Why We Don't Prepare for Disaster

Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires: a year after Katrina, a tour of the American hazardscape shows that we haven't learned much

Every July the country's leading disaster scientists and emergency planners gather in Boulder, Colo., for an invitation-only workshop. Picture 440 people obsessed with the tragic and the safe, people who get excited about earthquake "shake maps" and righteous about flood insurance. It's a spirited but wonky crowd that is growing more melancholy every year.

After 9/11, the people at the Boulder conference decried the nation's myopic focus on terrorism. They lamented the decline of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). And they warned to the point of cliché that a major hurricane would destroy New Orleans. It was a convention of...

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