Week 7: Mitigation

Response Question: According to Godchalk and Prater, what do you think are some of the fundamental tensions in the field of hazard mitigation?

After reading the Godchalk I now realize that there are lots of tensions in the field of hazard mitigation. Some of the main issues that jumped out to me within the Godchalk chapter were the role that the federal government is expected to play in mitigation practices has increased greatly. Also I noticed that within the flood mitigation and hurricane and coastal storm mitigation sections there seem to be a lot of tension between building structural and hard solutions versus natural or soft solutions. For example the US Army Corps of Engineers helped build a lot of levees and flood walls; these were structural solutions. Many people believe that these worked and many people believed that they don’t. The issue I have with the structural or man-made methods of mitigation is that in some cases they do more harm than good. I believe that the soft methods work better, like not building in flood plains or hazard prone areas. Instead it seems we keep spending money on building and living in areas that are dangerous. We clearly cannot stop natural disasters so the best option we have is to stay out of the bad areas and prepare for the worst possible scenarios. However this also brings up another tension mentioned in this chapter, the fact that people don’t focus on mitigation long enough. When a disaster happens the focus is on recovery and how we can prevent this from happening again but after a while it becomes a distant memory and all the needed programs are not executed and maintained. The fundamental problem that I see with this is that people do not take mitigation as serious as they should. This exposes another problem that involves the government. The governments on all levels do not have a common understanding of what needs to be done. There are problems because the federal government is expected to step in and save the day after every disaster and the state and local governments do not do their part to prepare for the problems that arise with a disaster. The problem comes when the federal government then has to help local and state governments even when they neglected to prepare for the worst. So it’s like they get a reward for not practicing mitigation. I think that this is a major issue within disaster policy.

After every major disaster there are always programs that are proposed and plans that are developed but most of them don’t seem to go very far. This is another big problem because mitigation is more than just making a plan, implementing it for a few short months, and then gradually forgetting about it. This is bad because then the mitigation plans become outdated and we end up back at square one.  The major reason for this is that they don’t allocate funds for mitigation programs long enough. Local governments don’t really want to pay for these things upfront if they can’t see the benefit immediately. Another issue that has come up is the proposal for the national all-hazards insurance which is controversial because this would open disaster insurance up to cover any type of disaster. I think that this idea has some pros and cons. Its good because it would draw more people to join because of the incentives offered for all types of disasters. However it is bad because it could amount to a major new federal subsidy program. Basically the government would have to foot the bill for this large and expensive program. The overall financial and political cost of mitigation is high and many times there is opposition because no one really wants to pay for it.

After reading the Prater article I realize just how much politics is involved in hazard mitigation. One example that I found interesting was the conflict over South Florida Building Code. It seems like common sense that if you live in an area that is prone to hazards then building codes should be stringent to make buildings withstand the hazards presented. However it’s not quite that simple when politics come into play. There are conflicts because you have developers that are complaining about the strict building codes and this puts politicians in a situation where they are caught between the social need and the financial need of a community. There are many land mines that emergency managers have to side step when dealing with mitigation strategies and politics. Another thing to be mindful of are the different political agendas that are present in the political realm.

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