Buildings in climate-fueled disaster hotspots: NPR


Hurricane Irma destroyed homes in the Florida Keys in 2017. A new study finds that buildings in the contiguous United States are concentrated in disaster-prone areas.

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Matt McClain/AFP

Hurricane Irma destroyed homes in the Florida Keys in 2017. A new study finds that buildings in the contiguous United States are concentrated in disaster-prone areas.

Matt McClain/AFP

A new study finds that more than half of the buildings in the neighboring United States are in disaster hotspots. Tens of millions of homes, businesses, and other buildings are concentrated in areas most at risk from hurricanes, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and earthquakes.

The findings underscore how development patterns are exacerbating the damage from climate change.

“We know we lose billions of dollars every year [and] says Virginia Iglesias, a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder and one of the co-authors New study. “Of course climate change has a lot to do with this because climate change increases the likelihood of extreme events. But at the same time, it also matters what is in the way of damage.”

Iglesias and her colleagues analyzed records going back to 1945 to see how many buildings were in natural hazard hotspots. They focused on the most dangerous places – areas where the probability of a disaster or its magnitude is within the top 10%.

They found that such disaster hotspots represent about 30% of the contiguous United States, but are home to nearly 60% of the country’s buildings.

This means that development is concentrated in the most dangerous places. “We’re putting more buildings and more people in these vulnerable areas,” says AR Siders, a disaster researcher at the University of Delaware who was not involved in the new study. “In the United States, we have a great deal of control over risk. Through our development, through local land use, through zoning, through where we allow development to occur.”

The study found that development in areas prone to wildfires has accelerated as quickly as possible from any danger, especially since the 1980s. Most of this building takes place in the western United States. In the eastern United States, cities continue to scale up development in places highly prone to hurricanes.

About 1.5 million buildings are located in hot spots of two or more hazards. For example, parts of the western United States are highly vulnerable to both wildfires and earthquakes, or parts of the southern United States are at high risk for floods, hurricanes, and hurricanes.

Most people who live in flood and fire-prone areas of the United States are unaware of the risks to their homes, in part because that risk is Not disclosed to home buyers or renters.

The study authors used a massive database of building records compiled by the research arm of real estate-based company Zillow. Records go back more than a century, and show where and when buildings were built across the contiguous United States. In the past few years, climate researchers have increasingly incorporated this data into their work, as it becomes clear that severe weather and the built environment are inextricably linked.

Data like this can help shed light on the people most at risk from climate-induced disasters. “We know from research by other groups that extreme events and natural disasters increase social inequality,” says Iglesias. She says she and her colleagues are working on follow-up studies looking at people living in disaster epicenters.

She hopes that such research will help policymakers and residents make more informed decisions about where to allow new development, and how to make buildings more resilient.

Siders agree that such research is an important tool, especially for local governments that control zoning codes and enforce building codes. “[Studies like this one] We hope to give an impetus to local governments to sit down and say “we can address the risks in our communities by taking proactive steps to not allow new development in the most vulnerable areas,” Siders says.

Currently, Siders says, many local authorities are not taking such steps to reduce risks. Local governments have an incentive to retain the population and tax base by allowing new development, even in areas highly prone to disasters. This has led coastal cities to approve waterfront homes even as sea levels rise and floods become more harmful, Study 2020 have found.

A similar trend is happening in the western United States, as homes continue to be built in places that are likely to burn. Around A quarter of California’s population سكان They live in high-risk wildfire areas, a recent report found.

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