Over time, we have grown increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters. Each decade, economic losses from such disasters more than double as people continue to build homes, businesses, and other physical infrastructure in hazardous places. Yet public policy has thus far failed to address the unique problems posed by natural disasters. This Article takes a first step toward improving public policy by offering a paradigm for understanding its failures, suggesting that three categories of obstacles obstruct sensible government regulation. Drawing from philosophy, cognitive psychology, history, anthropology, and political science, this Article identifies and analyzes three categories of obstacles to disaster policy-symbolic obstacles, cognitive obstacles, and structural obstacles. The way we talk about natural disaster, the way we think about the risks of building in hazardous places, and structural aspects of American political institutions all favor development over restraint. Indeed, these forces have such strength that in most circumstances society automatically and thoughtlessly responds to natural disasters by beginning to rebuild as soon as a disaster has occurred. The types of obstacles discussed in this Article interact and amplify one another, further impeding policymaking. The history of disaster policy suggests that efforts to respond to any one obstacle will likely fail. Only by understanding these obstacles collectively, and by coordinating responses to their individual and cumulative effects, can America effectively tackle the natural disaster problems it faces.
© 2013 J. Reuben Clark Law School
2013 BYU L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.byu.edu/lawreview/vol2013/iss2/1