By Ben Block
I travelled to Atlantic City a few years ago for a bachelor party weekend. Early Saturday morning, a fire broke out in my apartment building. My wife, alone, escaped our home as the fire spread.
I hold no superpowers. Still, I swore that day I would lead our family to safety if we ever found ourselves in another emergency. Tropical Storm Florence and the year’s fires provide yet further reminders of how commonplace natural disasters have become
Few of us want to think about a disaster until one comes. Like it or not, the realities of our changing climate force us fathers to confront our vulnerabilities. It is time we prepare for the next disaster.
Dads to the Rescue?
My dad duties include preparing for the dangerous situations no one wants to happen. So, when we have hurricane seasons, fire seasons, flood seasons like the country is experiencing, I can’t help notice — and wonder whether more are to come.
Last year, the U.S. experienced 16 separate natural disaster events that each totaled at least $1 billion in damages. The total cost eclipsed $306 billion — a new record— and displaced more than 1 million people from their homes.
Poor, minority families are more likely to live in low-lying regions of the country that are hardest hit from storms and hurricanes. They often lack the financial resources to evacuate, choosing instead to trust in their abilities to confront the elements.
But many are willing and able to flee. Given the sudden regularity of mass evacuations, Jeff Goddell has written in Rolling Stone that we have entered “The Age of Climate Migration.”
Is your city next?
Residents of the Carolinas, Houston, San Juan and New Orleans are no strangers to how one weather event changed their hometown forever.
I travelled to New Orleans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to help with the rebuild. We cleaned out mold and did our best to get luckier residents back on their feet. For the less fortunate — I saw swept homes across boulevards — many did not return.
While most of New Orleans is now beautifully restored, the city’s population is roughly 100,000 less than before the storms.
I remind friends and family that people in low-lying coastal towns are not the only ones who should be concerned.
A recent study reveals the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is using woefully outdated maps to assess flood risks — both in coastal and landlocked parts of the country.
The study by a team of British researchers finds that, while FEMA estimates around 13 million people live in areas at risk of serious flooding, the actual number of us exposed in the event of a 100-year flood is around 40.8 million people (13 percent of the population).
Fires Become More Frequent
As residents of drier areas know all-too well, forest fires are becoming more common and increasingly intense.
Last year, over 66,000 fires consumed more than 9.78 million acres of land across the country. That’s the second highest total since records began and a 49-percent increase over the past decade.
Even families that escape disasters must frequently grapple with unexpected traumas.
Following a natural disaster, mental health experts regularly report higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress. In Houston, one survey found 33 percent of residents in hurricane-damaged areas had fallen behind on their rent or mortgage.
In the best circumstances, the thought of losing a family’s most treasured possessions is heartbreaking.
Take the story of pastor Aric Harding of Friendswood, Texas. Days after Hurricane Harvey, his home was still too dangerous for any of his seven children to go inside. Harding returned to see what could be salvaged to lift his kids’ spirits.
The family’s piano, standing in two feet of water, obviously was going nowhere. Harding sat down at the keys, propped up his phone, and recorded himself playing one last song.
Quick Tips on Emergency Preparedness
I started Climate Dads with recognition that it’s time we fathers take a serious look at the “freaky weather” and act to protect our families.
Here are some recommendations:
- Develop a family communication plan— Get your spouse and kids organized with emergency contact information and an agreed-upon emergency meeting place.
- Build a survival kit— No bunker? No problem. Put all these essentials in one convenient place.
- Research future weather and sea level changes— Models offer us educated guesses of what the future may hold. See what’s expected in your hometown.
New satellite technology can give more detailed projections of how sea level rise may affect individual properties. The real estate industry and local governments are reluctant to embrace the technology out of fear it will lower property values.
Through Climate Dads, I hope to connect more families with the companies offering these services. Armed with information, we are more equipped to protect our homes to withstand whatever disaster comes our way.
Join the cause and, who knows, maybe Vanessa Carlton will send you a new piano.
Ben Block can be reached at ben[at]climatedads[dot]org.