Hazard Amnesia — Failure to prepare for the next disaster

Resolve doesn’t last!

Just after a disaster, many people and officials in a ravaged community resolve to do whatever it will take to protect themselves from future losses. Unfortunately, that resolve usually doesn’t last. It’s replaced by something the experts at FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) call hazard amnesia.

Hazard amnesia hits different people differently. Many residents fall victim when they get busy with the clean-up, insurance claims and whatever else they have to do to get their life back to normal. During that tiring, frustrating process, their resolve to “not let themselves get caught again” gets shelved, then forgotten.

As for community officials, they usually start by trying to find some disaster-protection plan to protect all of their people. That soon leads to frustration. They learn that their community, even with state and federal help, could not afford to immediately build enough shelters to protect everyone. Meanwhile, things begin gradually getting back to where they were prior to the disaster, and they do still have a good evacuation plan, so they decide to do nothing. In other words, their resolve also dims and hazard amnesia sets in.

Evacuation – not the only or best protection

But we don’t have to rely solely on evacuation for protection. As anyone who’s been through one will tell you, evacuation is not a good solution. Firstly, evacuation is not fair to the working class or the poor. Unlike the wealthy, working people cannot easily leave their jobs and their only home for safe, comfortable accommodations elsewhere. As for the poor, many simply don’t have a vehicle in which to leave.

Secondly, while evacuation may be somewhat practical when the impending danger is a hurricane, that’s not the case with tornadoes. Weather experts usually see hurricanes forming several days before they hit land. But we usually get tornado warnings just hours before they strike. The shorter the notice, the greater the confusion and panic. Imagine hundreds of vehicles on a highway, desperately trying to outrun a tornado that then heads for the very road they are on.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to give in to hazard amnesia or rely solely on evacuation. We have the knowledge and the technology with which to protect ourselves. The Monolithic Dome is very much a part of that technology – an affordable, very adaptable, economically sound part.

Near-absolute Protection

After years of studying the after-effects of natural disasters, FEMA has documented guidelines governing the construction of structures that provide near-absolute protection. According to FEMA, “Near-absolute protection means that, based on our knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a shelter built according to this guidance will be protected from injury or death” (Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters P.1-2).

The Monolithic Dome meets, and generally exceeds, FEMA’s criteria for a safe building that can provide near-absolute protection.

All good and well, but that still leaves us with the problem of how can we immediately afford to build enough shelters so that everyone is protected? We can’t! But we certainly can gradually and significantly improve our status quo.

As we construct, we can do so by planning Monolithic Domes with a secondary purpose – a very important one: the saving of life.

We can also begin considering some alternatives:

  • Legislation mandating that new government buildings, such as city halls, courts, fire and police stations, as well as public use buildings, such as schools, libraries and community centers, be built to provide near-absolute protection. Some communities have already built Monolithic Dome schools and gymnasiums and have had them designated as shelters.
  • Tax incentives designed to encourage the owners of commercial sites to build using FEMA’s guidelines. Imagine a Monolithic Dome built as a Wal-Mart or Target – an ordinary discount store that could easily don its Superman cape and convert itself into a public shelter. Such a structure would earn a tax break from the government and gratitude from its patrons. Monolithic Domes built as smaller stores, churches, offices, etc. could reap the same tax benefit and public acclaim. To sweeten this financial pie, the government could offer the owners of such a structure a contractual plan that would pay for the use of the building as a shelter.
  • Legislation insisting that mobile home parks provide shelters. At a mobile home park, a Monolithic Dome could easily serve as an office or a social center and as a conveniently, closely located disaster shelter.

Monolithic Domes – ideal dual-purpose structures

Virtually any building – whether it’s a house, store, school, gymnasium, church, or huge sports arena – can be a beautiful, dual-function dome. It can serve its everyday, primary purpose and provide a disaster-resistant shelter, for hundreds, close to home that would make long distance evacuations unnecessary.

We may never be able to come up with a plan that would absolutely protect everyone from every natural disaster. But each new Monolithic Dome could be a small start that could lead to a big change. Let’s not let hazard amnesia get us again.

Note: We first published this article in September 2004.