Starting in the mid-1980s, we began to hear emergency management officials attending the National Hurricane Conference and the Governor’s Hurricane Conference, here in Florida, expressing alarm at the seemingly endless surge of construction of costly homes and other structures in low-lying coastal or other waterfront areas that are vulnerable to damage from hurricanes. We began using this space to pass along those warnings, but the building continued.
So, we weren’t surprised by a special report that appeared in the May 27 edition of The New York Times. According to a Times analysis of data from the U.S. Small Business Administration, roughly 90 percent of the costly property damage from storms and other natural disaster has occurred in ZIP codes that contain only 20 percent of the nation’s population. Many of those ZIP codes are in coastal areas on the Gulf and Atlantic Ocean, including here on the Suncoast.
The study also found that these areas experience repeated disaster-related damage. As if to hammer home that point, on the same day the Times report was published, Ellicott City, an unincorporated community in Maryland, near Baltimore, had its historic downtown district devastated by stormwater flooding. That downtown district, which lies at the crossing point of three or four watersheds, had just recently recovered from a similar flooding event two years ago. This year’s was worse, by most accounts.
Natural disasters are going to happen no matter what. We must, however, ensure that even well-intentioned government policies don’t encourage people to try to live and do business in areas that are likely to be vulnerable to hurricanes and other natural disasters and hope other people will continue to help them pay to repair the damage.