Not all natural disasters can be prevented. However, the impacts can be lessened with proper planning and notification systems. Only by managing land and water resources--not for the possibility of a natural disaster but rather for the reality of it occurring--can higher costs in property damage and loss of human life be prevented. Planning requires the cooperation of a network of state and local officials working with federal agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assess risks and implement changes where necessary.
According to FEMA, floods are the most common natural disaster. Effects of floods are complicated by weather patterns such as drought, which hardens soils and increases the possibility of flash flooding. The amount of impervious surfaces in developed areas can contribute to flood waters and risk the health of local streams and watersheds.
One way to reduce the impacts of flooding is to restore and maintain river flood plains and wetlands. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that restoration of the Upper Mississippi's 100-year flood zone could have contained the estimated 39-million-square acre-feet of floodwater that caused the Great Flood of 1993 in this area.
A reduction in impervious surfaces is another measure that can prevent a natural disaster. Impervious surfaces include roads, parking lots and sidewalks found in developed areas. These surfaces often have replaced natural areas such as wetlands. The EPA estimates that a single acre of wetlands can store up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater. Replacing wetlands with impervious surfaces sets the stage for a flood event. By reducing the amount of impervious surface through city and local planning, flash flooding can be prevented or at the very least lessen impacts.
Climate monitoring by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service can help prevent human losses by notification of severe weather patterns. Storm warnings allow for proper preparation, even evacuation, in the event of a pending weather event. Likewise, monitoring of seismic activity by the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) can rapidly inform government agencies and the public of destructive earthquakes.
Natural disaster prevention also relies on the individual. The American Red Cross provides training for individuals to prepare for natural disasters. Having an emergency preparedness kit in your home is important, since some natural disasters can occur without warning. A well-stocked kit will include a complete first aid kit, a few days' supply of drinking water and canned goods, and other necessities such as batteries, an extra cellphone battery, matches and flashlights. While having the kit will not prevent the disaster, it will give you the peace of mind of being prepared.