We tend to think of disasters as the immediate response: the need for rescue, sheltering, emergency medical treatment and so forth. But this is just the initial part of a very long process. The true test is how a community recovers from an event, a process that can take years. Unfortunately, recovery issues don’t always receive the same attention as do response issues. It is heartening therefore to see the legislators in California focusing on both.
Major disasters inevitable spawn legislative debate. On rare occasions, that debate may result in constructive legislation. This may be the case in California where legislators are debating the response issue of emergency warning and notification and the recovery-related insurance issues following last year’s Wine Country fires.
One of the controversies that emerged from the fires was the decision by one county not activate a system that would have provided a wireless alert warning to a large segment of the population. The reasoning was that the warning would have gone beyond the evacuation area and could have impaired the evacuation and movement of fire fighting resources. Surrounding counties opted to use the system. Because the county that opted not to use the system had more deaths than the counties that did, there is considerable debate about the perceived problems with the system that were a factor in the decision-making process. The California legislature is considering the development of a statewide warning system that could be more precisely targeted by local jurisdictions than the existing one.
A second major issue is that of insurance replacement for lost or damaged items. Traditionally, insurance companies require a detailed inventory of lost items, to include the date purchased, serial numbers, and actual cost, something difficult to produce if your home is a smoking pile of rubble. The legislature is considering a proposal that would allow a homeowner to claim 80% of their allowable limit without producing an inventory or to submit an inventory for the full amount. This proposal has been around for a while but, as one would expect, is not popular with insurance companies. However, given the circumstances of the Wine Country fires, it may be an idea whose time has come.
As I mentioned, disasters often lead to debates of this type but not always to solutions. In this case, the State Office of Emergency Services has had a statewide notification system in place for years and is a participant in the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS), so a modified system that would meet local needs may be possible with sufficient funding. However, the much-needed insurance revisions will face stiff opposition. It will be interesting to see if the legislature has the ability to follow through on its promises.