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Homeowners and Preparedness: Where Should Policy Intersect?

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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

The Kilauea volcano in Hawaii continues to erupt, menacing the surrounding areas of the Big Island. CNN reported that 35 structures have been destroyed by the continual flow of lava.

There have also been several earthquakes in the area. But nearby schools remain open, with the understanding that some students might not be able to attend because of these natural disturbances.

The Kilauea eruptions raise the question of whether we need more laws and policies to specify in greater detail the ramifications of a massive disaster for new home buyers. Are more public policies needed to help individuals understand the complexity of a major disaster? How will these policies affect property owners within a disaster event’s vicinity?

The United States as a Reactive, Policy-Creating Culture

As a society, we are very much focused on creating reactive policies that help mitigate disaster situations after they occur. When people are affected by an adverse event, they often work with interested groups including civic associations, the police, and local and regional politicians. They intend to change the current circumstances, so no one else will experience those adverse situations ever again.

While new zoning and insurance regulations could change things for the better, they could also create future hurdles for communities nationwide. Policy development is a particularly complicated area.

The recent volcanic eruptions in Hawaii leave some people wondering if we don’t need additional policies relating to emergency management and preparedness to improve these situations. In fact, some Americans wonder why people in Hawaii choose to live in an area that could experience a life-threatening eruption at any moment.

Would more public safety policies help individuals residing in such locations to better prepare for a disaster? Would more regulations help individuals to think about how to prepare for such disasters?

Living in Areas Subject to Volcanoes, Floods and Earthquakes Involves Risk Acceptance

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many Americans asked, “Why would anyone live in an area that experiences a lot of hurricanes?” But natural disasters are not events that happen every day, so residents are willing to take the risk of living in a potentially vulnerable area. New Orleans, for example, traditionally does not get many major hurricanes that directly hit the city, certainly not with the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina. 

The current chatter regarding Kilauea involves more of the same attitude of risk acceptance. One Hawaii resident told CNN that she was just happy to get her first home, even though it was damaged by a recent volcanic explosion.

Structuring Emergency Management Policies for Disaster Events

Whether or not we need more public policies is a question for lawmakers, too. Will a county’s adoption of new zoning laws make things better or potentially wreak havoc for the residents? Will a new easement or drainage regulation be relatively easy to enforce?

For homeowners, simply creating new public policy regulations that helps them understand the magnitude of a potentially impending disaster isn’t particularly helpful. Statistically speaking, there is a good chance their homes may never be involved in a disaster incident.

More importantly, adding new disaster policies and regulations can potentially lower home values. As a result, those homes would be difficult to sell and less of a desirable asset.

In many ways, legislation that focuses on homeowners and their decision to purchase homes in a flood plain, for example, just creates more bureaucracy. Instead, emergency management policies should focus more on municipalities and preparedness than on buyers’ decisions about where to purchase a home.

Passionate about the issues affecting ambulances and disaster management, Allison focuses on Emergency Management and Emergency Medical Services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, she worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, International Relations, and History; a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security; and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Allison is an Emergency Medical Technician, Lifeguard, and Lifeguard Instructor, and is trained in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society as Chancellor of the Southeast Region, Vice Chair of the Tactical Emergency Medical Support Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She is also a member of several committees including the Editorial Committee with APCO, the Rescue Task Force Committee with the International Public Safety Association, and the Advocacy Committee with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. She also serves as Chair of the Leadership Development Program for the 2020 Pi Gamma Mu Triennial Convention. Allison has published several book reviews and continues to write about issues affecting ambulances, emergency management, and homeland security.

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