Disasters like COVID-19 give us insight into our nation’s vulnerabilities and an opportunity to reflect and do better so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. This pandemic is one without modern precedent, but one we still could have better prepared for. A recent Columbia University analysis concluded that the U.S. could have avoided at least 700,000 infections, and saved more than 36,000 lives, by taking action just one week earlier in March. This is the cost of waiting to prepare.

Unfortunately, our government’s response to COVID-19 is not totally unprecedented.

Historically, the U.S. has not emphasized preparing for the next global health threat or natural disaster as much as it has responding to the damage they cause. The past few years we have seen a rise in historic hurricanes and wildfires across the county. Beyond our borders, swaths of India and Bangladesh are flooding following the destruction caused by the most powerful cyclone in a decade. In Maine, businesses and homeowners face record-setting flooding each year.

There are several federal programs available for communities and businesses to rebuild after disaster strikes, but what if we invested more in preventing potential damage instead?

This is not an altogether radical idea. Research shows that taxpayers save an average of $6 for each dollar invested in disaster mitigation, such as improving existing infrastructure or elevating homes and businesses.

In response to the 2017 hurricane season, then-Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long told the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, “I cannot overstate the importance of focusing on investing in mitigation before a disaster strikes … building more resilient communities is the best way to reduce risks to people, property, and taxpayer dollars.” Since 2017, natural disasters have cost the U.S. more than $462 billion.


There is no question that extreme natural disasters around the world are on the rise, with the U.S. seeing more billion-dollar natural disasters than ever before. Our businesses and communities often are forced to live with old, deteriorating infrastructure that was not originally built with modern disasters in mind. We deserve more.

Making investments in climate-resilient infrastructure like One Climate Future in Portland and South Portland is planning to do will ultimately save communities from the increased costs of shuttered businesses, washed-out streets, damaged homes and lost lives. Bills in Congress like the Great American Outdoors Act, which Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins helped introduce, would permanently fund important conservation programs and help bolster recreation-dependent communities. Others, like the STORM (Safeguarding Tomorrow Through Ongoing Risk Mitigation) Act, would help local communities better prepare our state’s crumbling roads, bridges, boat ramps and shorelines for more-frequent flooding and storm damage, and help prevent costly repairs and higher insurance costs. These are both steps in the right direction that Mainers should support.

Seasonal businesses, like boat yards, campgrounds and recreational dealerships, depend on strong infrastructure to be able to make their living. Oftentimes, small businesses like these are the most at risk when disaster strikes, with 40 to 60 percent of small businesses never reopening following a disaster and 90 percent permanently closing if they cannot reopen within five days. Our industry’s businesses make it possible for the 70 percent of Mainers who participate in outdoor recreation each year to continue to take part in their favorite activities.

Maine’s natural resources and waterways are as abundant and accessible as anywhere in the world, with the state’s beautiful coast, lakes, ponds and mountains serving as a needed escape for residents and tourists alike. By investing in modern, resilient infrastructure, we can ensure that these resources and the businesses that depend on them can continue to thrive for decades to come.

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