Disaster Law

Three Ways of Dodging Responsibility

After disaster strikes, there are some tried-and-true ways of avoiding responsibility.

In the wake of the Texas blackouts, we’re seeing a number of familiar moves to deflect blame by the usual suspects–politicians, regulators, and CEOs. These evasive tactics all begin with a core truth: Eliminating all risk is impossible and would be too expensive even if it weren’t. But then they spin that truth in various …

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How Much Should Texas Invest in Grid Resilience?

The Texas blackouts provide a case study in how to think through resilience issues.

As we begin to think through the long-term response to the Texas blackout, there’s a lot we don’t yet know.  The ultimate issues are how much resilience we need against events like this  and how we should obtain it. It’s helpful to lay out the kinds of questions we need to be asking as we …

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The Big Chill

What went wrong in Texas and what can we learn from it?

The rolling blackouts in Texas were national news. Texas calls itself the energy capital of the United States, yet it couldn’t keep the lights on. Conservatives were quick to blame reliance on wind power, just as they did last summer when California faced power interruptions due to a heat wave.  What really happened? It’s true …

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The Global Convergence of Disaster Law and Climate Law

Two very distinct areas of international law are finding more and more in common.

International climate negotiations may seem to have little to do with the work of such international relief organizations as the Red Cross. On the national level, EPA and FEMA are two very different agencies that historically have had little connection.  The same has been true at the international level.  But disaster and climate authorities are …

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We’re Going to Need a Much Bigger FEMA

FEMA is built to handle one disaster at a time. That’s not going to work in the future.

“When troubles come, they comes not as single spies but as battalions.” That wisdom goes back to Shakespeare. Yet our disaster response system is keyed to handling single disasters, not clusters of major disasters.  That needs to change. This week is a good illustration.  We have fires in California that may set records.  We have …

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How NOT to Manage a Crisis

There were basic errors in organizing the White House pandemic response. It’s a teachable moment in crisis management.

The rap has been that the White House just ignored medical experts and left everything to the politicos. A  NY Times story over the weekend reveals that the story was more complicated. It discloses basic failures in management and crisis response since early in the coronavirus outbreak. Those failures should be heeded by future leaders. …

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Is a Pandemic a Major Disaster?

Cuomo has asked for major disaster relief. But there’s a serious legal hurdle to that.

Yesterday, I wrote about presidential powers in a pandemic. I mentioned the possibility of declaring the pandemic a major disaster under the Stafford Act.  Today, we learned that Gov. Cuomo of New York has made such a request. [Note: two days after this was written, FEMA granted the request.] What does the law have to …

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Presidential Power in a Pandemic

The President does have considerable power, but there are serious limitations.

Now that Trump has belatedly declared a national emergency, what powers does he have to respond to the coronavirus pandemic?  There has been a lot of talk about this on the Internet, some of it off-base. it’s important to get the law straight. For instance, there’s been talk about whether Trump should impose a national …

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What the Administration Failed to Learn from Past Disasters

COVID-19

There are some basic rules about how to respond to emergencies. They were ignored.

An epidemic and a hurricane require different responses. But the organizational challenge of confronting an emergency is a constant.  Here are some basic rules the Trump Administration failed to heed.  Ensure in advance that sufficient supplies will be quickly available.   When Hurricane Katrina hit, the government did have supplies, but they were located hundreds …

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When is a Flood a Government Taking?

Should the feds be liable for flooding during Hurricane Harvey?

A federal statute bars nearly all claims against the federal government for flooding.  Victims of flooding from Hurricane Harvey seem to have found a loophole by claiming that their property was taken without just compensation by flooding.  The facts are unusual, but the case raises some deep questions about financial responsibility for flood control. Here …

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