WMU News

WMU profs contribute to book on natural disasters

Jan. 27, 2005

KALAMAZOO--Set against the backdrop of mudslides in Southern California and an earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, a new book on natural disasters, co-edited by two Western Michigan University professors, has been released.

In addition to mudslides, earthquakes and tsunamis, "International Perspectives on Natural Disasters: Occurrence, Mitigation and Consequences" explores such destructive forces as volcanism, tornadoes, hurricanes and wild fires. The book, released in late November by Kluwer Academic Publications, was co-edited by WMU's Dr. Lisa DeChano, assistant professor of geography, and Dr. Joseph Stoltman, professor of geography, along with Dr. John Lidstone, a senior lecturer on the faculty of education at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. His academic hobby is teaching about disasters. The three also co-wrote the introductory and final chapters.

Divided into two parts, the first seven chapters talk about specific natural disasters in general terms, describing the processes behind them and their impact. The second part is divided by region, with disaster experts around the globe describing natural catastrophes prevalent in that area. Many give a chronology of large disasters that have taken place in that part of the world.

"There's a lot of information in the book," DeChano says. "It's very global. The authors chosen for the book are some of the leading experts in their field in the various regions."

The editors also placed a big emphasis on education, DeChano adds.

"One of the purposes of the book was to give educators an idea of things they can do to teach their students how to be prepared for certain disasters that might occur in that area or in areas in which they might travel," DeChano says. "So there is a lot of mitigation information--how to prevent damage, how to alleviate it and what to do before, during and after an event."

A good example of education's role in mitigating a disaster is the recent Indian Ocean tsunami. DeChano notes that a student from England, who had taken a geography class and learned about tsunamis, recognized the telltale signs of impending calamity. She and her family warned people on the beach to seek higher ground, reducing casualties in that area.

The book explores the so-called "Ring of Fire," the hotspot of earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunami activity around the rim of the Pacific Ocean, DeChano says. An extensive tsunami warning system has been put in place in the Pacific, since tsunamis are much more common there. Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean are very rare and a warning system has not been established.

Commissioned by UNESCO--United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization--the book has been some 10 years in the making as part of the International Decade for Natural Disasters Research project, DeChano says. Two chapters toward the end of the book deal with disaster education in the K-12 curriculum.

"It's not completely focused on the processes of natural disasters and what's happening in various regions," she says. "It has some educational outlooks to it, too. While it wasn't written as a textbook, it can very easily be used as a textbook for an upper-division hazards class or a master's hazards class."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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