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Volume [field_article_intvolume_value], Issue [field_article_intissue_value] — March 2008


Losing Ground: A Nation on Edge

by John R. Nolon and Daniel B. Rodriguez

America builds on the edge of disaster prone areas: on moveable barrier islands, fragile coastal ecosystems, shorelines subject to inundation, and next to flammable forests. Ferocious storm events focus attention during the tragic moment and as short-term recovery efforts proceed; too often, we then return to business as usual, continuing to build and rebuild on the edge. This series of Articles draws from our book Losing Ground: A Nation on Edge. The volume collects papers from a variety of disciplines: law, history, geography, environmental science, and urban planning. The authors review past policies and practices, the lessons learned from previous disasters, current approaches to disaster planning and recovery, an assessment of the proper roles and responsibilities of various levels of government in the federal system, and freshly minted legal and technological tools. The book and these Articles provide perspectives and prescriptions for longer term disaster mitigation planning and action.

The approach of governments in the United States to dealing with cataclysmic disasters has been ineluctably shaped by two recent events: the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on targets in New York and Washington, D.C., and Hurricane Katrina in late summer 2005. Though fundamentally distinct, these tragedies remind us that we are, in alarmingly many respects, underprepared for powerful disasters. This lack of preparation is seldom attributable to a failure of will; nor is the failure of governments to provide adequate financial resources the essential problem. After all, disaster response and relief are complex policy problems, raising intersecting puzzles and calling for careful analysis, not simple prescriptions or overheated rhetoric.

Learning From Disasters: The Synergy of Law and Geography

by Rutherford H. Platt

Editor's Summary: Historically, regulatory approaches to natural disaster mitigation have been created in the aftermath of specific disasters. For instance, the world's first city building code was created in the wake of the Great Fire of London, and the U.S. Congress enacted flood control rules for the Lower Mississippi after the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927. In this Article, Rutherford H. Platt discusses how natural disasters have informed society's understanding of natural resource management and land use planning over the last several centuries. He examines the evolution of single use policies into multiple use management, deconstructs federal disaster policies, and advocates for ecological cities. He concludes with a reminder to address natural disaster mitigation--indeed, all of modern urban planning--with comprehensive policies addressing the full range of urban needs.

Sustainability at the Edge: The Opportunity and Responsibility of Local Governments to Most Effectively Plan for Natural Disaster Mitigation

by Patricia E. Salkin

Editors' Summary: The traditional link between disaster mitigation and local land use planning was highlighted by the Disaster Mitigation Act (DMA) of 2000, which emphasizes the need for mitigation coordination among state and local entities. In this Article, Patricia E. Salkin looks at the role of local governments in natural disaster mitigation, specifically, how local governments may use traditional land use powers, such as the police power, to protect against disasters. She cites DMA provisions that offer financial incentives to states that work with local governments to plan for growth and disasters; she also sets forth case studies to illustrate how states can create vertical links among federal, state, and local entities to coordinate disaster mitigation strategies.

Increasing Resilience to Natural Hazards: Obstacles and Opportunities for Local Governments Under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000

by Anna K. Schwab and David J. Brower

Editors' Summary: The term natural disaster is a misnomer. As Anna K. Schwab and David J. Brower note in this Article, disasters do not occur naturally, they occur only where humans have placed themselves in the way of natural hazard events. Therefore, decisions about the way human environments are initially constructed can mitigate the effects of natural hazard events. They distinguish between resistance and resilience, explaining that attempts to resist forces of nature by trying to contain or control nature itself have largely been unsuccessful. By contrast, resilience efforts, such as hazard avoidance, environmental preservation, and education and outreach, reduce vulnerability to natural hazard events. The authors explain a range of resilience techniques and discuss hazard mitigation planning under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000.

Remedying Our Fragmented Governmental Structures to Deal With Our Nation-on-Edge Problems

by Jeffrey G. Miller

Editors' Summary: The argument against crafting federal regulations for problems stemming from development in disaster-prone areas (nation-on-edge problems) assumes that these types of problems are essentially local problems requiring unique local solutions. In this Article, Jeffrey G. Miller challenges this assumption, reasoning that a flexible framework of federal regulations would indeed be effective at remedying these problems. He suggests that such a framework could be modeled after the Clean Water Act's (CWA's) point source pollution control regime. A permitting system similar to that set out in the CWA would promote best management practices while still allowing local entities the freedom to determine which particular practices are most effective for them. He recommends that we reexamine our conception of federalism before abandoning hope of federal solutions to nation-on-edge problems.