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Finding a sensible balance for natural hazard mitigation with mathematical models
Date:4/30/2013

Uncertainty issues are paramount in the assessment of risks posed by natural hazards and in developing strategies to alleviate their consequences.

In a paper published last month in the SIAM/ASA Journal on Uncertainty Quantification, the father-son team of Jerome and Seth Stein describe a model that estimates the balance between costs and benefits of mitigationefforts to reduce losses by taking action now to reduce consequences later following natural disasters, as well as rebuilding defenses in their aftermath. Using the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan as an example, the authors help answer questions regarding the kinds of strategies to employ against such rare events.

"Science tells us a lot about the natural processes that cause hazards, but not everything," says Seth Stein. "Meteorologists are steadily improving forecasts of the tracks of hurricanes, but forecasting their strength is harder. We know a reasonable amount about why and where earthquakes will happen, some about how big they will be, but much less about when they will happen. This situation is like playing the card game '21', in which players see only some of the dealer's cards. It is actually even harder, because we do not fully understand the rules of the game, and are trying to figure them out while playing it."

Earthquake cyclestriggered by movement of the Earth's tectonic plates and the resulting stress and strain at plate boundaries are irregular in time and space, making it hard to predict the timing and magnitude of earthquakes and tsunamis. Hence, forecasting the probabilities of future rare events presents "deep uncertainty," Stein says. "Deep uncertainties arise when the probabilities of outcomes are poorly known, unknown, or unknowable. In such situations, past events may give little insight into future ones."

Another conundrum for authorities in such crisis situations is the appropriate amount of resources to direct toward a disaster zone
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Contact: Karthika Muthukumaraswamy
karthika@siam.org
267-350-6383
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Source:Eurekalert

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