University of Utah students are helping Utah communities study and prepare for natural disasters.

At the Center for Natural and Technological Hazards, students conduct research to help governments and communities find solutions for potential natural hazards. They also get hands-on experience in practical hazards management.For example, they created a hazard reduction model and plan for the city of Centerville. Designed by Nancy Keate, a graduate student in geography, the model plans for debris flow hazards.

After visiting Loma Prieta, the epicenter for last October's California earthquake, Michelle Stuart, another graduate student, developed a model of the quake that can be applied to the Wasatch fault.

David Beecher has begun research with Salt Lake County on storm water management.

There are seven graduate students currently enrolled in the program. Students can obtain cooperative internships through the university, Federal Emergency Management Agency or several other state agencies.

Fred May, state hazard mitigation planner and an adjunct professor in the department of geography, serves as director of the Center for Natural and Technological Hazards. Research activities include a cooperative program with the Utah Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management, where May works.

Certificates are offered from FEMA in disaster reduction planning, community flood plain management and personal emergency preparedness. To earn a certificate, students must complete an internship and four courses in the prevention and mitigation of natural disaster. The courses are team-taught by an engineering geologist, a local attorney interested in environmental law and an emergency management specialist.

In addition to geography students, May says, the center attracts a general interest among those who want to plan for their family's safety.

Advanced students and interns accompany May on field trips to disaster sites. They have observed a Wasatch mountain fire, the Quail Creek Dike breach and the proposed site of the Virgin River Parkway in St. George - for which May obtained a $300,000 grant to install flood detection instruments.

May would like to expand the program to international sites. Several Utah students had planned to study the 1989 Iranian earthquake on site, but their plans were postponed because of political events. The students still hope to study Iran's earthquake danger in combination with flash flood conditions arising from the south Caspian Sea region's 100-inch average annual rainfall.