning System to help provide critical information to communities at imminent risk.

Sinkholes have proven to be another big issue across the country. Several sinkholes have been observed recently in Florida, including one that swallowed up a house, killing a man in the process. Another recent sinkhole swallowed up a stand of 40-foot trees in a Louisiana swamp.

About 20 percent of the US sits atop karst, which is terrain where underlying rock can easily be dissolved by groundwater. Regions with underlying karst will continue to be vulnerable to sudden devastating sinkholes that are so far unpredictable. However, the USGS has been producing geologic maps to help emergency managers and others better understand karst regions and other areas that may be susceptible to such events.

The Survey recommends all people in areas vulnerable to sinkholes observe their property closely for the signs, which include: foundation anomalies, misaligned door frames, wall cracks, as well as small holes that may mysteriously crop up in and around the property. People can also check with their local or state geological surveys to find out if they live in areas underlain by karst.


Among the most destructive forces in nature are wildfires, which can quickly burn through forest, grasslands and homes, disrupting, displacing and destroying everything in its path. The USGS plays an integral role in preparing for and responding to wildfires, by providing tools and information before, during and after such disasters. The Survey provides fire managers with up-to-the minute maps and satellite data about current wildfire extent and behavior throughout the country.

But once the fires are under control, there are other dangers that arise. Erosion, landslides, water quality changes, and invasive species are all secondary effects of wildfires, and can often be more dangerous than the fire itself. The USGS also offers assessments on fire aftermath to help guide restoration of fallen communities and devastated ecosystems.


Flooding is among the most dangerous of natural hazards Americans face. Each year in the US, spring thawing, summer monsoons and autumn hurricanes have the potential to cause devastating deluges that show nearly no boundaries.

While rivers can rise, they can also recede, which also brings signs of another natural hazard: drought. Droughts not only affect the environment and its inhabitants, but also the economy. During the record drought of 2012, agriculture suffered losses that some experts estimated could rival the 1988 drought that cost agriculture nearly $80 billion.

The USGS conducts real-time monitoring of rivers and streams all across the US, providing crucial information for flood warnings and drought mitigation. The Survey’s WaterWatch site allows users to check in and see whether river levels in their area are up or down. Users can also receive texts and emails from WaterAlert when water levels exceed certain thresholds.

The USGS also works with the NWS to create flood inundation maps showing exactly where the water will be, what areas will be underwater and when a river or stream reaches a certain level. The USGS also studies coastal vulnerability and change from hurricanes and large coastal storms, helping to inform flood forecasts and evacuation warnings. The USGS also assesses the likelihood of beach erosion, overwash, surge and inundation due to such storms.

Unlike floods, droughts can take weeks, months or years before an impact begins in a specific region. The USGS contributes to the US Drought Monitor, which details drought conditions across the US. The Survey also reports to the NWS Drought Outlook, which forecasts future droughts.


There are numerous natural hazards that Americans face and these are but a few. Other hazards Americans face are magnetic storms, disease, environmental contamination, climate change, tornadoes, hurricanes, and the list goes on.

To learn more about National Preparedness Month, please visit FEMA or