Last year was a costly one in terms of damages from natural disasters in the United States.
According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), natural disasters caused $91 billion in damages across the nation in 2018. This kind of financial toll is becoming all too regular. For the eighth consecutive year, 2018 had eight or more natural disasters in the U.S. alone that caused $1 billion each in damages. No communities are immune from tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, or floods. Mother Nature does not discriminate.
The good news is that there are ways to lessen the negative impacts and damages caused by many of these disasters — and to save money in the process. This can be achieved through effective mitigation work. In fact, a 2009 study from Loyola Marymount University and Loyola School of Law found that every $1 spent on preparedness is worth $15 in terms of the future damage it mitigates.
Preparing for the worst
Over the last several years, Team Rubicon has become more involved in mitigation efforts to support communities at risk of natural disasters well before they happen. Founded in 2010 as a disaster response organization, Team Rubicon has expanded the scope of its work. We have pivoted from focusing solely on immediate disaster response to now leveraging the skills of our military veteran volunteers to help communities navigate the entire disaster cycle — from preparation to response to recovery.
Our teams of committed volunteers regularly assist communities with wildfire and flood mitigation work — all performed free of charge. In 2018, Team Rubicon conducted 15 mitigation operations across the country. As of early August, we’ve already run 19 mitigation operations this year.
When it comes to flood events, creeks and rivers that are obstructed with debris can exacerbate the effects of natural disasters, cause more water to rush into neighboring communities, and become damaging when waters rise. To help mitigate this risk and reduce the impact of a potential flood, our teams use chainsaws and hand tools to clear trees, brush, and debris from creeks, streams, and rivers.
Team Rubicon volunteers also regularly conduct mitigation operations in areas at risk of wildfires. During these operations, they cut firebreaks and defensible space around communities that border the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), which acts as a buffer zone to reduce the impact of fires on structures. Volunteers also remove hazard trees and brush that could become additional fuel. This helps to reduce the potential that a community will be severely impacted by a wildfire, should one come through.
We saw the real world benefit of Team Rubicon’s wildfire mitigation efforts in Hoopa, Calif., in June 2019.
Working in conjunction with the Hoopa Tribal Council and the Hoopa Fire Department, Team Rubicon volunteers removed hazard trees and heavy brush to clear defensible space and aid in the mitigation of fire hazards in the community. Several days after our teams had finished, a small wildfire tore through the area. Fortunately, thanks to the mitigation work, the community was unharmed.
Natural disasters aren’t going anywhere. They will continue to cost billions of dollars each year. We don’t have to stand idly by, though. Every community must take a hard look at the risks it faces and then take action to mitigate them. That can be clearing defensible space, removing debris from a stream, or having sandbags prepared if a flood is forecast to hit your community. These seemingly small actions help to reduce damage and loss of life, and end up saving communities money in the aftermath of a disaster.
David Burke, Vice President of Programs and Field Operations, Team Rubicon, [email protected]