The 2018 Hurricane Season Is Here. We Can’t Just Rely On The Federal Government To Help Us Prepare

Written by on June 2, 2018 in Environment, Environmental Hazards, Preparedness with 0 Comments

Jeff Schlegelmilch | FORTUNE

The 2018 hurricane season is upon us, and it looks like we are in for a very bad year. This is right on the on the heels of 2017, which was the most expensive hurricane season on record, requiring multiple emergency supplemental appropriations from Congress. Going forward, we need to accept the fact that the degree to which we rely on the federal government to underwrite our preparedness and response is no longer viable. We need a more sustainable approach to managing 21st-century disasters.

The economic stress of disasters is now regularly measured in billions—and even sometimes in trillions of dollars—and has measureable impacts to GDP. Since 1980, the United States has experienced 230 separate billion-dollar weather events, totaling more than $1.5 trillion in costs. And that is just the weather and climate-related disasters.

To understand the scale of these financial pressures on federal programs, one only needs to look at the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is the program that subsidizes flood insurance to make it affordable to live in certain areas of the country. The NFIP was recently saved from insolvency by cancelling $16 billion in debt as part of the 2017 hurricane relief funding. However, as of early 2018, it still remained $20.5 billion in debt.

Some argue that the increased cost of disasters is the result of climate change. Others argue that this is the result of unchecked development in vulnerable areas, and that some of this is incentivized by programs like the NFIP. Data journalists have demonstrated that the increase in wealth and property values is driving much of this cost. In a sense these are all true. There is no single cause or simple solution to the skyrocketing costs of disasters.

It is tempting to blame FEMA or Congress for these trends. FEMA is the flag bearer of the federal government when billion-dollar disasters occur, and Congress authorizes and funds the efforts. But they don’t own the whole problem. Municipalities zone areas for development, banks finance development, insurers offset risk, and individuals make decisions on whether or not to prepare.

The private sector has levers to influence community development to be more disaster resilient. Banks can ask more questions on vulnerability and mitigation before financing major development projects, and the insurance sector can provide more incentives for proactive measures to reduce disaster risk. Employers can work to prepare their employees and contribute to community resilience-building programs, and individuals can make better use of the information available to prepare themselves and their families.


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