United States death map revealed

December 16, 2008

A map of natural hazard mortality in the United States has been produced. The map, featured in BioMed Central's open access International Journal of Health Geographics, gives a county-level representation of the likelihood of dying as the result of natural events such as floods, earthquakes or extreme weather.

Susan Cutter and Kevin Borden, from the University of South Carolina, Columbia, used nationwide data going back to 1970 to create their map. According to Cutter, "This work will enable research and emergency management practitioners to examine hazard deaths through a geographic lens. Using this as a tool to identify areas with higher than average hazard deaths can justify allocation of resources to these areas with the goal of reducing loss of life".

Hazard mortality is most prominent in the South, where most people were killed by various severe weather hazards and tornadoes. Other areas of elevated risk are the northern Great Plains Region where heat and drought were the biggest killers and in the mountain west with winter weather and flooding deaths. The south central US is also a dangerous area, with floods and tornadoes posing the greatest threat.

Heat/drought ranked highest among the hazard categories, causing 19.6% of total deaths, closely followed by severe summer weather (18.8%) and winter weather (18.1%). Geophysical events (such as earthquakes), wildfires, and hurricanes were responsible for less than 5% of total hazard deaths combined. Cutter said, "What is noteworthy here is that over time, highly destructive, highly publicized, often catastrophic singular events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compared to the more frequent, less catastrophic events such as heat waves and severe weather (summer or winter)".

The authors conclude, "The spatial patterns revealed in our results may be unsurprising - greater risk of death along the hurricane coasts, in the interior west, and in the South - all areas prone to natural hazards as well as significant population growth and expansion throughout the study period. However, using this analysis as a blueprint for hazard mortality 'hot spots' supports justification for a more in-depth study of hazard- induced deaths in specific regions or communities. It is at this local scale where defining the deadliest hazard becomes important and emergency management officials can take action to try to reduce the number of future deaths".
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Notes to Editors

1. Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States
Kevin A Borden and Susan L Cutter
International Journal of Health Geographics (in press)

During embargo, article available here: http://www.ij-healthgeographics.com/imedia/2127536345218207_article.pdf?random=718951
After the embargo, article available at journal website: http://www.ij-healthgeographics.com/

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request at press@biomedcentral.com on the day of publication.

2. International Journal of Health Geographics is an Open Access, peer-reviewed, online journal fully dedicated to publishing quality manuscripts on all aspects of geospatial information systems and science applications in health and healthcare.

3. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.

BioMed Central

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