August 28, 2013

Editorial | Myrtle Beach, rest of coast must be reading for changing risks

The following editorial appeared Tuesday in The (Hilton Head) Island Packet :

The following editorial appeared Tuesday in The (Hilton Head) Island Packet :

The recently released task force report on rebuilding after Super Storm Sandy offers an important message for communities all along our nation’s coasts:

We must be smarter about where and how we build if we’re to continue to live close to the shore. Rising sea levels and extreme weather events allow us little latitude to recover if we’re not prepared.

Buildings and supporting infrastructure must be able to withstand flooding and wind damage that will come with these storms. In short, we can’t afford to simply build back to old standards what was there before.

Resilience is a word used frequently in the report from the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. And that is what leaders at the local, state and federal levels should strive to achieve. It will take long-term vision and a commitment to spend money now to save even more in the future.

The 120th anniversary Tuesday of the Sea Islands Hurricane of 1893 is a reminder that this area of the coast is susceptible to damaging storms. An estimated 2,000 people died in the storm, and tens of thousands were left with nothing.

The seriousness of the job ahead can be seen in the 11 climate-related disasters that occurred last year alone. Damages totaled an estimated $110 billion, according to the task force report.

The report’s 69 recommendations include:

* Developing more advanced electrical grids that can weather storms, as well as telecommunications systems that are less likely to be crippled by power outages.

* Ensuring the availability of fuel after a storm.

* Strengthening building standards.

* Working to protect the shoreline through greater use of natural barriers, such as wetlands and sand dunes, as well as through man-made structures.

* Giving governments and residents the best available information on current and future risks to help with decision-making.

* Coordinating federal, state and local government efforts to ensure a regional approach to rebuilding.

* Establishing guidelines to be sure large-scale infrastructure projects are located and built to withstand existing risks, as well as risks from future climate change.

The report also notes recent changes Congress made to the National Flood Insurance Program. Those changes reduced subsidies that made the insurance affordable for many in risky areas. The task force recommends working with Congress on the affordability challenges posed by the reforms so that responsible homeowners aren’t priced out of their homes.

It also recommends encouraging policy-holders to take steps to mitigate risks, such as elevating their homes and businesses above flood levels, to protect against storms and to make their flood insurance premiums more affordable.

The report might have been spurred by Super Storm Sandy, but it offers advice we all should heed.

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