Hazards

Natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes, and floods endanger public health and safety, threaten critical infrastructure, and cost our economy billions of dollars each year. Geoscientists study these hazards to provide information and warnings to populations at risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
American Geosciences Institute
U.S. Geological Survey

Latest News

Hazards fire houses
(2017-10-05)
September 27, 2017 The U.S. Forest Service estimates that up to 60 million acres of our national forests are at a high to very high risk of catastrophic wildfire. In 2017 alone, wildfires have burned more than 8 million acres of land in the United States and suppression costs have exceeded $2.3...
Cracked road from earthquake
(2017-09-29)
September 6, 2017 On September 6, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill (S.1768) to permanently reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). First authorized in 1977, NEHRP has led to significant improvements in earthquake research and infrastructure...
NASA hurricane satellite image
(2017-09-14)
August 29, 2017 In anticipation of Hurricane Harvey making landfall on the Gulf Coast, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were preparing for the massive storm by monitoring its...
Hazards fire houses
(2017-09-14)
August 3, 2017 As the U.S. endures another fire season, legislators on the Hill are seeking to address some of the challenges associated with managing wildland fires on federal land. A hearing held by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on August 3 tackled the complex challenges in...
Coastal hazards webinar flyer. Image Credit: C. Hegermiller, USGS
(2017-06-15)
Register now for this upcoming Critical Issues Webinar! July 6, 2017 at 1:30pm EDT. 90 minutes.   This special 1.5 hour-long AGI Critical Issues webinar will focus on efforts to anticipate, mitigate, and respond to coastal storms, erosion, and associated hazards at the federal, state, and local...
Atlantic waves
(2017-06-09)
May 25, 2017 On May 25, the Senate passed the Digital Coast Act (S.110) to help coastal communities prepare for storms, adapt to rising sea levels, and strengthen economic planning efforts. S.110 officially authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Digital Coast...
Earth
(2017-05-18)
April 6, 2017 The Hazards Caucus Alliance, a network that supports the Congressional Hazards Caucus, hosted a briefing on April 6 about how geologic and hazards mapping and monitoring are used to prepare and protect communities from natural hazards. The Hazards Caucus provides congressional staff...
Hazards fire houses
(2017-04-10)
March 27, 2017 The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a workshop on long-term approaches for wildfire management on March 27. The workshop looked at the costs of wildfires, not only in terms of the financial costs of fire suppression and rehabilitation of property and...
Cracked road from earthquake
(2017-04-10)
March 27, 2017 The Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act (H.R.654) moved a step closer to becoming law when the bill passed the House on March 27. Representative Pete DeFazio (D-OR-4) introduced H.R.654 on January 24. The bill would establish an earthquake and tsunami inter-agency task...
landslide
(2017-04-10)
March 22, 2017 Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the bipartisan National Landslide Preparation Act (S.698) on March 22. The bill directs the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to establish a National Landslide Hazards Reduction Program. This program would identify and...

Case Studies & Factsheets

CI_Factsheet_2017_5_drywellprograms_170906_thumb.JPG

Introduction Dry wells improve stormwater drainage and aquifer recharge by providing a fast, direct route for rainwater to drain deep into underlying sediment and rock. Dry wells are most common in the western U.S. where clay or caliche layers slow down the natural drainage of water into...

CI_Factsheet_2017_4_drywellbasics_170906_thumb.JPG

What is a Dry Well? A dry well is a well that is used to transmit surface water underground and is deeper than its width at the surface (see image, below). Most dry wells are 30 to 70 feet deep and 3 feet wide at the surface. They are lined with perforated casings and can be filled with gravel...

CI_CaseStudy_2017_1_VolcanicLandslides_thumb.JPG

More than just volcanic eruptions Volcanic eruptions are a serious hazard. But at many stratovolcanoes in Washington, Oregon, Northern California, and Alaska, landslides and debris flows can be just as dangerous. Some of these - especially volcanic mudflows (lahars) - are directly triggered by...

Tornado funnel. Image Credit: NOAA

Defining the Problem Following a tornado, first responders need maps of the width and location (swath) of the damage area. The biggest challenge when integrating remote sensing into disaster response is timeliness. To be most useful, remote sensing imagery maps must reach emergency management...

Pre-Ike (left) and post-Ike (right) ASTER imagery of Galveston Island, the Bolívar Peninsula, and the mainland in August 2006. Healthy (red) and dead (brown) vegetation shows storm surge inundation effects. Image Credit: Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observ.

Defining the Problem Hurricanes bring not only intense rainfall, but also high winds and flooding. This flooding is powered by the hurricane storm surge: a rise in coastal sea level caused by lowered barometric pressure and by wind blowing the ocean onto the land. The result is that waves and...

Fig. 1. A 1995 landslide in Overland Park, Kansas, destroyed two homes and damaged four lots. Credit: Kansas Geological Survey

Defining the Problem Damaging landslides occur even in vertically challenged states like Kansas (Fig. 1). It is important to be able to delineate landslide hazard areas in order to develop appropriate land-use plans. In Leavenworth County, Kansas, geologic maps combined with maps of landslide...

Fig. 1. Sinkholes in collapsed parking area, Frederick, MD. Sinkholes form in carbonate areas as the dissolving and weakening of bedrock cause it to collapse. Credit: D.K. Brezinksi

Defining the Problem Sinkholes, which abound in the Frederick Valley in west-central Maryland, impact urban growth and development (Fig. 1). Sinkholes form in carbonate areas as the dissolving and weakening of bedrock cause it to collapse. Activities, such as quarrying, which alter surface...

Fig.1. Home in Oakland, CA, destroyed by landslides in 1958. Source: J. Coe, USGS

Defining the Problem The geologic history of the Oakland, California, area has produced steep hillsides and unstable rock and soil that generate damaging landslides during severe storms and wet winters (Fig. 1 and 2). During the 1997-98 rainy-season, the two-county area surrounding Oakland...

Fig. 1. Densely built urban areas on soft soils are prone to earthquake damage. Geologic maps provide vital information on the extent of these soils. Credit: N.J. Department of Environmental Protection

Defining the Problem The density and value of its buildings place New Jersey tenth among all states for potential economic loss from earthquakes (Fig. 1) [as of 2005]1. Soft soils amplify the motion of earthquake waves, producing greater ground shaking and increasing the stresses on structures....

Fig. 1. Homeowners and emergency managers are still coping with debris flows and the aftermath of the 2002 Missionary Ridge wildfire near Durango, CO. Credit: P. Winkworth

Defining the Problem Wildfires, such as the Missionary Ridge fire that burned for more than a month in 2002 near Durango, Colorado (Fig. 1), and their aftermath can cause subsequent property and environmental damage. Many areas denuded by the fire are now susceptible to rapid erosion during...

Fig. 1. Although Glacier Peak normally can not be seen from any urban areas, this active volcano periodically erupts in an explosive catastrophic manner that could affect the lower part of the populated Skagit River Valley. Credit: D. Mullineaux, USGS

Defining the Problem Active volcanoes, such as Glacier Peak (Fig. 1), pose a variety of potential hazards. Like Mount Rainier (Fig. 2) and Mount St. Helens, the history of Glacier Peak includes explosive eruptions and lahars. Eruptions, earthquakes, or precipitation can trigger landslides that...

Fig. 3. U.S. Highway 85 crossing the Little Missouri River. Seventy-five percent of the rocks in this photograph, all of those in the foreground and the rocks along the north valley wall in the background have slid and are out of place. Credit: E. Murphy

Defining the Problem U.S Highway 85 and ND Highway 22, along with numerous county roads, buildings, pipelines, and power lines, have been constructed over existing landslides in the Little Missouri Badlands of western North Dakota. Since 1980, the repair and rerouting of damaged sections of...

Fig. 3. View of part of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline at the Denali Fault showing major design features. Fault movement and intense ground shaking were accommodated by zigzagging the pipeline and leaving it free to slide. Credit: M. Metz, Anchorage

Defining the Problem The 800-mile long Trans-Alaska Pipeline can carry 2 million barrels of oil per day equal to 17% of the nation’s daily consumption [these data come from the early 2000s; crude oil consumption in 2017 is only slightly lower]. A major earthquake along the Denali Fault where the...

Research Database Publications

Cover of OFR07-22 ; Source: Kansas Geological Survey
2007, Kansas Geological Survey (KGS)
The site was approximately four miles west and 13 miles south of the City of Greensburg, Kansas. The site was located in the Southwest quarter of the Northeast quarter of the Southeast quarter of Section 23, Township 30 south, Range 19 west, Kiowa, County, and was approximately 745 feet west and 2,...
Cover of ofr20161071; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2016, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
The magnitude 4.0 earthquake that occurred on October 16, 2012, near Hollis Center and Waterboro in southwestern Maine surprised and startled local residents but caused only minor damage. A two-person U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team was sent to Maine to conduct an intensity survey and document...
Cover of FS_12; Source: Kentucky Geological Survey
2014, Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS)
Seismic events can result from natural causes such as fault movement and volcanic activity, or human activities such as mine blasts or injection of fluids into deep boreholes. The magnitude of and distance from a seismic event, along with other factors, determines the amount of shaking that may be...
Cover of O-2015-07; Source: Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI)
2015, Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI)
The objective of the Curry County Flood Hazard Project is to develop updated Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps (DFIRM) and a Flood Insurance Study (FIS) report for Curry County, Oregon (Figure 1-1). For this effort, DOGAMI will be using newly acquired (2008) light detection and ranging data (lidar...
Cover of RI2014-5; Source: Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys
2014, Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (AK DGGS)
Fisher volcano, containing the largest Holocene caldera in the Aleutian volcanic arc, is an active volcano near the center of Unimak Island, about 120 kilometers southwest of Cold Bay and about 175 kilometers northeast of Dutch Harbor. The volcano is composed of numerous small volcanic centers...
Cover of ofr2016-1192; Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey
2017, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
This paper describes the tectonic summaries for all magnitude 7 and larger earthquakes in the period 2000–2015, as produced by the U.S. Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center during their routine response operations to global earthquakes. The goal of such summaries is to provide...
Cover of AGU Position statement; Image Credit: AGU
2015, American Geophysical Union (AGU)
Natural hazards are inevitable, but disasters are not. Scientific research improves our understanding of the ways in which our society is affected by natural hazards. We create a more resilient society where lives are saved and economic losses are minimized when this information is used in...
Cover of PP1710; Source: USGS
2005, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
We studied the role of scientists and scientific information in the decision-making processes used by local jurisdictions and communities in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, California, to address a contentious environmental dispute involving flooding and habitat restoration of the San...
Cover of PP1821: Source: USGS
2015, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Flooding in the Northeastern United States during 2011 was widespread and record setting. This report summarizes peak streamflows that were recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) during separate flooding events in February, March, April, May, July, August, and September. The flooding of late...
Cover of SP48; Source: Colorado Geological Survey
1999, Colorado Geological Survey (CGS)
Nowhere else in the United States are avalanches more deadly than in Colorado. The reason can be found in the Colorado snowpack. Located furthest from the oceans, the Colorado mountains usually have a shallower and colder snowpack than other western states. And in cold, shallow snowpacks there are...