Would we leave disaster-prone cities in the absence of FEMA?

Damage in the wake of superstorm Sandy in the central Jersey Shore area of New Jersey Damage in the wake of superstorm Sandy in the central Jersey Shore area of New Jersey Mike Groll/AP

Hurricane Sandy highlighted a number of problems that U.S. cities face in the era of climate change. Development has pushed up to the coastline in a way that strikes some as "foolish."Plans for sea walls and storm protections have been met with a lack of urgency. A push for urban resilience, in general, can't afford to wait any longer.

U.C.L.A. economist Matthew Kahn, author of Climatopolis, wonders if these failures have something to do with the comforting presence of federal disaster relief. While it's great that FEMA has helped so many people in New York and New Jersey, perhaps an unintended consequence of this support is that communities haven't adequately prepared for such disasters themselves — either by moving to higher ground, or by investing their own local money in sufficient flood barriers.

In other words, might the absence of federal bailouts actually improve the way cities adapt to rising sea levels?

"We've learned the hard way that the probability of terrible storms has increased, perhaps because of climate change, and that this should trigger investment in self-protection that reduces the impact of these storms," says Kahn. "But if you expect these bailouts, that chips away at investing in resilience. It's a disincentive."

Over at his blog, Environmental and Urban Economics, Kahn recently posted a "tough love" thought experiment: How would New Jersey rebuild the coastline if the state knew that FEMA aid wasn't available in the future? He predicts a combined response from both government and citizens alike. State and local leaders would change zoning laws to discourage risky coastal construction, and coastal residents would take precautions like moving inland to get out of harm's way.

Read more at The Atlantic Cities.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.