Does Class Warfare Play Into Disaster Preparedness and Response?
Globally we know that the impoverished are disproportionately impacted by disasters both in direct affects and recovery. With the hurricane season of 2017 and the current struggles in Puerto Rico I have to wonder if the same holds true within the United States. I am interested in reader’s responses on the issue, potential reasons if you feel there is disparity in preparedness and more importantly look for innovative solutions.
We’ve seen Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico impacted by storms this year. The role of FEMA is to manage and coordinates the Federal response to and recovery from major domestic disasters and emergencies of all types, in accordance with the Robert Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. FEMA also serves to coordinate programs to improve the effectiveness of emergency response providers at all levels of government to respond to terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. If this were carried out evenly across the country is it reasonable to expect consistent performance?
People will argue that Puerto Rico is an island and therefore it has logistical challenges that Texas and Florida don’t. Fair enough, it’s an island and always has been. Wouldn’t you think contingency planning already took that into account and had solutions for the challenges? Is there some hidden reason we are having troubles or just bad luck for the Americans living on an island. Would we accept delays with basic aid reaching Hawaii?
Facts can be useful, let’s look at a couple:
Per capita income:
- Texas – $55,000
- Florida – $ 49,000
- Puerto Rico – $ 18,000
Percentage of people living at or below the poverty level:
- Texas – 17%
- Florida – 17%
- Puerto Rico – 45%
- Texas – 19%
- Florida – 17%
- Puerto Rico – 35%
Preparedness publications give a list of steps and items we should all have in order to take some personal responsibility when disaster strikes. What disaster preparedness publications seem to disregard is the ability of the person to actually follow these recommendations. It appears sometimes after a disaster when these same Americans are suffering we blame the person for not taking personal responsibility as opposed to the ability of government to mitigate their suffering in a timely manner.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Commerce, CATO Institute there are:
Total number of Americans on welfare 4,300,000
Total number of Americans on food stamps 46,700,000
Total number of Americans on unemployment insurance 5,600,000
In addition, CBS News reports roughly 38 percent (about 118 million) of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck.
There’s an old saying…”If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”…and I have to wonder if we are ignoring an obvious problem because it would indicate we have classes within our borders and admitting it’s a problem is too embarrassing. If the issue is poor management of expectations, we need to do much better at telling the truth. Example – If your poor, have multiple health issues, functional or access needs or live a long way from where we keep stuff, you’re going to be worse off than others.
If we have subjective response and recover in play during a major disaster and it pits one class of citizens against another, what will a catastrophic event like a New Madrid or Cascadia earthquake expose in our system? There will be new “islands” of isolated populations formed from each of these events. Power will be out for months in many areas, logistical re-supply restricted to air delivery or water in many cases. I’m considering our response to Puerto Rico as a preview of our response to a Cascadia and New Madrid. I think it’s pretty clear after either of those events it will redefine how we prepare and manage disasters. The body count of those who survived the initial event yet succumbed to lack of basic living needs of water, shelter and food will demand it.
We need to change the way we go about preparing if we expect to see a change in the way we respond to these events. It shouldn’t be built based on federal guidance pushed down to the local community. Each community has unique challenges. They will know better than anyone how to develop and implement solutions to meet their basic needs when disaster strikes.