Behavior: Measuring Disasters

As any reader of the World Almanac knows, disasters are usually ranked solely according to the number of lives lost. Writing in The Professional Geographer, Geography Professor Harold D. Foster at British Columbia's University of Victoria suggests that this kind of ranking is simplistic because it fails to take into account the psychological stress and environmental damage that survivors must cope with.

Foster has produced a disaster magnitude scale that factors in social disruption, physical damage and injuries, as well as deaths. By his criteria, China's earthquake last August rates a 9.0 score, making it the sixth worst...