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Three Ways We're Less Prepared for Disaster Three Ways We're Less Prepared for Disaster

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White House / WHITE HOUSE

Three Ways We're Less Prepared for Disaster

photo of Marc Ambinder
March 17, 2011

If a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck at the New Madrid fault line along the Mississippi River, causing massive flooding and emergencies at nuclear plants in Illinois, would the United States be better prepared to respond than Japan? Here are three ways we wouldn't.

1. BUILDING CODES.  American building codes tend to be a patchwork affair, with enforcement varying by location, political situation, and budget.  In Japan, especially in its cities, they are up to date and rigorously enforced. And increasingly, Japan's population is clustered in its cities

2. CULTURE. It may seem stereotypical to point this out, but the lack of social unrest in Japan, at least when compared to the public reaction to disasters in America, is profound. And that order probably helps Japan respond more efficiently. While the "Anderson Cooper" effect can bring attention to gaps in the government's response to crises, it can also convey a false impression about how well the government is responding. Americans have proven to be extremely resilient, but intense media focus can help to foster unwarranted panic t -- which may explain the sudden demand for potassium iodide pills in California.

 

3. SOCIALIZED FLOOD INSURANCE AND POOR LAND-MANAGEMENT POLICIES.  We build on coastlines vulernable to hurricanes. We build on flood plains. And about one in five Americans whose homes are at risk have insurance, meaning that the government subsidizes recovery and mitigation, wasting resources. The same applies to where we build power plants: No matter how much you harden a nuclear reactor, in a 9.0 earthquake, it's probably going to give. But because mitigating disasters amount to regulation, and because the corporate sector is so influential in the American system of government, we build in places we shouldn't, and our regulators can be subject to capture by industry. 

RELATED: Five Ways We're Better Prepared

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