Environmental Defense Fund (Blog)

New data shows changing disaster trends – and why Congress should take note

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma should serve as a collective wake-up call for policymakers who rush to respond to every disaster, but plan for none.

The outpouring of support after hurricanes Harvey and Irma showed us, once again, that America is at its best when we rally behind our common values and help others in need.

Remarkably, those terrible disasters seem to have even knocked an uncommon dose of common sense into Congress. Lawmakers had been on the verge of passing sharp cuts to the federal disaster relief agency to fund President Trump’s border wall, but reversed course faster than you can say “whiplash.” They quickly passed a $15 billion aid bill for Harvey instead.

What Congress isn’t doing is to take the next step and look at how disaster trends have changed, and ask why they’re costing taxpayers ever-more money – so we did it instead.

The results of our analysis should add to Harvey’s and Irma’s collective wake-up call for policymakers who rush to respond to every disaster, but plan for none.

A fourfold jump in disasters since the 1970s

After examining the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster declaration records from the past 40 years, we found that four times as many counties were hit by disaster-scale hurricanes, storms and floods between 1997 and 2016, than during the two decades before that.

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