Disasters have cost taxpayers over $104 billion in nine years. That is, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the amount that the Disaster Relief Fund has paid out from fiscal years 2005 to 2014 for disaster response, recovery, and mitigation. Just in the last eight years, there have been over 900 Presidentially declared disasters, 137 of them occurring in 2017.
Estimates for pay-outs by federal government alone in the same period is closer to $278 billion. Not included in this figure are a host of small disasters that did not trigger a Presidential declaration, or man-made disruptions like oil rig explosions and terrorist attacks, as these are not eligible for Federal Disaster Relief.
Disasters, no matter how big or small, whether natural or man-made, place a burden on survivors. While government plays a role in response and recovery, many Americans seem to forget that disaster preparedness, response, and recovery starts with the citizen.
In late September 2017, Brock Long, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stood in front of the White House and stated that our nation lacks a culture of preparedness. Citizens are ill-informed on preparedness. Administrator Long has more recently discussed the need to engage in conversations at home and at work so that individuals and the businesses they operate have plans for continuity of operations during a disaster. These statements hint at our need for new approach to our national disaster framework, one with more self-reliance.
It is unclear how this approach will manifest itself in FEMA programs. FEMA currently awards a number of state and local preparedness grants for which it may now decide to emphasize citizen preparedness education. Alternatively, it may incorporate this effort in disaster recovery and mitigation programs.
Clearly, the disaster response and recovery system was pushed to its limits in 2017. We will spend the next 10-20 years recovering from last year’s disasters. Now, more than ever, we should begin to focus in earnest on disaster preparedness from the bottom-up. By building a better prepared citizenry, we will save lives, money, and the time it takes to recover from a disaster.
Author: Christian Montz, Director of Disaster Resiliency and Recover