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Losing Ground: A Nation on Edge

March 2008

Citation: 38 ELR 10149

Issue: 3

Author: 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.

John R. Nolon is a Professor of Law at Pace University School of Law, counsel to the school's Land Use Law Center, and a Visiting Professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Daniel B. Rodriguez is the Minerva House Drysdale Regents Chair in Law at the University of Texas at Austin. [Editors' Note: This issue of Environmental Law Reporter News & Analysis is devoted to excerpts from Losing Ground: A Nation on Edge, edited by John R. Nolon & Daniel B. Rodriguez, which can be ordered by calling 800-433-5120 or through the ELI website at http://www.eli.org.]

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