The numbers tell the story. Fifty-four: That’s the percent increase in the number of people worldwide who will be exposed to climate-related disasters by 2015, according to a 2009 Oxfam International study. Four-thousand-four-hundred-eighty-five: That’s the number of reported natural disasters in the 2000s, up from 2,971 in the 1990s and 1,824 in the ’80s, according to the CRED International Disaster Database. And 265: That’s the amount of economic damage, in billions of dollars, caused by natural disasters in the first six months of 2011—more than any other year on record, according to a U.K.-based risk-analysis firm called Maplecroft.

If this is indeed the age of disaster, with more people around the globe moving into natural disaster hotspots, and with scientists increasingly attributing the rise in calamities (at least in part) to climate change, the question is, What role should architects play? How can the profession best aid post-disaster planning and rebuilding efforts? And how can we better prepare for imminent threats, with stronger building codes and better planning? We ponder these questions in this special disaster issue, which highlights ways architects can help save the world—or at least make it a safer place.