The nation’s attitude towards disaster needs an adjustment
by Steve Dupree
Enough time has passed since the Katrina debacle that I feel we can benefit from some hindsight analysis of the nation’s attitude towards disaster. Plus, at this time there is yet another storm strengthening in the Caribbean which will take one familiar path or another and, as a hurricane, probably strike some place that has endured hurricane strikes since the beginning of hurricanes.
Initially, you almost have to think of the folks who live in the path, “Why the hell don’t they move?” I admit it. I’ve done it myself. I have said: “Why should we have to subsidize the cost of people choosing to live in a dangerous area?” Actually, in light of recent hurricane activity, it doesn’t seem such a silly question, does it? However, after hearing it from several people, I got to thinking, if this many people agree on something, there must be a flaw in it. So, I thought about it until I found what appears to be a pretty serious flaw.
Hurricanes are not limited to Florida and the Gulf Coast. Certainly the warmer waters of the Caribbean and the Gulf are more favorable for the formation and strengthening of hurricanes, but they can and do form and travel elsewhere. If one has a memory longer than a year, it isn’t particularly difficult to recall the flooding and damage that happened to North Carolina during a hurricane. South Carolina, as well, finds itself in the path of the storms all too frequently. D.C., Virginia, and coastal points North have been damaged by storms at one intensity or the other.
Tornadoes are another thing you hear about with disturbing frequency. A huge portion of the nation’s breadbasket is at risk for tornadoes, seemingly at any time. It would appear that most anywhere that is pretty much flat is prime ground for the storms, and sometimes places that aren’t so flat are hit pretty hard as well.
Memories of flooding aren’t that difficult to call up. Cities sprang up on the banks of waterways for a perfectly good reason. Rivers are a relatively inexpensive way to get goods from one place to another so as to sell or barter. Lakes can also serve that function if they’re large enough. However, during times of excessive precipitation, either locally or “upstream,” the proximity of a body of water can become a rather serious liability. Flooding is so prevalent that insurance policies frequently don’t cover it.
Earthquakes are endemic to some areas of the United States, especially the Pacific Coast. Throughout recorded history, and before, if the interpretation of the geological record is correct, there have been upheavals of the surface of the earth that range from barely noticeable to tremendously destructive.
If there’s a year in U.S. history when large forest fires don’t occur, that year will have to be at some point in the future. Whether they’re caused by lighting strikes, human stupidity or maliciousness, or an unlikely sequence of events, they are repeated and regular visitors to our corner of the universe.
At some point this winter, you will probably hear or read of a humongous snowstorm. You will probably not be shocked, as the storm will most likely not happen in an area that never gets snow. No, it will occur in a place that regularly has large snows. Thus it has been as far back as memory will go.
You see where I’m going with all this? Hurricanes are simply the disaster of the moment. I don’t mean to take them or their effect lightly, but they are but one of the disasters regularly visited upon the North American continent. This was the thought I had that confirmed something was wrong with the “well, they shouldn’t oughta live there” sentiment. Where’s the cutoff? Do we subsidize hurricanes and earthquake, but folks who live in fire, flood, and tornado areas are on their own? Keep in mind that some areas have multiple disaster possibilities.
Of course, we can always come back to the fact that, as far as loss of life goes, no recent disaster comes anywhere close to taking the crown from the automobile. Throughout the nation, I suspect that it would be very difficult to draw a square on a map of 40 miles on a side that has not had any auto fatalities. Throw in smoking and obesity and we have a laundry list of lifestyle choices that are likely to require significant public subsidy at some point.
So what do we do? Do we want everyone in the nation to relocate to the relatively disaster-free Tennessee Valley? I don’t think so, plus we have enough smoking, obesity and automobile issues to be declared a disaster zone most every day. If what is good for the goose really is good for the gander, we will have to find a different solution to the problem of localized disasters than telling people to move. I think the government is going to have to start doing the job it’s paid to do and formulate, disseminate, and enforce regulations that will minimize the damage to our human resource and our economy when disaster comes calling. But I’m not holding my breath; there is a certain clarity to hindsight.