Bloomberg News: How to Protect Against Natural Disasters

An interesting opinion piece on how the U.S. could do more to prepare for natural disasters from the Bloomberg Editorial Board:

typhoon photo

No matter how often the U.S. is hit with storms, wildfires and other natural disasters, cities and states remain poorly prepared. Houses are destroyed, transit systems are swamped, roads and bridges are wiped out. The Federal Emergency Management Agency sweeps in to help with cleanup, temporary shelter and rebuilding. But then life goes on, with little concern for next time — because the political and financial incentives work against being prepared.

Hurricanes and Typhoons

Consider what’s happened this year in Texas. Since January, the state has received federal assistance four times to cope with damage from heavy storms, winds and flooding. And FEMA has provided more than $120 million in aid to households, plus $30 million to rebuild infrastructure and public buildings. Still, the state has neglected to mandate a building code to make sure homes can withstand wind and flooding. Many areas have no building standards at all.

Texas stands out only for its bad luck this year. Across the U.S., few states and cities require common-sense precautions to protect against extreme weather or wildfires. Thirty states lack mandatory statewide residential building codes. With sea levels rising along the Atlantic Coast, almost 60 percent of its low-lying land remains zoned for more development.

State and local leaders have reason to resist imposing restrictions: Their voters dislike expensive rules to make houses more resilient or, worse, to abandon or refrain from developing flood- or fire-prone areas. Such measures can also reduce local tax revenue. And as long as the federal government pitches in after a disaster, state and local governments face little pressure to act beforehand.

But consider the cost of inaction. From 2002 to 2015, extreme weather killed more than 8,300 Americans and injured 43,000. Natural disasters destroyed more than 147,000 homes and damaged another 3.6 million. FEMA spent $142 billion on disaster relief, and the U.S. Forest Service is devoting an ever-growing share of its budget to firefighting. (continues)

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