Press-Republican

Are We Ready?

April 21, 2013

Are we prepared? Disasters prove more costly as people move into storm-prone areas

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NEWBURY, Mass. —

“Nobody lives on the coast” in the Netherlands, he says. “Development never got out of hand. Because once they live there, you have to spend all that money protecting them.”

In the United States, disaster preparation at the local level vies for resources with roads, playgrounds, schools, senior needs and other issues. In smaller communities, the fire chief or police chief may double as the emergency management official.

A building inspector may not seem as important to the town budget as a teacher or a police officer. But communities that suffer severe damage in a disaster often turn out to be communities that have poor building codes, have lightly enforced existing codes or allowed development in vulnerable areas.

“Cost is an issue for every community,” says Louise Comfort, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Disaster Management. She says communities have to balance the risks of storm with the need to respond to them.

Risk is the crucial calculus. Communities can’t put a Category 5 hurricane or an EF-5 tornado into the town budget.

Smaller things come into play, too. On Plum Island, the houses now falling into the ocean used to be protected by an offshore sandbar. That sandbar has moved south, exposing these homes to increased erosion effects.

When you build your house on sand – or a barrier beach – you have to know that things might shift.

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Are We Ready?