While the Circum-Pacific Region is in triage after the late December tsunami wipe-out, geologists involved with geohazards continue to struggle with a question:
Short of an actual warning -- which is nigh impossible this side of a Ouija board -- how are scientists to provide relevant information concerning geohazards?
David Howell, recently retired from the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and an officer of the AAPG-affiliated Circum-Pacific Council, has approached the question throughout his 30-year career.
When it comes to geohazards, geologists have done a bang-up job on answering the basic questions of Where, What, Why and How.
It's the When that presents the conundrum.
A case in point is the Natural Hazards Potential Map of the Circum-Pacific Region, published by the Circum-Pacific Council in 1990 and available through the AAPG Bookstore.
The map noted areas where earthquakes were prone to occur, rated volcano-prone areas and marked areas where tsunamis likely lurked sometime in the future. But when the future became "now" on Dec. 26, there was little infrastructure for warning -- and the highly-populated coastal areas were ripe for disaster.
At press time, loss of life is at 175,000-plus and growing.
And future disasters will only get worse, Howell said, as "more things are put in harm's way -- mainly people, in the case of the Circum-Pacific."
He noted that cities are continuing to be built -- and grow -- in geologically precarious areas.
"Poor countries tend to have greater vulnerability to loss of life," Howell said. "If that same tsunami would have hit the West Coast of the U.S., it is highly unlikely we would have lost anywhere near as many people. However, if that earthquake would have hit on the West Coast, the property damage would have been astronomical."
Meanwhile, humans reactively rock along, cleaning up after geo-tragedy after geo-tragedy -- and rebuilding in the same way in the same places, despite evidence that the probabilities are still intact for a repeat performance of at least one or several potential natural hazards.
Meanwhile, Howell says part of the process in answering the conundrum remains the same -- education.
One of the latest Circum-Pacific projects is still fighting the good fight -- the Crowding the Rim initiative. The CTR project involves the initial partners -- the USGS, American Red Cross and Stanford University -- as well as other earth science organizations through out the Pacific region.
CTR has held workshops, hosted a summit, created an interactive Web site, published an educational module and produced RIM SIM, a game simulation used to model effective multiparty negotiations in post disaster recovery.
These products can be reached through the Web site at www.crowdingtherim.org, which includes HazPac, an online map and database that allows a viewer to explore and learn about natural hazards of the Pacific Rim. As a dynamic and interactive map, it illustrates how natural hazards can affect the people and economies of local and distant communities.
While the Earth is taking center stage and everyone who can read or watch television has seen the devastation and been given Geology 101 lessons on why and how it happened, perhaps these education efforts can have a lasting effect in the recovery and rebuilding phase.
The Crowding the Rim initiative certainly hopes so.