The Odds Are Stacked Against Disaster Resilience

by Eric Holdeman / June 11, 2015

The odds are stacked against disaster resilience. If people and organizations need to experience a disaster before they start thinking about resilience, we are fighting a losing battle. Even then, when some do experience a disaster, if the incentives or disincentives don't support building back better, stronger and more resilient those actions are unlikely to be accomplished.

All of the above is documented in an excellent study by Stephen Flynn in the report Bolstering Critical Infrastructure Resilience After Superstorm Sandy: Lessons for New York and the Nation.

Look at Section 7 (page 81), titled After Superstorm Sandy: developing Economic Incentives for Advancing Infrastructure Resilience. There are great examples of incentives and disincentives that exist today in government and insurance to keep people from improving their personal and organizational situation.

I see FEMA slowly turning the corner in the way it administers mitigation funds and recovery dollars. We must allow organizations to build back and improve infrastructure beyond the baseline point that existed before the disaster.

Unfortunately, we have the federal government footing much, not all, of the burden for rebuilding and that in itself is a disincentive to build a more resilient infrastructure -- knowing that the federal sugar daddy will bail them out to the tune of 75 percent of the disaster costs. I've been in governments where the funding by FEMA of disaster costs was factored into how much insurance would be purchased to protect property.

Wendy Freitag is a proponent for putting incentives in place at the state and local levels to encourage people and businesses to invest in disaster resilience. She points to the positive impact that such incentives have had on energy savings in communities where incentives to install alternative sources or conservation measures have proven to be a wise move. Another example is in water usage. Las Vegas has grown tremendously in population and footprint, yet the city's water usage has stayed level or gone down due to conservation incentives and regulations.  

While not a disaster mitigation measure, an NBC News story on what Las Vegas has done to prepare for the current drought (starting seven years ago) shows the value of adding action to vision.

My last comment is on the title of the study and how it could prove useful for the rest of the United States. Of that fact, I'm not so certain. Most of the time a jurisdiction or region has to be hit in the head by a disaster 2x4 before they get the resilience message.

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