Natural disasters have killed more Americans than terrorism, even in the advent of 9/11. In 2011 alone, over 1,000 people died as a direct result of severe weather. Tornados killed over 500 people; heat waves: 200; flooding: 100. The wreckage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath took over 1,800 lives in 2005. According to the National Weather Service, 6,872 people have lost their lives to Mother Nature between 2001 and 2011. Comparatively, domestic terrorism killed about 3000 people on September 11th and 14 civilians in the ten years following. The ratio, if you’re wondering, is a little over 2:1.
A storm at the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy leaves a war-like trail of death and destruction in its path. Thus far, over 150 people have died, and millions will be without power for the foreseeable future, despite multiple warnings from meteorologists and news stations to brace for the storm. The AP reports that Sandy could end up causing about $20 billion in property damage and $10 billion to $30 billion more in lost business alone. Given natural disasters’ consistency, history, and potential for massive killing and property damage, the federal government should prioritize defense against environmental disaster.
Instead, the disparity between the National Defense and Federal Emergency Management Agency budgets is flooring: The US spends about 30 times FEMA’s resources on defense—a great majority of which, in name, goes to fighting and deterring terrorism—against an enemy that poses less of a threat to the average American citizen. Policy-makers in Washington have their cost-benefit analysis backwards.
Some may argue that terrorism is predictable and preventable, while there is no way to stop an imminent hurricane or tornado. Firstly, that is factually incorrect; weather experts estimate that 1-3 hurricanes will hit the United States every year, whereas a terrorist threat is entirely unpredictable, and has no statistical backing to be considered inevitable. Secondly, the solution to a natural disaster is clear: citizens must prepare ahead of time, respond to emergencies during the event, and clean up the mess afterwards. The War on Terror, on the other hand, is endless and ever expanding, and, frankly, its success is dubious at best. Runaway spending is far more likely to manifest in the malleable defense industry than in environment response programs.
Finally, preparedness for a natural disaster makes a difference in lives lost. The anticipation of a hurricane can allow for widespread evacuation, getting most out of harm’s way. With proper infrastructure in place, citizens can better secure themselves, their loved ones, and their property. This minimizes the human cost. This is not necessarily the case with terrorism. There is no data that shows that the War on Terror has made Americans any safer. “Preparedness” does not necessarily make any citizen more secure. Because the rewards are greater and more assured when we are prepared for them, threats of natural disaster necessitate more attention than threats of terror.
I am not necessarily advocating for more FEMA spending; I think FEMA tends to do a lot more harm than good. But in the interest of national security (protecting the livelihood of a nation’s citizens and the interests of a country), we should be investing in a War on Weather (detection and fighting global warming) far more than a War on Terror. In considering the paramount danger to the American public, natural disaster has posed a greater threat than any action from the United States’ enemies in the Middle East. It is long past time to reconsider the United States’ priorities and distribution of resources domestically and abroad.