When Disaster Rages
A view of catastrophe from a Seat in the House
Major disasters such as the one that occurred as a result of Hurricane Sandy that created havoc on the east coast—particular in New York and New Jersey—results not only in personal injury and costs but also creates a major impact on local, state and federal funding resources.
At the time of writing this article, the preliminary information available to me indicated early estimates to rebuild highways were at least $29 million dollars, and at least $30 million dollars is needed to hire temporary workers to help with cleanup of debris resulting from damage to property and infrastructure. The final cost is estimated to be in the 50 billion dollar range.
A large percentage of this funding will go toward clean up, infrastructure rebuilding, and other community needs; however, a portion will also be used to repair or rebuild homes, providing rental assistance and other funding for individuals impacted by the storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had already approved the distribution of more than $40 million in temporary housing aid and other assistance to over 90,000 victims of the disaster at the time of writing this article.
Given the severity of Hurricane Sandy and its resultant deaths, personal injuries and property damage, I asked our own Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security how well prepared our state and local government agencies are to meet the needs of Idaho citizens in the case of a major disaster such as the one experienced in New York and other eastern states.
In comparing the storm in the east to a possible similar event in Idaho it should be recognized that Hurricane Sandy was a slow moving event that gave individuals and government entities a great deal of time to get prepared in an effort to mitigate the damage that was certain to occur. In Idaho’s case it is more likely that we will not have the luxury of a slow moving occurrence, as we would be more likely to suffer from a major catastrophic disaster such as “an earthquake, flood, severe winter storm or out-of-control wildfire.”
Given that we may not have advance notice of these types of disasters Idaho Homeland Security “has and continues to help citizens, groups, associations, businesses, and government agencies to plan for such events.”
Just a few weeks ago the Bureau conducted “the Great Idaho Shake Out event,” during which the Bureau passed out training materials to educate citizens on the potential dangers of an earthquake as well as information on what to do during such a disaster.
The critical lessons learned from this type of exercise as well as from actual disasters such as that on the east coast was 1) a need to have 72 hours worth of food, bottled water, warm clothes and alternative lighting available. 2) a need for each family to have a plan of what to do in the event of a given disaster; if family members are separated because of school or work does the plan identify a place to meet and a communication plan to inform other family members as to where other family members are located?
The Bureau has information available on “how to build a plan to find and rejoin family members in an emergency, where to go, how to get there and when to go there or when to shelter in place.” This type of information is also available on the Internet.
We also know that one of the very first casualties in any major disaster is loss of communications and electricity. Our Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security continues to work with local and federal government agencies to “provide redundant communications capabilities, supporting our first responders who must provide that vital link back to those who can bring aid and resources to the impacted areas.” Bureau staff also emphasized that “individual citizens can help themselves.” They should be sure to have a radio and fresh batteries to obtain available information as well as other action as mentioned above in terms of a plan of action in the event of a disaster creating emergency conditions.
At the same time we cannot and should not expect government to duplicate assistance provided by other means such as adequate insurance coverage when available.
A lady who lost her home in the Hurricane Sandy devastation area who was being interviewed by the media stated that it was the government’s responsibility to replace her home. Is this a realistic expectation of government assistance?
Insurance is a complicated topic, and some homeowners will be surprised to learn that insurance companies now require a “hurricane deductible” or even wind or storm deductibles (in 18 states) that must be paid before insurance will kick in to help. These deductibles are generally 1 to 5 percent of the home’s value, so a person owning a $250,000 home might have to pay $12,500 out of pocket before insurance will pay. In addition, most polices do not cover damage from flooding at all, and many policies have “anti-concurrent occurrence” clauses which state than when damage occurs from two causes (say, wind and flooding) neither will be covered.
Government assistance would appear to be justified in removing debris, emergency protective measures, repair and replacement of highways and other infrastructure, but is it reasonable to expect government to pick up costs that insurance companies will not pay? Or to pay costs when a homeowner didn’t bother with insurance to begin with?
I am sure there are opposing opinions on the responsibility of government assistance as a result of natural disaster damages, but at the least we should take advantage of information provided by the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to enable us to be prepared as much as possible in the event of a national disaster such as that created by Hurricane Sandy.
Thanks for reading and as always feel free to contact me with issues of importance to you. I can by reached by phone at (208) 265-0123, by mail at P.O. Box 112, Dover, Idaho 83825 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org