Natural Disasters: Is It Time to Take Our Heads Out of the Sand

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Natural Disasters: Is It Time for Us to Take Our Heads Out of the Sand? It is a common misconception that a natural disaster only happens to other people. People might be aware of the probable occurrence of hurricanes, tornadoes, or earthquakes but think the actual damage is something that happens to other people: “Natural disasters are catastrophic events with atmospheric, geologic and hydrologic origins” (Watson 1). Watson delineates disasters to include “earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, tsunamis, floods, and drought” (1). Natural disasters can have a multitude of effects upon a community from both economic and social standpoints, as well as from physical and psychological perspectives. A natural disaster undeniably causes a great strain on both food and water supplies; the effects of a natural disaster on water supply and the concomitant medical and economic results of water emergencies are often underestimated and misunderstood. Obtaining accurate information is the first step in determining a need for a disaster preparedness plan; understanding the medical results that may result in a natural disaster due to compromised water supplies further mandate a need for disaster preparedness plans both at the familial and the community levels. Elucidating natural disasters’ effects on water supply, both medically and economically, provides communities and individuals with knowledge on how to prepare and minimize the effects of potentially catastrophic events.

A natural disaster is defined as “an event of nature, which overwhelms local resources and threatens the function and safety of the community,” and is largely, “the ultimate test of a community’s emergency response capability” (March 1). While “[e]very disaster scenario is unique in its own way and presents new and unusual challenges to victims and emergency personnel alike,” “disaster situations do follow general patterns and develop along similar paths” (1). Individual families need to have basic disaster kits prepared and always easily accessible (see Figures 1A and 1B). But, what is the role of communities and societies in response to a natural disaster? Economic communities and societies have a responsibility to their individual and collective members: “In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast approximately 3 weeks and 250 miles apart, forcing the largest mass evacuation and causing the most wide-spread evacuation experienced in the U.S. since the 1930’s Dust Bowl” (Bame et al. 1). “If we add to natural disasters the increasing vulnerability caused by human activity, such as industrialization, uncontrolled urbanization, and the deterioration of the environment, we see a dramatic increase in frequency and effects of natural disasters” (“Natural Disaster Mitigation” 1). Many studies have elucidated that there is a tendency to believe that natural disasters are rare events and that recurrence will be either non-existent or lacking in comparable severity. However, in reality the consequences tend to be more severe; not only have natural disasters increased in intensity and severity but the at-risk population and community infrastructures have continued to grow. We, as a society, need to face these realities and incorporate probable outcomes of natural disasters into disaster preparedness plans and emergency response protocols.

Drinking water and sewerage services are essential to ensuring the health and well-being of populations and, as such, fulfill an important role in the processes of disaster preparedness and emergency response: “Most of us can’t survive more than three days without [water] and natural disasters often knock water-treatment plants offline” (Galvin 61). In emergency or disaster situations these basic services are not only imperative in reducing the incidence and prevalence of communicable diseases but also imperative for the rapid return to normalcy. One of the first priorities after a disaster is to provide...
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