Document Type

Symposia Article


Even as the number and effects of major disasters have steadily in- creased, government has played an increasingly large and central role in the response and recovery efforts after major disasters. Hurricane Harvey alone caused approximately $125 billion in economic losses. The federal government allocated over $136 billion in assistance for 2017 major disasters. Without adaptation and mitigation measures, researchers project that annual economic losses from storm, flood, and subsidence damage in the world’s coastal cities will average over $1 trillion per year by 2050. Even with adaptation and mitigation, annual losses in 2050 are still likely to exceed $60 billion per year.

Between 1970 and 2017, natural disasters accounted for 19 of the world’s 20 most costly insured catastrophes. The exception was the September 11th attacks, which cost insurers just less than $26 billion— $4 billion less than Hurricane Harvey ($30 billion) and three times less than insured losses related to Hurricane Katrina ($82 billion). Notably, 15 of the top 20 insured catastrophes occurred, at least in part, on U.S. territory. Even before Hurricane Harvey, Texas led the nation in the highest number of natural disaster declarations.

This Article focuses on the role that the U.S., Texas, and local gov- ernments play, and pay for, in disaster recovery. While disaster- struck communities develop plans for recovery, these communities rely more and more on federal assistance, even as they navigate a complex web of federal programs that focus heavily on recovery that acknowledge adaptation and mitigation but fail to prioritize them.

Over 215 years of federal policy have created an expectation of pa- ternal care without a firm commitment to provide sturdier communi- ties. The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 provides a framework to incentivize responsible state and local action. Texas should improve on the path taken by Florida and other states to become a leader in hazard mitigation. Texas can borrow from effective parts of its trans- portation and water planning and its funding frameworks to build within FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Plan process. This approach will help attract participation, increase funding, and promote coordination of planning projects across varying levels of government. Hurricane Harvey was an awful event, but if Texas takes the right action now, it can show its citizens and the world that it is sturdier after the storm.

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