There’s a whole category of disasters people think will probably never happen to them. Major floods, landslides, and earthquakes happen sometimes decades or centuries apart. So, people don’t think about them or they ignore the risks. And, some experts say, that’s why we build or buy houses
in places that really aren’t safe. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Melissa Ingells reports:
There’s a whole category of disasters people think will probably never happen to them. Major floods, landslides, and earthquakes happen sometimes decades or centuries apart. So, people don’t think about them or they ignore the risks. And, some experts say, that’s why we build or buy houses in places that really aren’t safe. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Melissa Ingells reports:
Disasters happen. It’s only a matter of when. The problem is, we prepare for things like tornadoes that happen every year, but we aren’t prepared for a major flood that might only happen once a century. Donald Hyndman is with the Department of Geology at the University of Montana. He’s an expert on disasters.
“People just do not understand the scale of events, they also don’t understand that if in their lifetime there hasn’t been a really major event, that there won’t be a really major event.”
So Hyndman has co-written a new textbook on disasters. He says there’s a lot of pressure to build houses in places that are hazardous. Maybe it’s just a great view, so people build there despite warnings. Or, they think they can stop the ground from moving with retaining walls, or think they can stop floods using levees. Donald Hyndman says that even well built projects just can’t stand the power of nature.
“There is increasing pressure to build in the same lowlands, the same flood plain areas, and the developers say, well, the Army Corps of Engineers has built a major levee or dyke here, that protects people on these floodplains. The problem is, levees break and they always break.”
Donald Hyndman’s co-author is his son, David Hyndman, a geologist from Michigan State University. David Hyndman, says even when a place is a known area for disasters, demand for housing means buildings go up all over again in the same spot.
“There’s always development pressure, and the developers even fairly soon after large floods like some that occurred in California, they keep pushing and the public has forgotten what has occurred and then often the development will be allowed, which causes a disaster afterwards.”
Donald and David Hyndman both say developers don’t help the situation when they build in dangerous areas.
But folks in the housing business say there are plenty of laws to warn potential homeowners, before a house is even built. Lynn Egbert is the CEO of the Michigan Association of Homebuilders. He says that people often ignore the regulations because they want to live where they want to live.
“Consumer desire – consumer interest and desire is the primary reason, even though there are state regulations and federal regulations to put people on notice and protect against the risk for insurance, to locate where they want to locate, which is a property right.”
Egbert says that real estate people and lenders are supposed to let property owners know of the risks. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes people don’t know to ask. And sometimes people think that despite the risks, a disaster just won’t happen to them. Donald Hyndman says we don’t respect how powerful the earth really is.
“Basically, some people feel that they can control nature, or improve on nature, and I’ve actually heard some politicians say we can improve on nature. We can not only not affect the results, those results are typically – they typically backfire. So we really cannot control nature.”
The Hyndmans are hoping their new textbook will help build awareness of all kinds of disasters—but especially the ones that could happen right in our own backyard.
For the GLRC, I’m Melissa Ingells.