An Outdoor View: On risks, disasters and deprivation

With so many people having to leave their homes due to natural disasters in recent weeks, I got to thinking about disasters.

During the hurricanes, some people left home by choice, while others were prompted to leave by “mandatory” evacuations. Either way, when they left the comforts and conveniences of home, the places where they ate, slept and enjoyed countless other activities, they entered a state of deprivation.

Deprivation is not having the things or conditions necessary for living — the necessities. It comes in different levels of intensity. Going for a walk in nasty weather deprives you of the comfort and conveniences of your house for a few minutes. On the other hand, The Great Depression caused serious deprivation in the entire country, some of which lasted for years.

It occurred to me while watching the recent disasters unfold that they were serious disasters only to gamblers and the unprepared. Live in an area subject to flooding, you’re gambling. Play that game long enough, you lose.

To some degree, we’re all gamblers. Here on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, many of us live in areas where, under the right conditions, it’s possible that we could lose our homes due to flooding and wildfires. My house is well above the 100-year floodplain of the Kenai River, but the nearby spruce forest makes me something of a gambler.

The risks we’ll take, along with the things we’ll do to reduce risks, says much about us. Consider these scenarios:

— One, you have to flee from your home — let’s say you’re hoisted from your rooftop by helicopter while wearing nothing but a robe. You become a “victim,” losing everything you own, along with your dignity, privacy and independence. You may even lose your life.

— Two, you have to leave your home, but you’ve planned for emergencies, and briefed family members on the plan. You have a “bug-out” bag full of necessities. You keep important papers and family photos in one drawer, which you can grab in a hurry and take with you. You have a full gas tank, and a friend or relative who lives within driving distance, where you can stay. You lose a few things, such as your privacy and a couple episodes of your favorite TV shows, but you still have your dignity and some independence.

— Three, you watch the disasters happening to others on TV. You live where there’s no risk of flood, and little or no risk of wildfires and earthquakes. The cost of your house, insurance, property taxes and maintenance are lower than they would be if you had a view and water frontage, and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever suffer a disaster. The money you save goes into your retirement fund.

I feel sorry for people who get caught up in situations they didn’t foresee, and for those who are unable to help themselves. However, I have little sympathy for people who gamble without considering what will happen when they lose. Nor do I shed any tears for people who choose to live in a hazardous “paradise,” such as the Florida Keys, where the risks are so starkly evident. If you choose to live two feet above sea level or on the side of an active volcano, you’re on your own, if I have any say in it. Public funds shouldn’t be spent to rescue you or help you rebuild. You’re not only risking everything you own, but the lives of your family and rescuers.

Everyone should have a plan for leaving home. And if you have to pull on hip boots before going out for a walk, you might want to think about moving to higher ground.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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