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Worldwide, cities face increasing risk of catastrophes. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, with more than 240,000 deaths, and Hurricane Katrina of 2005, considered the most costly disaster in U.S. history at over $200 billion, captured world attention. Most of these losses were sustained in urban areas with high concentrations of people and property located in extremely low-lying hazardous areas. These devastating events are likely precursors to more frequent and severe catastrophes to strike cities in the foreseeable future.

Catastrophic events can be conceptualized according to their source. Some events result from largely uncontrollable forces of nature such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Other events are caused by combinations of natural forces and human action. For example, dredging and filling in wetlands for urban development often ...

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