Our current system of public insurance and public disaster relief places a lot of the onus of flood risk on the taxpayer. This is certainly the case when subsidized flood insurance encourages additional coastal development and helps to maintain higher coastal home values. Also, the NFIP itself does not have the ability to pool risk since it generally applies only to flood-prone areas and it has no ability to develop a reserve in years when premiums collected exceed payouts for flood losses.

the Red Cross has slashed its payroll by more than a third, eliminating thousands of jobs and closing hundreds of local chapters. Many veteran volunteers, who do the vital work of responding to local fires and floods have also left, alienated by what many perceive as an increasingly rigid, centralized management structure ... the Red Cross is stumbling in response to even smaller scale disasters ... Some emergency planners around the country have concluded they can no longer rely on the charity.

Most of the state’s water is drawn from the Delta, protected by levees that pretty much amount to mounds of dirt ... Hurricanes don’t hit NorCal, but these levees are alarmingly susceptible to disaster. If enough were to breach—in an earthquake perhaps, or severe El Niño storm—sea water from San Francisco Bay could rush in, tainting the water supply serving two-thirds of the state. The worst-case scenario could cause up to three years of severely curtailed water for most Californians.

Ten years later, it is not exactly right to say that New Orleans is back. The city did not return, not as it was. It is, first of all, without the more than 1,400 people who died here, and the thousands who are now making their lives someplace else. As of 2013, there were nearly 100,000 fewer black residents than in 2000, their absences falling equally across income levels. The white population decreased by about 11,000, but it is wealthier.

Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.

the magnitude-9.0 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed more than eighteen thousand people, devastated northeast Japan, triggered the meltdown at the Fukushima power plant, and cost an estimated two hundred and twenty billion dollars.

It took more than two and a half years, until August 2013, for the Red Cross just to sign an agreement with USAID on the program...the program was ultimately canceled because of a land dispute. A GAO report attributed the severe delays to problems “in securing land title and because of turnover in Red Cross leadership” in its Haiti program. Other groups also ran into trouble with land titles and other issues. But they also ultimately built 9,000 homes compared to the Red Cross’ six.

Disasters like the Haiti earthquake and the Indian Ocean tsunami present colossal logistical challenges. Nonetheless, in Aceh officials and relief workers did their best to sort through this stock: Drugs were stored in private homes, in hospitals rooms and corridors (despite a desperate shortage of space for patients). Eighty-four percent of the facilities lacked air conditioning, rendering their contents unusable, according to the study.