Natural catastrophes are increasing in frequency and severity at an alarming rate. Having spent nearly $1 trillion on disaster recovery since 1983, the federal government is the largest payer of post disaster costs and taxpayers in recent years have been picking up an increasing share of the tab.
To illustrate just how much the disaster landscape in the U.S. has changed over the years, in 1955, after Hurricane Diane caused significant damage to the coast of South Carolina, the federal government paid 5 percent of the recovery efforts. By 2005, following Hurricane Katrina that number had risen to 50 percent, and in 2012 taxpayers were left to pay for a massive 77 percent of the recovery efforts following Superstorm Sandy. The dangerous trajectory of our nation’s post-disaster cost curve lends itself to an unsustainable model that ultimately puts Americans at risk.
Multiple studies have shown that every $1 spent on preventative mitigation saves approximately $4 in future losses, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency has taken a reactive posture to disasters. FEMA has spent 14 times more on incorporating mitigation measures after the catastrophe in recent years, instead of proactively preparing communities before the next storm. More troubling, FEMA currently spends 89 times more on post-disaster assistance than pre-disaster mitigation. Victims of catastrophes should always be put back on their feet in the aftermath of a disaster. But the fact that FEMA would invest such a small amount to prepare communities before the next storm while doling out billions in post-disaster assistance only adds furthers the argument for a wholesale change in approach.
NAMIC supports a shift in the current federal approach to disasters, advocating for the federal government to invest far more heavily in proactive, economically proven pre-disaster mitigation. To do this, NAMIC has called on Congress to create a National Mitigation Investment Strategy that would reform federal disaster policy while giving states and communities a package of tools and incentives to build structures more resiliently.