Winter Storms, Disaster Costs and Motivation for Future Mitigation

If you pass the bill along to Uncle Sugar, it can feel a bit painless.

What is it that you remember about a disaster? There is the response by friends and neighbors. The store that opened its door and let you take frozen food without paying for it. Those who shared a plug-in generator and extension cord to run to your home. There is the camaraderie of the event that lingers and will remain in the memories of those who lived through it.

In the end, though, the current disaster in Texas will be an expensive one due to the geographical extent of the damages, especially to individual property owners. This is a quote from the Washington Post: "The exact scale of the damage was still becoming clear on Friday. Karen Clark, co-founder and chief executive of Karen Clark and Company, a catastrophe modeling firm, said the bout of winter weather could cost $18 billion in insured losses, with the total economic damage likely to be higher. The damage was spread across 20 states, though most was in Texas."

An $18 billion disaster will put this event right up there with some of the largest in our nation's history. Since Texas doesn't like federal energy regulations intruding into the standards for its electrical system, I suppose those objections will not extend to taking money from the federal government to fix all the problems that their lack of due diligence caused. 

More importantly than fixing the current issues is the impetus to correct the causes of the failures experienced, which will wane with time — and I mean quickly. Another quote is this one that I find eminently predictable come summer: “Even with this week’s disaster, that may not change. Any reports taking stock of what went wrong ‘are going to arrive when it’s sunny, 87 and lovely,’ said Calvin Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University ‘And people are going to say, ‘Wow, that was terrible, but it’s going to be really expensive to deal with that, let’s think this through.’’”

We are an exceptional people when it comes to procrastinating about future disaster impacts that will hit our pocketbooks. 

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.