NEW YORK – The hurricane on America’s eastern seaboard last week (which I experienced in lower Manhattan) adds to a growing collection of extreme weather events from which lessons should be drawn. Climate experts have long argued that the frequency and magnitude of such events are increasing, and evidence of this should certainly influence precautionary steps – and cause us to review such measures regularly.
There are two distinct and crucial components of disaster preparedness. The one that understandably gets the most attention is the capacity to mount a rapid and effective response. Such a capacity will always be necessary, and few doubt its importance. When it is absent or deficient, the loss of life and livelihoods can be horrific – witness Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged Haiti and New Orleans in 2005.
The second component comprises investments that minimize the expected damage to the economy. This aspect of preparedness typically receives far less attention.
Indeed, in the United States, lessons from the Katrina experience appear to have strengthened response capacity, as shown by the rapid and effective intervention following Hurricane Sandy. But investments designed to control the extent of damage seem to be persistently neglected.