Chalk it up to luck, I suppose, but a few weeks back we missed the only real snowstorm to hit our corner of the world this winter because we were traveling elsewhere on business. We received email reports from folks in the neighborhood that our hilly country lane was totally impassible due to ice and wet, deep snow plus plenty of downed trees, and their daily updates indicated that the situation remained unchanged for almost a week. By the time we returned the little private road was open again, featuring the same jarring winter potholes we had carefully avoided on our departure, but the piles of shattered alder and hemlock, some a foot or more in diameter, still lined many parts of the course and several more weeks would pass before workers and equipment appeared to crush, saw, chip and haul away the debris, leaving the borrow ditches in what we hope will be a condition that can handle the impending spring runoff.
This incident actually illustrates how fortunate we are to have experienced such a mild winter, especially compared to so many parts of the country. Even today, several weeks after our “big” snow event and well past the official start of spring, the battered residents of New England and other parts of the East coast are hunkering down in anticipation of up to a predicted foot of new snow and ugly conditions. This comes after months of evening newsreels showing the aftermath of storm after storm and the misery endured by so many communities this winter. I can’t help thinking about the mounds of mud and indescribable muck that loomed, layer upon layer, along the streets of many neighborhoods in New Orleans the first time I visited the region following Katrina and the mountains of shocking wreckage left in the wake of the devastating tornadoes that have destroyed entire towns in recent years. I am left with the undeniable recognition of the fact that some things are beyond our abilities to control them.
This will not be the last hard winter. What I’m more troubled by however, and this really brings me to my point, are the tragedies that we have at least some capacity to avoid but seem to be willing to ignore until it is too late. Depending on your specific location, your home and family could be susceptible to any number of natural and/or man-made threats. In one place or another you may be at higher risk from flooding, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, and so on. Yet, we support policies that encourage people to rebuild over and over again in these zones. It seems that almost daily we hear or read reports of bad things that happen to good people in ordinary communities because they don’t heed the warnings intended to protect them.
So many times we have heard stunned victims say “I never thought it would happen here,” or “We should have listened.” Because there are things we can control, perhaps the building industry has an inherent responsibility to take a more firm position on not only what we build and how we build, but also on where we build.