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Letter from the Editor

Natural hazards are threats from naturally occurring events that cause harm to humans and the things they value. Natural hazards science examines phenomena and processes that affect humans, and how humans respond to these phenomena. It includes investigations on the origination of events in the geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and the exosphere (space) as well as our responses to such events, including: the social processes that govern risk assessment, management, preparation and prevention, mitigation, resilience, and adaptation.

Because the science examines interactions between natural and human systems, multidisciplinary expertise is necessary to clarify the complexities involved -- from the natural sciences and engineering, to the social and health sciences, and the science of policy and governance. Here, the breadth of subject matter ranges from specific hazard types or perils (such as earthquakes, floods or cyclonic storms) to more complex events with cascading or secondary effects. One cascading event we know well: the Tohoku earthquake (shown in the image below) and tsunami in Japan in 2011, which inundated the Fukushima nuclear power plant causing a major meltdown and release of radioactivity, contaminating both the immediate area and other places downwind. In this light, our primary subject matter also includes social themes (such the human consequences and responses to hazard events and mechanisms for reducing impacts through mitigation, risk reduction, and enhanced resilience). Such themes reflect societal processes that aggravate or attenuate hazards exposure and consequences (such as vulnerability, development, and governance and their variability from local to global scales).

Tohoku Earthquake Aftermath

No single individual has the breadth of knowledge across all natural hazard science domains, but collectively we can interact and integrate our research to build a robust and transformative science that helps to explain natural hazards, their impacts, and how we respond to them. This is why this Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science is such an exciting project, and one that will have a lasting impact on the field.

Directly nourishing the vision for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science is the production of quality, synthesis articles that trace the development of the topical area of focus. Written by recognized experts, the articles will address historical and consensus perspectives, along with research trends— what we currently know, what that knowledge is based on, and what is not known. Articles will detail the intellectual antecedents of the topical area as well as key seminal ideas and luminaries who helped shape the field, identify controversies and premiere debates, and finally address the influence of research on public policy and practice. This is a monumental task, but our team is clearly engaged and energized by the potentials at hand.

There are several ways that we can facilitate the integration of the content we will publish toward a more comprehensive, synthetic understanding of natural hazard phenomena. Whether this means assembling articles around defined thematic areas, co-authorship from diverse fields, robust cross-referencing, and more, the synthetic context will prevail. We feel that both the specialist and non-specialist will benefit from such an arrangement: the specialist can gain a broader and more comprehensive view of a topical area and related areas, while the non-specialist can gain the kind of perspective that he or she will need in order to understand a topical area and its referents. More importantly, educators and students can use the resource as a way of discovering past and contemporary trends, including areas requiring more or different research, and of course contextualizing their own contributions to the advancement of natural hazard science.

Susan Cutter

The cornerstone of the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science is this digital, online service, coupled with specially-produced curated volumes that will publish on line and in print. As the research community learns valuable knowledge from every disaster, which can be captured and incorporated quickly in this online format, periodic updates and revisions will be important. This dynamic functionality will also serve to keep the encyclopedia current.

My hope is that the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science will be the integrated research hub (or go-to place) for professionals, policy makers, scientists, researchers, educators and students interested in learning more about natural hazard science in both its historical and contemporary contexts. I am excited by the possibility of making a lasting contribution to how our science progresses in its basic understanding and in its research-based applications toward reducing the impacts of natural hazards on society. This timely, innovative project, ever evolving, integrated in content and approach, engaging a team of internationally-acclaimed experts, provides a perfect venue. Understanding that natural hazards affect everyone, everywhere, we embark on this adventure together, and look forward to your comments and feedback.

Susan L. Cutter, Ph.D.
University of South Carolina
Editor in Chief

Susan Cutter