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It's not our nature to prepare for nature

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A government report out this week says that we Americans remain woefully unprepared for catastrophes such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina despite years of warnings and billions spent on preparations at all levels of government. The report lists the gaps in our preparedness and includes the areas in most need of attention.

But the report fails to take into consideration one crucial element - human nature.

Whether we prepare or not, a catastrophe of natural forces or man-made forces will surely occur in our future. We all know - or should by now - that the New Madrid Earthquake Fault will indeed someday falter as predicted. And the experts tell us the loss of property and potentially lives will be substantial.

But human nature - I believe - tells us that though we accept these events will happen, we're unwilling to change our daily lives for an event that may or may not happen in our lifetimes. Now that thinking has gotten us into trouble in the past and will likely cost us when that fateful day arrives, but living in daily dread of such an event is simply not in our nature.

There's a story out this week about the San Andreas Fault in California that is said to be near a major eruption at any time. And certainly some people make vague plans and store some minimal items in preparation. But large-scale plans are so cumbersome and so costly that most of us are willing to run the risk and not disrupt our lives more than we are forced to.

No one wants to live a life of paranoid preparation, waiting for some doomsday prophesy, even if that prospect is based in scientific fact. It's much like the story of the little boy who cried wolf. Our government tells us the terror level is elevated, so we make plans to alter our lives. And then when nothing materializes, next time we react to the warning with less enthusiasm. Same goes for natural disasters.

The government is right - we must prepare for those events that could bring widespread loss of property and life. But to make that plan fully functional, we need to alter human nature.

On that front, the government doesn't stand a chance.



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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen