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Organizations and Safety Nets have Limits

This report documents the successes and failures of the disaster response system. It also points to the limits of these systems. In fact, any system, no matter how well designed, can never anticipate every scenario and respond flawlessly in all situations. More fundamentally, individuals will always respond to a situation as they perceive it. So every set of rules, every disaster as it shapes up, will generate a response on the part of individuals that cannot be predicted or easily controlled. Zoning rules try to shape flood and fire mitigation behaviors, but individual property owners assess their interests and risks against those rules. So some people build berms and swales that look like garden structures but also divert water away from their homes, some buy insurance, some install sump pumps, some choose not to act at all. In addition, even the best-designed system has limits. Insurance is limited, FEMA cannot cover all costs, and municipal systems cannot handle every act of nature or people that arises. The increasing uncertainty from climate change only adds to the risk. As a result, emergency preparedness needs to continue to develop mechanisms for enabling resident response and responsibility. For example, Boulder County has programs to advise landowners on how to reduce their fire risk, including payments to reduce fire mitigation costs, and programs on how to reduce household and garden water use to conserve water resources. For individuals, improved “disaster literacy” will increase the chances of surviving a disaster and speed recovery.

PERC Reports