In an ideal world, people live in areas of high productivity and low risk. But since that’s not always feasible, the next best thing is to mitigate those risks. That’s why buildings and bridges in California are engineered to withstand earthquakes, sea walls are built in tsunami zones, and extensive irrigation systems are constructed in dry areas.
This makes sense.
So how is it that a whopping 80 percent of homeowners in the Housto, Texas region do not have flood insurance? How is it possible for so many, spread across all income levels and demographic lines, to have been so penny wise and pound foolish, a fact driven tragically home after Hurricane Harvey laid waste to that area.
Was it because Houston never gets hurricanes? Not even close. That area has a history of major storms. In fact, the 1900 and 1915 hurricanes of Galveston (less than an hour’s drive from Houston) remain some of the worst loss-of-life disasters in U.S. history.
Was it because flood insurance is prohibitively expensive? Think again. The average premium is just $555. That’s per year, not month. So the average cost of one trip to Starbucks, per week, would have provided virtually all the coverage necessary to rebuild from the devastation (the federal flood insurance program caps limits at $250,000 for structure and $100,000 for possessions.)
It was complacency, that "we’re untouchable," combined with an entitlement mentality that "someone" (meaning the taxpayers) will bail them out if the unthinkable occurs.
It’s wrong. People must learn from the mistakes of Houstonians to avoid a repeat. With that in mind, here’s some perspective on the two recent hurricanes:
1. Let’s get it out of the way. I am a callous, heartless wretch trampling on those who need help rather than criticism. Do it later, the critics will say, after people recover. Sorry, but no. "Later" is simply guaranteeing that no one will care about lessons learned — until, of course, the next storm looms. By then it will be too late.
And to preempt those who say it’s easy being a Monday morning quarterback, most do everything to avoid such storms. This author went the other way, flying directly into a (prior) hurricane for 12 hours with the Air Force Hurricane Hunters. In that situation, there’s no calling 911. If something goes seriously wrong, it’s game over. So yes, having stared into the heart of the beast makes one anything but an armchair analyst.
2. If you live in a flood region, you’re going to get hit. Yes, the amount of rain Harvey dumped was unprecedented. But weather is becoming more intense, and once-in-100-years storms are increasingly common.
The arrogance of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina should have taught us about preparedness. Time and again, the Divine watched out for the Crescent City, as hurricanes always veered away. The result? City leaders reallocated funds earmarked for stronger levees to pet projects. Had they done their job, Katrina’s damage would have been a fraction of what it was.
3. If people choose not to have flood insurance, then all repairs should be on them. But before foregoing it, they should understand that floods are not just the result of tidal surges or crested rivers, but ground saturation, too. We need to eliminate the perceived benefit that taxpayers will foot the bill via subsidized loans and outright "free money." It’s a lose-lose, because those funds are finite and long-in-coming, and they often aren’t enough to make a house whole again. With its $20 trillion debt, the federal government is perilously close to default.
4. Speaking of complacency, if you live in a hurricane zone, is it really that hard to buy a case of water per month? And store 20 gallons of gasoline, as well as food and flashlights? And for those who don’t want to be stuck on the road with millions of others (the worst place to be), how about springing for a portable generator and plywood cutouts for your windows?
Prudence dictates putting down Netflix and doing those things before a massive storm approaches. But instead, we see panicked hordes in fistfights for minuscule scraps, and others waiting for hours at the gas station only to learn that fuel is no longer available. It's mazing how we lost our pioneering spirit of self-reliance so quickly.
5. Can we please stop the patronizing messages? If people want to stay, let them. It’s a free country, and there’s something inherently primeval about riding out nature’s fury, but there needs to be consequences. They can’t have it both ways — ignoring warnings, but expecting to be rescued.
That should also apply to the media, which showed its hypocrisy by criticizing those who rode it out or ventured outside, yet put journalists and crew in harm’s way by making them report — you guessed it — outside, in the heart of the storm. Leading by example is a principle that news executives need to revisit.
6. Most disconcerting was the Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands issuing an order allowing the National Guard to confiscate guns, ammunition and other supplies. But why? They aren’t under-armed. It wasn’t to proactively stop looting, since 99 percent of gun owners are law-abiding citizens, respectful of private property. Which means they were using the chaos of a natural disaster to execute a gun grab.
What are pro-Second Amendment President Trump and the Republican congress doing to ensure that such actions never recur? And how are they holding those accountable for such unconstitutional rule-by-fiat? Their silence and non-action are intolerable. Voters are watching.
Finally, can we stop politicizing hurricanes? From saying climate change is responsible (a vastly unfounded leap) to alleging that it was God punishing America, (so much for a merciful God). Statements like these help no one.
Hopefully, we have learned lessons from Harvey and Irma so that next time, we are better able to weather the storm.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Freindly Fire Zone Media. Read more reports from Chris Freind — Click Here Now.