Types of Disasters and Their Consequences

American Public Health Association 

In This Article

Natural and Technological Disasters

Natural disasters can be categorized as "acute" or "slow" in their onset. They are predictable because they cluster in geographic areas. Natural hazards are unpreventable and, for the most part, uncontrollable. Even if quick recovery occurs, natural disasters can have long–term effects. Natural disasters with acute onsets include events such as earthquake, flood, hurricane or typhoon, tornado, fire, tsunami or storm surge, avalanche, volcanic eruption, extreme cold or blizzard, and heat wave. Natural hazards with a slow or gradual onset include drought, famine, desertification, deforestation, and pest infestation. The most important natural disasters and examples of their environmental effects are listed in Table 1 .

Technological or manmade disasters include nuclear accidents, bombings, and bioterrorism. Increasingly, agencies involved in disasters and their management are concerned with the interactions between man and nature, which can be complex and can aggravate disasters.

The severity of damage caused by natural or technological disasters is affected by population density in disaster-prone areas, local building codes, community preparedness, and the use of public safety announcements and education on how to respond correctly at the first signs of danger. Recovery following a disaster varies according to the public's access to pertinent information (e.g., sources of government and private aid), pre-existing conditions that increase or reduce vulnerability (i.e., economic or biological factors), prior experience with stressful situations, and availability of sufficient savings and insurance.


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