A renowned expert in emergency management is saying the U.S. emergency response system needs major reform to confront the oncoming disasters of climate change.
“Most so-called disasters are, in fact, entirely predictable,” writes Grist, explaining the key message from Samantha Montano in her new book, Disasterology: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis. “Instead of focusing on prevention, lawmakers and the U.S. emergency response system focus on reaction, and even then, our emergency management system is flawed because it doesn’t respond equally to all communities—especially lower-income neighbourhoods of colour.”
Montano’s own experience with disaster management started in high school, during a spring break service trip to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While she was there, she saw miles of rotting debris, moulded homes, and deteriorated public services. “It was not until I was standing in the aftermath of [a disaster] that I fully grasped the scope and scale, the complexity, and really, the devastation,” she told Grist.
That trip also exposed Montano to the inequities of the U.S. government’s response to Katrina. Not only did she witness Congress taking more than a year to approve funds to respond to the crisis (which, at US$4 billion, were inadequate), she also saw lawmakers take an additional decade to fully disperse the money.
“In the end, Katrina survivors received individually an average of just $7,000 in federal relief,” Grist reports.
In her book, Montano traces the history of U.S. disaster management and details a policy that favours reaction over prevention—despite evidence for the vastly superior financial efficiency of the latter. “For every $1 of federal money spent on mitigation, $6 is saved,” Grist explains. “And yet we cling to a militarized system that doesn’t prioritize prevention, Montano argues.”
Lawmakers will need to adapt quickly to stave off the devastation foretold in last week’s blockbuster IPCC science assessment. Montano sees a possible source of change in a bill recently reintroduced by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators. “The bill, called the Disaster Learning and Lifesaving Act, would create a National Disaster Safety Board to study the underlying causes of damages caused by hazards to inform how to improve disaster recovery programs,” explains Grist.
Montano is also calling for citizens to “organize, educate themselves, and take action, both by demanding change from lawmakers as well as participating in mitigation projects in their own communities.”