Natural Hazards

Coastal Management Fall 2018

2018 Coastal Opinions

Natural Hazards


By Zachary Adkins, Matthew Hershberger, and Marcus Medina

Pierpont Beach in Ventura, CA after large surf and high tide December 2015. (Jenkin, 2018)



Perhaps one of the most vital issues to be considered when making coastal management decisions is the issue of natural hazards. Natural hazards are defined as extreme natural events which, when interacting with social systems, produce negative or damaging effects (Parker 1979). Perhaps a more effective way to describe what constitutes a natural hazard, would be to distinguish it from a natural disaster. A hazard describes a threat of an imposing negative effect on systems, be they human or natural. That effect is what we call a natural disaster. This distinction is important because it is often found that making management decisions is a practice that deals in being proactive instead of reactive. As a hazard is an issue before concrete damage is done, dealing with these is a proactive choice. Trying to restore damaged systems after damage is dealt is reactive.

Historically, humans have had a direct impact on the nature, severity, and longevity of natural hazards. Many of which, ironically, stem from a anthropogenic motive to quell the forces of nature resulting in further damage. Take the response to sea level rise for instance. Instead of designing a coastal management plan that takes a pro-active approach, humans have largely reacted by putting seawalls, revetments, and other “quick-fixes” against a force of nature. Gauging these decisions that we have made in the past, and how they been perceived by the public, is an instrumental task in moving toward a much more stable coastal management plan.

Overview of Current Situation

Today the current opinion among Californians shows  a concern about the relationship between climate change and drought. This drought posses a threat in several different ways, including both sustainability and wildfire potential.  According to Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC),  the general concern for the drought in California has been increasing significantly since march 2014. 64% of adults who participated in the statewide survey believe that global warming has contributed to California’s drought. Also 50% of Californians are “very concerned” about the drought severity, and 68% of the population believe that water shortage/drought is the state’s most important environmental issue.

The general public in California is well aware of the potential hazard of water shortage. The PPIC survey draws a connection between climate change or global warming and the drought. To say climate change has a direct relationship with the drought would be an accurate assessment of the statewide opinion in California.

Relevant Survey Questions

Assessing attitudes towards coastal natural hazards can play a vital role understanding the preparedness of communities for inevitable natural disasters as well as their relative attitudes towards the influences acting on such disasters. Various questions from the 2018 opinion poll that are of interest to the topic of natural hazards are:

  1. Global Climate Change is a major problem we need to address now.

(agree/ disagree/ I don’t know)

  1. Might climate change have played or be playing a role (intensity, size, etc.) in…

(very likely/ somewhat likely/ no strong opinion / somewhat unlikely/ very unlikely/ I don’t know)

  1. The Hurricanes of 2017
  2. The Thomas Fire/Mudslides
  3. California’s recent drought
  4. Coastal erosion/changed beach extent
  1. The fires of 2017-2018 seriously impacted me:

(not at all/ initially/ to this day/ I don’t know)

  1. The correct response to these coastal disasters was/is:

For theses cities/areas, we should rebuild ________: (all/ most/ parts/ none/ I don’t know)

Ventura/Santa Barbara after Thomas Fire

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

New York/New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy

Malibu after the 2007 fires

Houston after Hurricane Harvey

Key West after Hurricane Irma

Santa Rosa after the 2017 fires

Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

The Carolinas after Hurricane Florence



The general public of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles Counties feels that….


  • Climate change is a natural hazard that contributed to several natural disasters in recent years.


By viewing the results from questions seven and eight, we can say that 86% of people feel that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed now. Of those that agree with this, 80% believe that climate change could have played a role in the natural disasters described in question 8. Figure 1 displays the attitudes towards natural events of those who believe that climate change is an issue. Figure 2 displays the attitudes towards the same events but of those who do not believe that climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed.



  • Those affected by the 2017-18 fires show a larger desire to rebuild locally rather than nationally.


Questions thirty-one and thirty-two lead us to believe that 59% of people who were surveyed were in some way affected by the fires of 2017-2018, whether initially, or continually. Comparing the attitudes towards rebuilding post-disaster of the 59% that were affected with the 41% that weren’t; those affected showed a larger desire to rebuild locally, where those who weren’t showed a desire to rebuild more broadly.

Figure 1. Climate change acceptors opinions of the effect of climate change. (All data ± 3% based on survey controls)



Figure 2. Climate change deniers opinion of the effect of climate change. (All data ± 3% based on survey controls)



Figure 3. People affected by 2017-18 fires attitudes toward reconstruction after natural disaster. (All data ± 3% based on survey controls)



Figure 4. People unaffected by 2017-18 fires attitudes toward reconstruction after natural disaster. (All data ± 3% based on survey controls)


Overall the people of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles Counties appear to be worried about the impending threat of natural hazards such as fire and climate change. Recently with the increase in natural disasters people are becoming more aware of possible hazards in the areas they live.  Possibly due to recent events, when polling people, the topics of fire and hurricane are often discussed seeming to grow in relevance and interest.

Interestingly even among those who deny that Global Climate Change is an issue, there are some discrepancies in effect that it might have had on recent natural events. As well as this the majority of the same people majority believe that climate change has played a role in the recent drought in California. Southern California has been affected by the drought more so than our northern and central counterparts, and the effects of this natural hazard in recent years could be some of the reasoning for the inconsistency in answers


Key Takeaway

The people of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles Counties seem to agree that Global Climate Change is playing a significant role in the increase in natural hazards, especially locally. The majority also feel that disasters are inevitable and cities should rebuild regardless of higher hazard areas.



Anderson, Sean. 2012. Public perceptions of coastal resources in southern California. Urban Coast 3(1): 36-47.

Baldassare. M, D.Bonner, D. Kordus & L.Lopes (2015). Californians & the Environment. Public Policy Institute of California statewide survey

Chiono, L. A. 2012. Long-term Effects of Fire Hazard Reduction Treatments in the Southern Cascades and Northern Sierra Nevada, California.

Jenkin, P. (2018). Ventura River Ecosystem. Ventura River Ecosystem. Available at: Last accessed 22 October 2018.

Lumina Foundation. 2015. A stronger nation through climate policy: Ten-year time horizon brings Goal 2025 into sharp focus. Retrieved October 25, 2017 from         les/publications/A_stronger_nation_ through_climate_policy-2015.pdf

Moritz, M., and S. Stephens. 2008. Fire and sustainability: considerations for California’s altered future climate. Climatic Change 87:265-271.

Oakley, N., J. Lancaster, M. Kaplan, and F. Ralph. 2017. Synoptic conditions associated with cool season post-fire debris flows in the Transverse Ranges of southern California. Journal of the            International Society for the Prevention and Mitigation of Natural Hazards 88:327-354.

Parker, D. J., and D. M. Harding. “Natural Hazard Evaluation, Perception and Adjustment.” Geography 64, no. 4 (1979): 307-16

United States Geological Survey. 2018. USGS Geologists Join Efforts in Montecito to Assess Debris-Flow Aftermath. Retrieved October, 2018 from          join-efforts-montecito-assess-debris-flow-aftermath.

Baldassare. M, D.Bonner, D. Kordus & L.Lopes (2015). Californians & the Environment. Public Policy Institute of California statewide survey