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Hurricane Harvey, heartbreak, and helping hands

Bill Coffin | August 28, 2017

For years, I covered property & casualty re/insurance, and if there is one thing that moves those markets, it is natural disaster. Hurricanes in particular were of perpetual interest, as was any kind of major windstorm, snowstorm or flooding event. Floods are especially nasty, since most folks either 1) do not have flood insurance because they erroneously believe their homeowners coverage will cover them (when in fact, it will not), or 2) go to buy flood coverage, either from one of the few private carriers in the market or from the National Flood Insurance Program, and balk at the price of it. As a result, when major events like this happen, they can leave a lot of people with no way to recover.

Cities themselves have a part to play, especially when it comes to flooding. Houston, currently under some nine trillion gallons of water dumped over just a few days by Hurricane Harvey (with more to come over the next 24 hours or so) is experiencing an unprecedented flooding event. No matter what preparations could have been made, the city would have faced a historic and catastrophic disaster. But a lack of zoning laws that allowed for sprawling development over prairie where rainwater is meant to drain, a municipal disregard for potential climate change-related storm risk, and mixed messages between state and local authorities regarding evacuation all added up to a disastrous mix.

As ProPublica is reporting, Houston’s municipal risk factors when it comes to its inability to handle Harvey’s rainfall came from a deep-seated distrust and/or animus to rules and regulations in general, even though the city is no stranger to flooding. For years, Texas has enjoyed an influx of businesses (as compared to, say, California) seeking a more rules-light, and business-friendly, atmosphere. The liberty of few regulations indeed has its benefits. But those rules are conceived for a reason, and their compliance is not meant to oppress but to build value by ensuring security, sustainability, and best practice. As we learn the hard lessons from this disaster, let us remember the direction compliance has taken over the last 15 years: to build value through better and more strategic risk management. It isn’t easy. But it is worth it. It is always worth it.

As it stands, it will take Houston months, if not years, to recover fully from the damage of Hurricane Harvey. Right now, the rains have not yet stopped, and rescue teams are still getting people out of harm’s way. When the floodwaters recede, the city—with many residents who were themselves once hurricane refugees from New Orleans thanks to Hurricane Katrina—will need all the help it can get to rebuild and recover. And that is where we come in.

Compliance Week is donating to the Global Giving Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. We chose Global Giving in large part because of the group’s exemplary ratings for financial and operational transparency. There are many worthy groups delivering aid to Harvey victims. Global Giving is just one of them. But regardless of where we direct our efforts, I encourage the entire compliance community to do what it does best: helping others. Let us encourage our organizations to donate to our friends in Texas in their time of need, and let us do likewise personally as well. I live right where Superstorm Sandy made landfall in 2012. I remember well the destruction and the aid that came afterwards. There are no words to capture the gratitude that comes with help from outside of a disaster. So let us be that help now, while we are not the ones who need it.