Natural hazards are a part of the world in which we live. Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, wildfires and other hazardous events are natural phenomena. Natural hazards are inevitable and there is little humans can do to control force and intensity; however, how the natural and the built environments interact with hazards is quite different.
The natural environment is amazingly recuperative from the forces of wind, rain, fire and earth and can regenerate with resiliency, restoring habitat and ecosystems in time for the next generation of plant and animal life to begin anew. The built environment, however, is not as resilient. Natural disasters occur when human activity in the form of buildings, infrastructure, agriculture and other land uses are located in the path of the destructive forces of nature. Since the built environment is more susceptible to natural hazards and cannot recuperate like the natural environment, communities impacted by a natural hazard often recover only over a long period of time and at great social and economic cost.
In recent years, the frequency and impact of natural disasters has increased not because natural hazards occur more frequently but because more people are choosing to live and work in locations that put them and their property at risk. By the year 2010 the number of people residing in the most hurricane-prone counties throughout the nation will have doubled. Likewise, while floods have caused a greater loss of life and property and have disrupted more families and communities than all other natural hazards combined, the rate of development in flood-prone areas continues to escalate, putting more people and property in danger.
While natural hazards cannot be prevented, local communities can use various means to reduce the vulnerability of people and property to damage. Communities can reduce exposure to future natural hazards by managing the location and characteristics of both the existing and future built environment. By using location and construction techniques, a community can mitigate negative impacts and reduce future damage, both to human lives and to property.