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Natural Disasters: Getting Started

Provides methods of finding information on such natural disasters as volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, severe weather, and shows how to tap into the worldwide movement to mitigate the severity of disasters and build disaster-resilient communities.

Getting Started

This research guide will help to meet the following objectives:

  • Learn how to construct an effective search for information on disasters.
  • Learn how to search for credible sources and evaluate them.

Complications in searching for information on disasters:

It is the nature of natural disasters that if a disaster has happened once, it is likely to happen again.  So you must determine if you are studying a historic disaster, a current disaster, the threat of a disaster, or all three.

Historic or current disasters often have a name, which might make searching easier.  However, some of the names are so legendary that they have come to mean something else, for example, Vesuvius, the name of a notorious volcano in Italy that destroyed a city in 79 C.E., has also been used for, among other things, the name of Italian restaurants.

Evaluating the Credibility of a Website

Because the threat of a natural disaster is so disturbing, it often becomes of focus of irresponsible writing and websites.  Determining the credibility of a source is crucial:

When looking at information found on the Internet, it is important to evaluate the quality of the material that you find.

Key Items to Review:

  • Who published the site? Scan the URL for clues, such as the domain, company (.com), an organization (.org), or a school or university (.edu).Check for personal names in the URL (jsmith for example). Personal pages may be fine, but the information has not usually been checked by anybody other than the page creator.
  • Scanning the page, can you find links such as "About Us," or "Who I am?" You are checking to see if somebody (or an organization) claims "ownership" of the material on the page. Also, see if the author has posted his or her credentials (such as master's or doctoral degree, or employment with relevant organization). These may indicate their qualifications to write the material on the page.
  • Currency of the page. You might find that some sites look good, but the last time they were updated was 1999! If you need current information, this is something to look for.

For detailed information, please see the following sites:


Natural hazard:  a natural process and event that is a potential threat to human life and property.  Examples:  a dormant volcano; an earthquake fault; a boulder at the top of a steep slope.

Natural disaster:  a hazardous event that occurs ovr a limited time span within a defined area.  Criteria for a natural disaster are any one of the four following circumstances:  (1) 10 or more people are killed, (2) 100 or more people are affected, (3) a state of emergency is declared, and/or (4) international assistance is requested.

Catastrophe:  a massive disaster that requires a significant expenditure of money and a long time (often years) for (any) recovery to take place.  Examples:  Hurricane Katrina flooding New Orleans and the Mississippi coast, 2005; Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, 2011; Haiti Earthquake, 2010; Mississippi floods, 1993.

Risk:   Product of the probability of a particular event occurring and the likely consequences should it occur -- (Probability X Consequences).

--Modified from Keller and DeVecchio.  Natural Hazards, 4th ed., 2015.