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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

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Land-use choices can turn geological events into human disasters

By Michelle Warmuth, Editorial Assistant

Duncan FoleyErupting volcanoes and earthquakes aren't just geological events -- they can become human disasters through the choices we make about land use, according to Duncan Foley, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of geosciences at PLU.

Many community members attended Foley's Oct. 20 lecture in Chris Knutzen Hall, where he carefully outlined potential and past geological disasters in Washington state and reiterated that the choices we make determine the severity of geological events.

It is these choices that directly affect the potential for human disasters, and sometimes we don't make the wisest decisions. Foley points out some local examples, which include building a new elementary school and multiple housing developments directly in the volcanic path of Mount Rainier and building a major league sports venue close to the suspected location of the Seattle fault.

But preparation pays. Foley suggests that people who live in potential disaster areas should become aware of the consequences and take steps to prepare, such as creating an emergency evacuation plan and obtaining emergency preparedness kits for their home and car.

"Without geology we wouldn't be here. The past is the key to the present (and the future) and the present is the key to the past," says Foley.

Geology is a two-way street -- it impacts us, we impact it. Our choices can often times impact geology in ways that benefit society, such as creating ideal habitats to increase the salmon population, which may reduce hazards from flooding in urban areas, explains Foley.

We have a need to live in harmony with the natural forces of the Pacific Northwest. The bottom line is it's our choice if we let natural geologic events become hazards and if we let hazards become disasters.

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