Hurricane Dorian a call to strengthen defenses against natural disasters

Published 8:36 am Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Hurricane Dorian as early as today could batter the East Coast with devastating winds, rain and coastal flooding. The powerful storm’s impact on the coastal areas of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina are hard to predict.
But in the aftermath, affected residents will begin to pick up the pieces and rebuild.
As Tennessee residents, we should offer a helping hand to our neighbors in need. Already, the American Red Cross has sent workers from Tennessee to help should it be needed. The Sullivan Baptist Association has already mobilized its traveling kitchen to Florida to prepare meals for families in shelters.
We have proven over and over to be a generous people and people with helping hands when tragedy strikes whether it be here at home or hundreds of miles away.
We are a blessed community in that we have few devastating storms. But we are also blessed in that we have people who are quick to help others when storms strike far from home.
It takes time and a lot of work, but communities affected by hurricanes can emerge stronger after a storm than they were before it. One example is Roan Mountain — the result a beautiful community park. Communities cannot face disasters alone. They must look to the nation for help to recover.
Hurricane Dorian, which stands to become the first major storm of the season to make landfall in the United States, offers some important warnings as well.
As a nation, we must streamline our disaster relief programs. The number of so-called “billion-dollar” natural disasters — events that cause $1 billion or more in damages — appears to be increasing.
Last year’s total of 11 such events was the fourth-highest on record, behind 2017, 2011 and 2016, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
Some places are still rebuilding from hurricanes — places like Puerto Rico, Panama City, Fla., and Houston, Texas. There are some families in these areas, who are still homeless, homes still boarded up or in shambles from the storms. The cumulative cost of these catastrophes is large, of course. Last year’s toll has been estimated at $91 billion. But it is also proving challenging to move funds through the political and bureaucratic hurdles that stand between federal agencies and the local communities that need the help.
The federal government has an obvious responsibility to assist with recovery after storms, fires, floods and other natural phenomena. But it ought to also make sensible investments in resiliency and mitigation to prevent future problems or lessen their severity.
Building back coastal communities without adding protections against hurricanes and sea level rise, for example, is fiscally irresponsible and morally problematic. Each billion-dollar disaster must be a chance to strengthen our defenses.
The first priority during a disaster like Hurricane Dorian must be safety and survival. We must help ensure that people affected by storms have shelter, food, clothing and the best possible chance to return to something resembling a normal life as quickly as possible.
But we must also put Dorian in context as part of a larger, longer-term threat to our nation and prepare for a future of unpredictable and severe weather.

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