Drought - Fire - Flood Email Forum


Len Wright (
Thu, 26 Oct 2000 00:07:56 -0600

I would be interested in hearing some opinions on what the group thinks
about societal disaster relief and mitigation. Especially for the hazards
that exhibit a definite spatial risk delineation (i.e. flood and fire tend
to happen in certain specific places more than others, vs. droughts, which
are more temporally and spatially ill-defined), how should society devote
limited resources to avoid or relieve losses. What is the trade-off between
freedom (to build) and expectations of the gov't to come in and help when
things go bad?

If someone builds in a place where they have prior knowledge of the risks
involved with a particular location, at what point should the gov't walk
away and say "sorry, you're on your own if you build there". What effect
does this have on the potential builder or buyer? There is precedent in
floodplains, where people have built and rebuilt on the same property, with
gov't funding. This practice now has limitations due to the futility of it.
Expectations of reduced economic risk send a specific signal to the
economics of the situation (the reason for insurance). For fires, an
argument could be made that people who invest several million dollars to
build in a natural tinderbox should be left to their fate, and if they are,
then fewer people would take the risk, given the proper knowledge. This
limits people getting in the way of natural occurrences, that will
eventually overtake our efforts to thwart them.

The counter argument is that people's risk perceptions may be very
incorrect. The "it won't happen to me" philosophy. And if the hazard only
rears it's head every 50 or 100 years, then the individual may think they
will be safe if they keep their fingers crossed.

Another trickier question is how a *change* in public mitigation or relief
policy may change the risk exposure of a developed area, and presumably the
risk response of the individual. For a mountain development, a sudden
change in USFS policy could drastically affect the risk of any particular
house, is this fair to the owner? Is this a taking?

Another point is the driving force water has played in fire protection and
development. I would like to hear some comment on this. Fire protection
was a driving force behind Boulder's water distribution system (originally
wooden pipes from a reservoir near Settlers Park/Red Rocks area I
believe??). Areas are built close to managed water sources for fire
protection as well as a water source. Do the homes that were threatened
near Walker Ranch receive their water from Gross Reservoir? Did the
creation of Gross reservoir play a role in the attractiveness of that area
as a developable area? In other words, did a water decision play a role in
sending a risk/economic signal that eventually put peoples lives and
property at risk?

Good discussion so far, hope this made sense as the Yankees kept me up once
again, it's getting late.

- Len Wright

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