When do losses count?

Melanie Gall, Kevin A. Borden, Susan L. Cutter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

189 Scopus citations


Current global and national databases that monitor losses from natural hazards suffer from a number of limitations, which in turn lead to misinterpretation and fallacies concerning the "truthfulness" of hazard loss data. These biases often go undetected by end users and are generally a product of the type of information stored in loss databases and how they are constructed. This paper highlights some common shortcomings and root causes for data misinterpretation by asking what biases are present in existing databases and how these then manifest themselves in actual loss figures. For illustrative purposes, four widely used, nonproprietary, Web-based hazard databases are examined: the international Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), the international Natural Hazards Assessment Network (NATHAN), the Spatial Hazard Events and Losses Database for the United States (SHELDUS), and the National Weather Service's Storm Events. We identify six general biases: hazard bias, temporal bias, threshold bias, accounting bias, geographic bias, and systemic bias. To achieve resilient and sustainable communities, we need systematic and comprehensive inventories at the national as well as international level, and data that are temporally and geographically comparable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)799-809
Number of pages11
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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