It is time to change our national approach to disasters.

America helps in times of trouble. Help after a disaster is vital, but it is time for Americans and all levels of our government to rethink the best way to address the rising demand for disaster relief that is inundating our nation.

While we are better than ever at keeping the number of deaths in check, the cost of this rising tide of disastrous events is overwhelming. Adjusted for inflation, the 1980-2018 annual average for weather and climate events that result in more than $1 billion in damage is 6.3; the annual average for 2014-2018 is double that, 12.6 events, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Global insured losses from natural catastrophes in 2018 were $76 billion, the fourth highest on record, according to international insurance organization Swiss Re Group. The combined insurance losses from natural disasters from 2017 through 2018 were $219 billion, the highest two-year payout in history.

Models show that these losses are likely to increase. The federal government will spend billions to rebuild, mostly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We all want to help in an emergency, but let’s do it right. Disaster recovery can be done in a coherent way that cuts the risk that taxpayers will have to pay to rebuild again.

Floodplain maps must be redrawn to take new climate realities into account. We should work to limit damage and harden properties against disaster. Disaster preparedness plans need to be revamped more quickly, as we are seeing historic changes.

Warning systems for storms must continue to improve. Grants and incentives to build storm shelters should continue and be increased.

Federal flood insurance must be revamped to ensure that rebuilding will reduce future flood damage. We must stop rebuilding in flood zones. We need to build resilient buildings around the floodplain and buy out structures that have repeatedly flooded, converting them to other uses to eliminate recurring disaster payouts.

A similar approach is needed for fire-prone areas. Buildings abutting wildlands that are subject to higher risk of wildfire should be built to reduce that risk and bought out rather than rebuilt in the event of repeated disaster claims.

The changes can be managed through grants to promote rezoning, federal insurance changes and other incentives. Sure, it’ll cost a little more upfront. But taxpayers have been footing the bill when things go sideways.

Our dollars will go further through prevention than they will in the wake of disasters. In the long run, we will pay a lot less.

Most importantly, people will be safer.

— Joplin Globe

React to this story: