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PLANNING FOR NATURAL DISASTERS

For reasons given at the end of Chapter 4, planning for natural disasters has become an increasingly important part of planning. The possibility of the event may be anticipated—the Japanese are no strangers to earthquakes and tsunamis and the Gulf Coast is no stranger to hurricanes—but the timing, place, and scope cannot be anticipated. Before the event procrastination is easy and day-to-day pressures may cause individuals and governments to put disaster planning at the back of the queue. After the event there is no time to spare and everything must be done at once. Both planning for and recovery from disaster may involve coordination between many bodies of government and the costs involved may be huge.

Decisions made in connection with disaster planning may impose major losses on some parties and deliver large gains to others. For example, a decision about whether or not to allow rebuilding on a flood plain may have major financial implications for property owners and investors. Where large financial stakes are present powerful political pressures are inevitable. In some cases scientific uncertainty is an issue. For coastal areas the question of sea-level rise due to global warming is a key factor. But the fifth International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report projects sea-level rise from global warming for this century at 26 to 82 cm, approximately 10 to 32 inches, a spread that for some places might cover a range from relatively minor to disastrous. Some other organizations have made estimates which are similar at the low end but larger at the high end. For example, in 2013 the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave a high-end estimate in the range of 2 meters.

One writer on the subject, Robert Verchick, suggests three basic rules for doing adequate planning for natural disasters: [1]

The first point, go green, means:

Minimizing physical exposure to geographic hazards by preserving natural buffers against them and integrating those buffers into artificial systems like levees or seawalls. ... Going green also means respecting the limits of natural geography by discouraging new development in areas that expose people and assets to unreasonable risk.

The second item, be fair, refers to the fact that, in the aggregate, some groups of people suffer much more from natural disasters, both during and for a long time afterward, than others, and that good planning must take this into account. This point is discussed further in Chapter 7.

The third point, be safe, expresses Verchick's view that safety considerations in disaster planning sometimes get pushed aside by other matters like financial interest. He suggests that the emphasis be on safety.

Below are brief case studies of the two best-known natural disasters to hit the United States so far in this century.

  • [1] Go green 2. Be fair 3. Be safe.22
 
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