Planning for disaster

Accessed from news.nationalgeographic.com on 11/8/13

Typhoon Haiyan. Accessed from news.nationalgeographic.com on 11/8/13

One of the largest storms ever recorded recently touched down in the Philippines. With sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts estimated at 235mph, many towns face the biggest challenge to their infrastructure they have ever seen. People on the coastal areas are being evacuated to higher ground. It is expected that their towns are going to sustain significant damage.

With every hurricane or natural disaster comes the debate about building in areas that are prone. In the state of Idaho the disasters seem distant, and the solution seems obvious. This is definitely a time to think before we speak.What people forget about when discussing this topic is the culture that is tied to the area. These cities often have more than history to keep them grounded. The geographic location they reside in has shaped who they are, and many say hurricanes are simply the price they pay to keep their culture alive.

Accessed from commons.trincoll.edu on 11/8/13

New Orleans after Katrina. Accessed from commons.trincoll.edu on 11/8/13

Almost half of the geographic area of new Orleans is below sea level. The only thing keeping it from going the way of the lost city of Atlantis is a system of levees. The failing of these levees was one of the factors that caused Katrina to be so devastating. After the hurricane some argued that it was time for New Orleans to be moved to higher ground.

Due to global climate change and rising sea levels these disasters are just going to become more common. Should we really fight a loosing battle? Wouldn’t it just be easier to cut our losses, lick our wounds and move to a safer area? Many people argue that relocating would save lives and billions of dollars in the long run. They argued that we should do everything we can to encourage relocation. Some even said that people who rebuilt should not get support from the government. They argued that rebuilding in these areas should discouraged to prevent future catastrophes. This argument did not go very far for Katrina.  Many of the people most affected by the hurricane were the less fortunate, this argument was seen as kicking these people while they were already down.

After super storm Sandy the argument came up again. Should people living right on the coast receive any help or pity? Many of the people in the coastal regions in New Jersey were fairly well off. They do not have to live where they do, they are there because of choice. After the storm these homes were by and large rebuilt, despite increased insurance rates and outcry that rebuilding was foolish.

People in these dangerous locations stay because they love the area. They are willing to accept the risk because living close to the ocean defines their culture. New Orleans would not be the same if it weren’t near the bayou. Staten Island would not be the same is it did not have homes on the beach.

It is easy to sit from Idaho and scratch our heads about this logic. Many Idahoans vocally ponder why anyone would live in a hurricane prone zone. They then hop in their cars and drive to their house that backs a fire zone. We all take risks to preserve our cultural identity. What we should be asking is how can we improve levees, prevent flooding, and reduce fire risk.

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One thought on “Planning for disaster

  1. Great blog post Alex.

    As an outsider, it is normal to look at disaster prone areas and wonder why people would ever want to live there. Especially, after a major storm like Typhoon Haiyan occurs, it is even harder to understand how people can stay and rebuild in an area after so much devastation. Your point about cultural ties and the connections people feel about a certain region definitely start to explain the reasoning though. I liked your point about how the threat of fires in Idaho seem like a totally acceptable risk to us…

    No matter how well we plan for it, millions of people will continue to live in high risk areas, and that is just something we should accept. Maybe, the best plan sometimes is to just prepare for the aftermath. Below is a quote taken from a CNN article I read today from the Philippines Secretary of the Interior Mar Roxas, where the official death tole in their nation is currently at 2,360 people.
    “… no power, light, water, communication, nothing, you have to build the social infrastructures as well as the physical infrastructures for 275,000.”
    (http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/14/world/asia/typhoon-haiyan/)

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