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Hurricane, Fire, Covid-19: Disasters Expose the Hard Reality of Climate Change

An article in the New York Times today highlights how climate change is laying bare the limitations of our disaster response institutions, including FEMA, in responding to more frequent and severe natural disasters caused by climate change. This week alone, Hurricane Isaias and the Apple Fire are simultaneously occurring on opposite coasts. In conjunction with the strain on public resources necessitated by Covid response, more frequent climate-induced emergencies are taking an increasing toll on the nation's disaster response systems. 

“What makes climate change so insidious is that it alters hazards, like flooding, just enough to turn what otherwise could have been just an emergency into a disaster, and disasters into catastrophes," said Dr. Samantha Montano, an assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime AcademyMontano, in the article. “Not only does this lead to more damage but also traps people in a cycle of recovery." 

The article underscores the fact that governments must pivot towards pro-active preparation for climate change impacts-- spending more money before a storm or wildfire hits, reinforcing homes and infrastructure, rather than just trying to build better afterward. In addition, local emergency departments need increased funding as their jobs expand. 

"Local governments have to impose tougher building codes and restrictions in vulnerable areas, which home builders often oppose for fear of increased costs. If cities and towns had better building codes... fewer people would need to evacuate their homes, reducing their exposure to the coronavirus," according to former FEMA administrator Brock Long.

“Mass evacuation has become a man-made disaster, because we failed to put proper residential codes or building codes in place,” Mr. Long said. “We have a severe case of hazard amnesia.”

Hurricane, Fire, Covid-19: Disasters Expose the Hard Reality of Climate Change, New York Times