Real Risk Scenarios

This is a partial list of the November 2005 issue of Wired Magazine, anticipating what might be America’s next biggest disasters and their corresponding impact:

Levee Break – Sacramento

California Department of Water Resources

Situation: Sacramento lies 15-20 feet below sea-level and on a river bank

Hard Impact: Jeopardizes the water supply

Likelihood: High (66%)

When: Any time

Human Impact: 22 million people

Business Impact: Public and private companies/suspension of government revenue and repair expenses

History: New Orleans ($60+ Billion)

Power Grid Failure – Northeast

Situation: Shortage of new power plants compounded by a growing population

Hard Impact: New England poised for summer blackouts

Likelihood: Medium – High

Human Impact: 40 million people affected

Business Impact: Last time (2003) $6+ Billion

Tsunami – Eastern Seaboard

Global Volcanic Program

Situation: 1949 Canary Islands eruption caused western Atlantic shore to slip a few yards into the ocean

Hard Impact: A half-trillion-ton ridge slides further into the Atlantic, setting off a massive East Coast tsunami

Likelihood: Low (might not happen for a few thousand years)

Human Impact: Eastern Seaboard

Earth Quake – Missouri

New Madrid fault and Earthquake prone region considered at high risk today

Situation: The 1811 New Madrid quake was the most powerful ever recorded in the lower 48 states

Hard Impact: Church bells rang as far away as Boston (St. Louis and Memphis still lack adequate earthquake building codes)

Likelihood: High (90% chance for magnitude 6 or 7 tremor in the next 50 years)

Human Impact: 3.7 million people

Tornadoes – Dallas

Situation: Tornado clusters appear at rush hour

Hard Impact: Approx. $3 Billion in property damage

Likelihood: Medium (currently the city has dodged the bullet)

Human Impact: 87,000 people in their cars with an additional 5.7 M indirectly affected

Flooding – Upper Mississippi

Situation: Shores are the most unstable locations for permanent structures

Hard Impact: Spectacular flooding approximately once every 20 years

Likelihood: High-Imminent (the last great floods were in 1993)

Human Impact: 72 million people – everyone in the immediate floodplain

Volcanic Eruption – Yellowstone

Situation: Geysers and hot springs powered by one of the world’s most active volcanic systems

Hard Impact: Previous eruptions buried most of North America (from Arkansas to Oregon and from Canada to Mexico)

Likelihood: Low (but not zero)

Human Impact: Tens to hundreds of millions of people

Landslide – Mt. Rainer

Situation: The “greatest U.S. volcanic hazard”

Hard Impact: Equivalent of a wall of cement headed toward Puget Sound

Likelihood: Medium (such slides occur once or twice a millennium; the last was 550 years ago

Human Impact: 2.4 million people

Rupture – Alaska Oil Pipeline

Situation: Over 1/3 of the supports are out of alignment due to melting permafrost

Hard Impact: A loss of 850,000 barrels of oil per day or 11% of the nation’s capacity

Likelihood: Low

Human Impact: Potentially, the entire U.S.

To these scenarios add the ever increasing possibility of a dirty bomb being smuggled across our porous borders or an emerging flu strain to justify why that low-level-hum has taken up residence in your mind.

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