OPINION: America is unprepared for natural disasters


Bella Lantz, Associate Opinion Editor

With Hurricane Ian recently landing in southwest Florida, people are panicking and social media has been flooded with continuous posts about the hurricane. Last weekend, it came up through North Carolina, reaching App State. Schools were shut down and businesses closed. The East Coast had trouble staying calm and dealing with the situation. This is not the first time chaos has occurred when a natural disaster has hit America. The question stands, is America equipped to deal with natural disasters? The data points to no.

Wells Fargo claims that 84% of Americans live in an area where a natural disaster has occurred, and 72% know family members that have been affected by a natural disaster. With this data, people should prepare for potential natural disasters, but instead many do not. Seventy-one percent claim they do not have any plans in case a natural disaster occurs. According to YouGov, less than 40% of Americans have the essentials necessary during a natural disaster, such as emergency kits, food, water or an evacuation plan. Less than half of America is prepared for a natural disaster at home. The financial status of Americans makes it even harder for people to prepare for a disaster.

Many people cannot afford an emergency plan for themselves or their belongings. A little less than half of America claims that they have no emergency cash saved, nor do they have insurance in case of a catastrophic event. Even fewer Americans, 32%, have discussions with their kids about what to do or how to react in the case of an emergency or natural disaster. America as a whole is ill-equipped and not prepared to handle any disasters. This will continue, as it has for many years. Many children do not understand the damage natural disasters can cause, or the impact they can have on them later in life. It is easy for kids to gain anxiety or PTSD from a horrific natural disaster. Some kids could also develop depression from some storms. This causes the children to go to therapy due to their mental health, which could stay with them forever. Poor individual reactions not only impact those individuals, but they also impact the community in which they live.

In the days leading up to a natural disaster, food will often run out in grocery stores or items will become scarce. Non-perishable foods are usually the first to go, such as soup, ramen and processed foods. Other foods still run out in grocery stores across the country, as people panic about items selling out. Mass buying hurts everyone in the process. This could potentially be solved by more Americans taking action and preparing, rather than panicking and buying everything last minute. People could easily avoid so much damage to themselves, their families and their objects with preparation and calmness. The government could also assist before and after natural disasters, but nonprofits or volunteers help disaster victims instead.

Anna Maria College surveyed federal executives from various agencies including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense, military branches and more. The good part is that 93% of the executives believe that their role would play an important part in the midst of a natural disaster. The issue is that only a little more than half know how to complete their goals during a disaster. Executives claim that 80% of their agencies do not complete a well enough training for their employees in regard to natural disasters. Many federal agencies do have difficulty running during a storm. Some worked for military branches that would deal with natural disasters. The government is not training people properly, and as a result, people do not understand how to complete their jobs well, especially during critical times such as natural disasters. 

The federal government has several different plans in place to prepare for a natural disaster. The Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment identifies natural disasters and takes into account how much damage they could cause. An analyst interviewed by the Guardian said that THIRA is “nothing more than a piece of paper.” The plans get typed up and then sit on a shelf until someone decides to do something about them. Many times it is based on the financial status at the time. The government, however, has plans in place to help assist before a natural disaster, so why do they not put the extra money that they have into one of these projects? The average amount of money the government has for natural disasters can range anywhere from $22 billion to $300 billion. They spend all of the money on fixing the structures and lives of Americans after the natural disaster when they should be putting the money into getting ready for the storm. This could prevent damage to houses or public lands that were not properly funded for the disasters. The lack of proactivity from both the government and individual people makes natural disaster response a lot harder in the U.S. 

Something the people can fight for to keep natural disasters at bay is to share the effects of climate change. Climate change has not been the reason for disasters, but it is making them so much worse in the event of one occurring. The hotter it gets, the more and more water evaporates into the atmosphere. Storms form from the water vapor in the air. This creates hurricanes to be much stronger than they originally would have been. It also increases the wind speed and creates a more impactful hurricane once it hits land. With this scientific information, the urgency for fixing climate change should increase. The people need to act now. Storms will only get worse and the endangerment of lives is at stake.

Boone, along with the rest of America, is not prepared for a natural disaster. Many times it is not the natural disaster itself, but the aftermath that makes Boone so dangerous. Boone is located within the mountains, making it one of the more dangerous places for hurricanes and landslides.  In 2018, two people were killed in a landslide disaster after Lake Tahoma flooded. The Watauga Dam was compromised and people were asked to evacuate before the dam was finally deemed safe. If the government of Watauga County was to keep the dam new, people would not have to evacuate in fear of it breaking. Watauga should look ahead at landslide zones and not allow houses on that ground or have extra money invested into the houses and land so not a lot of damage can occur. Boone should be more prepared, and this also applies to the rest of America.

One big reason natural disasters are horrendous and more life-threatening than ever is because no one is prepared. If someone lives in an area with constant tornadoes, an investment in a basement will help. If people live along the coast and know that constant hurricanes come through, they should invest in a house not right along the water or put their houses on a high foundation. In California, many houses are resistant to earthquakes. Many of the items hung along the walls or tall furniture pieces are placed around the house strategically. If an earthquake was to hit, none of those items would fall on a person, because they are well placed. Natural disasters are inevitable and are bound to happen; the damage depends on the preparedness of the people involved. People will always have two options, either be reactive or proactive.