Issue 58 • Week of February 26, 2023
The death toll from the recent earthquake in Türkiye and Syria has surpassed 50,000, dwarfing its deadliest historic counterparts in the US. The scale of suffering is hard to comprehend and Surmountable extends our sympathy to the families affected.
We should take this moment to consider our own response to tragedies. Few Americans would disagree that we could do better on behalf of natural disaster survivors and those at risk in the US.
Any calamity will inevitably lead to fingerpointing for what could have, should have, or would have been done. Occasionally they lead to belated upgrades, such as the first seawall in New York after Hurricane Sandy or new levees in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina that held up against category 4 Hurricane Ida. However, both pale in comparison to what will be needed in the next 30 years as most infrastructure projects are still myopic in scope. For instance, levees are built by the Army Corps of Engineers under the Department of Defense while evacuation routes are managed by the Department of Transportation. Programs rarely fund or coordinate both.
Ensuring the survival of its constituency is the most basic social contract of any government. Unfortunately, preparing for natural disasters has never been a US strength – even before recent hurricanes crystallized FEMA dysfunction. It's not just the government at fault. Browse major charity after charity after charity after charity to find that virtually all fundraising and donations for disasters go to relief efforts (with sometimes questionable results). There are so many organizations that they merit their own coalitions and consulting. Yet barely any exist solely to support preparedness or advocate for preparation.
American citizens have a hard enough time swallowing the cost of something used everyday like mass transit, let alone a project that may only be used every few decades or is considered a success when nothing happens.
How can we prepare for the worst when our policies always assume the best or only help afterward?
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