Thursday, July 26, 2018

3 Reasons Why the U.S. Is Vulnerable to Big Disasters — and Getting More Vulnerable All the Time - By Morten Wendelbo, Texas A&M University

We’re heading in the wrong direction.

Hurricane Harvey approaching the Texas Gulf Coast in August 2017. (Credit: NOAA/Handout via Reuters) Click to Enlarge.
During the 2017 disaster season, three severe hurricanes devastated large parts of the U.S.

The quick succession of major disasters made it obvious that such large-scale emergencies can be a strain, even in one of the world’s richest countries.

As a complex emergency researcher, I investigate why some countries can better withstand and respond to disasters.  The factors are many and diverse, but three major ones stand out because they are within the grasp of the federal and local governments:  where and how cities grow; how easily households can access critical services during disaster; and the reliability of the supply chains for critical goods.

For all three of these factors, the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction.  In many ways, Americans are becoming more vulnerable by the day.
  1. Where Americans live
    Large shares of the U.S. population live in the parts of the country most vulnerable to major disasters, mainly coastal areas prone to hurricane damage.  Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and Irma all hit heavily populated coasts.

    Seven of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. are on or near the coast, accounting for more than 60 million people.  In fact, the vast majority of counties with more than 500,000 inhabitants are concentrated on the coast.

    More than 5 million Americans also live on islands like Puerto Rico and Hawaii, where a hurricane, volcanic eruption, or tsunami can be devastating.
  2. Access to emergency funds
    In a disaster, people often need money to cover medical care, food, water, and other crucial needs.  In a frustrating catch-22, however, access to funds can be severely limited if power outages take out ATMs and credit card terminals.  That was the case in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

    A 2015 Federal Reserve survey found that even with access to bank accounts and ATMs, almost half of Americans would be unable to find $400 for an emergency without borrowing or using a credit card. 
  3. Supply Chains
    Even if Americans do have the funds necessary to pay for critical goods, those goods may not be available during a disaster.

    Without access to pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and fuels, many people would die.  Many of these critical goods are exclusively produced overseas; in fact, the 30 most critical pharmaceuticals, such as insulin for Type 1 diabetes and heparin for blood thinning, are all produced in whole or in part abroad.  Sometimes the goods are produced in a single geographic area or even by a single facility.
Read more at 3 Reasons Why the U.S. Is Vulnerable to Big Disasters — and Getting More Vulnerable All the Time

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