Disaster Zone

Avoiding the Hazard by Not Acquiring the Land

Per the norm, no one was thinking about hazards when we got Texas and California.

by Eric Holdeman / July 9, 2018

Jerry Quinn points out an interesting fact when it comes to America and hazards. As our land was explored and new sections of the continent were included in the United States, no one was thinking about all the risks and hazards associated with those new lands. 

I expect early colonists knew about storms, but not hurricanes. Earthquakes, while mentioned in the Bible, were not something anyone was thinking about when California, or the Northwest Territories were added (Oregon and Washington states). 

The lesson for today is be careful where you live or choose to move to. While "all hazards" cannot be avoided, many can be based upon the individual location, especially when it comes to flooding and landslides. 

Still, people love being by the water and enjoying the view, until — water is coming into your home or the house is now at the base of the hill instead of being on top of the hill.  

"Eric, Hazards abound and have since 1776. Historical decisions, purchases and wars were the first US land use decisions. We continue with the sunk costs and unintended consequences of those actions. The original 13 are targeted by hurricanes and even earthquakes. We bought all of the inherent hazards which came with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Texas 'agreed' to join the United States in 1846 then spun off some territory which became 5 other states in 1850. A war with Mexico resulted in California becoming a part of the United States in 1848. The US 'bought' into all of the hazards of California with statehood in 1850. 'We' knowingly bought the dirt and the hazards.

“We” legislated major land use decisions: Railroad expansion acts (1862 through 1865). The Homestead Act of 1862. The Hatch Act of 1887. The dirt and all its hazards were present and we encourage development and residency.

Governmental service expansion continues unabated. Also continuous is the interminable string of partial or unfunded mandates. No state or any of its political subdivisions has the luxury of rejecting federal assistance even when its partial. Some states are 'donors' others are 'receivers' of net taxpayers’ funds massaged through Congress & the US Treasury.

We have met the enemy and it is us. I know of no 'Hazard-free' zones available to move to!

Populations increases, life complexity increases, supply chain reliance is increasingly tenuous or vulnerable.

Are the sunk costs of history coupled with the pace of modern life reaching the point of diminishing returns? Will any level of increased preparedness or resiliency investment prevent future mega disasters? Recall that the annual EMPG performance report commissioned by NEMA and IAEM has consistently documented that FEMA participates in less than 2% of state and local government major emergencies and disasters. It will take great political courage to invest more in preparedness and resiliency. The need is apparent but have we painted ourselves into an event corner we cannot overcome? And I am an Optimist.

Mr. Wendelbo’s article might be considered frightening. The Caribbean islands hurricane devastation will happen elsewhere and are a lesson on betting that it won’t happen on my watch so we can just ignore maintenance of our infrastructure, blame others for our mistakes and HOPE to get bailed out. Congress, probably unavoidably, has indicated that you just may be 'rewarded' in catastrophic events.

Legislative fantasy — make all hazards insurance premiums based upon actuarial determined risk across all states and make the premiums a tax credit."

This last item on insurance only makes sense, thus it will not be done politically as long as we can continue to borrow ourselves out of disasters.