Rethinking disaster recovery after a California town is leveled by wildfire

Source(s): NPR
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By Kirk Siegler


Reactionary mode

As disasters like wildfires, floods and hurricanes are increasing in size, severity and frequency, experts who study our response to them are warning that events like the Camp Fire should be a wake-up call. One of the early lessons from Paradise is that we need to radically overhaul how to prepare for and respond to disasters in the era of climate change, they say.

"We have been very reactionary," says Josh Sawislak, a climate resiliency adviser in the Obama administration. "The problem is that we've kind of gotten away with it for a while."


Disaster recovery reforms

Still, last fall, amid a record wildfire season in California, Congress passed the Disaster Recovery Reform Act. It's part of a sprawling set of disaster spending reforms that will, among other things, allow FEMA to send a portion of its disaster relief budget to states to use for pre-disaster mitigation.


"But I don't think it goes far enough," [Sawislak] says. "We should be spending billions on protecting our infrastructure and communities, not millions or even hundreds of millions."

Indeed, it is a small portion — about 6% — netting an estimated $300 million a year for pre-disaster mitigation programs. And it is unlikely any of those funds will be allocated in time for this year's fire season.


There is a provision — and money — in that new disaster reform bill for states to buy out private property in high-risk zones and turn it into green space. This has never been done before in high-fire-risk areas in the United States. But it could be the future.


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Hazards Wildfire
Country and region United States of America
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