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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States

Kevin A Borden and Susan L Cutter*

Author Affiliations

Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute, Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2008, 7:64  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-7-64

Published: 17 December 2008

Abstract

Background

Studies on natural hazard mortality are most often hazard-specific (e.g. floods, earthquakes, heat), event specific (e.g. Hurricane Katrina), or lack adequate temporal or geographic coverage. This makes it difficult to assess mortality from natural hazards in any systematic way. This paper examines the spatial patterns of natural hazard mortality at the county-level for the U.S. from 1970–2004 using a combination of geographical and epidemiological methods.

Results

Chronic everyday hazards such as severe weather (summer and winter) and heat account for the majority of natural hazard fatalities. The regions most prone to deaths from natural hazards are the South and intermountain west, but sub-regional county-level mortality patterns show more variability. There is a distinct urban/rural component to the county patterns as well as a coastal trend. Significant clusters of high mortality are in the lower Mississippi Valley, upper Great Plains, and Mountain West, with additional areas in west Texas, and the panhandle of Florida, Significant clusters of low mortality are in the Midwest and urbanized Northeast.

Conclusion

There is no consistent source of hazard mortality data, yet improvements in existing databases can produce quality data that can be incorporated into spatial epidemiological studies as demonstrated in this paper. It is important to view natural hazard mortality through a geographic lens so as to better inform the public living in such hazard prone areas, but more importantly to inform local emergency practitioners who must plan for and respond to disasters in their community.