The value of community: Pricing hurricane damage

Hurricane Harvey demolished the Aquarium in Rockport, TX. Photo by Chris Hale

In the past 15 years, through my career as a coastal scientist, I have witnessed many devastating and expensive storms: Hurricanes Katrina (2005;$170 B), Ike (2008; $36.9B), Sandy (2012; $74.1 B), and Harvey (2017; $131 B) to name a few. And just this year Hurricane Laura and Sally are starting to accrue over a billion dollars in damages.

One question I hear a lot is: Why do we keep building in areas that are hazardous and costly to live in?

Since joining the Socio-Economics Group, one of my go-to sources of hurricane damage information is from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information’s Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters database and reports. In this database, “direct impact losses” such as physical damage to buildings, material assets, vehicles, public/private infrastructure, agricultural assets, and “time element losses” such as business interruptions, are considered. This type of information is obtained from the Insurance Services Office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Flood Insurance Program, and Presidential Disaster Declarations, among others. These reports are important because they help us understand long-term trends in disaster frequency and cost and bring attention to the things that can be rebuilt.

But many other losses are not considered in these types of reports. For example, they do not capture indirect losses which are the secondary costs and long term impacts sustained in the days, weeks, or months after an event. These include healthcare losses, damages that result from a lack of utilities such as electricity or running water, mental health and stress issues, and even financial health and credit score. In addition, we don’t emphasize the impacts on the natural assets of a community (e.g. wetland vegetation, trees, beaches), how many people move and do not return to their town after a disaster, or other cultural and community-based changes that can occur after a devastating event.

The Rockport, Texas community enjoys flash mob dancers perform during a block party in celebration of resilience after Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Chris Hale

When we witness hurricane recovery it’s easy to tackle the physical losses, which are in many instances, replaceable. Other qualities that comprise a community are the people, their culture, and the natural environment in which they interact, which are harder to restore.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, many people came together to help their community rebuild, in addition to the donation of items, money, and time people gave to support those affected by the Hurricane. This type of community cohesiveness highlights the strong sense of place and value that we place on our communities.

A sense of place describes people’s attachment to a unique location. A sense of place is borne from the unique experiences, learning, and growth that occur in our community; it’s a term that describes the overlap of geography, nature, built environment, experiences, and emotions. A natural disaster can lead to a harsh disruption of the natural and built environment, eliciting strong feelings to be prepared for and to rebuild our communities after a disaster. Although the impacts of such events can be in the billions of dollars, we continue to rebuild because the place that we live in is unique, it is what we know and where we want to be.  And we cannot put a price tag on the value of the community.

What are the attributes of your community that you find valuable? Are they vulnerable to the impacts of tropical storms? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

Links for Hurricane Preparedness:

Texas Hurricane Center-

Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Coastal Natural Hazards and other resources:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s