KANSAS CITY, MO. — Even as the nation experiences a rash of record-breaking storms and floods, a new America THINKS survey from HNTB Corporation shows that the public remains unprepared for either.
"Historically we do a lot better job reacting to a disaster than preparing for it," said Rob Vining, national director water resources practice. "After Katrina I thought America had collectively woken up to the flood risks we face, but instead we have continued to hit the snooze button."
In fact, more than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) do not recognize that flooding is the biggest natural threat to their home or property. Fewer than 1 in 10 (7 percent) have prepared their homes for extensive flooding. And more than 3 in 5 (63 percent) would not put more money toward their annual taxes to help ensure measures are in place to protect their neighborhoods.
This is despite more than half of Americans (55 percent) thinking it’s likely their area will be hit with an intense storm, hurricane, or flood in the next five years. And close to half (44 percent) of Americans think their area is ill-equipped to deal with potential damage from an extreme storm, hurricane or flood.
"Improving America’s water resource infrastructure is about more than just building bigger levees and dams," Vining said. "We need a coordinated and systematic approach to improving our natural and man-made systems, one that engages the public and works toward a balance between competing environmental, flooding, and water quality concerns."
Indeed, the biggest challenge may lie with an uninformed public. Nearly half (45 percent) think levees in their area will never fail. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave our nation’s levees a D- grade.
As systems age, risk increases. Unfortunately, proposed federal funding for Fiscal Year 2012 is below 2008 levels, and public interest continues to wane once news of the day moves beyond scenes of destruction caused by rising waters.
"We must adopt a long-term view toward our water resource assets," Vining said. "Recent flooding along the lower Mississippi illustrated the value of investments made by our ancestors’ in the 1920s through the 1960s. That same dedication should be applied today so our children — and their children — are protected as well."
Vining added modern planning, design, and finance techniques — such as giving rivers room to roam within sparsely populated flood plains and exploring innovative public-private partnerships — can support a more proactive and robust flood management response.
HNTB’s America THINKS national water resources survey polled a random nationwide sample of 1,000 Americans April 26-May 6, 2011. It was conducted by Kelton Research, which used an e-mail invitation and online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population ages 18 and over. The margin of error is +/-3.1 percent.