By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest
Hazard mitigation is one of the most important areas of emergency management. It allows emergency managers and public officials to think about what areas of their jurisdictions have potential problems that could complicate emergencies or disasters.
The simple act of identifying these problem areas has positive results for emergency management efforts. A dam that is hazardous and then repaired becomes far less of a concern during a disaster.
Taking this a step further, civilian property could be hazardous but fall outside the “jurisdiction” lines of emergency management. Sometimes, individuals own property that is problematic. That property creates numerous safety hazards for its inhabitants or for individuals who respond to emergencies at that location.
In some instances, property owners might not have the financial means to make the appropriate repairs to make their property safe again. While hazard mitigation is an important factor of emergency management, where does public policy and the safety of others become invasive and affect the personal business and choices of property owners?
Unsafe Dwellings Pose Safety Hazards for Community
Unsafe dwellings pose numerous risks to anyone who comes in contact with them. A structurally unsound building could present numerous hazards for a community.
For example, if a fire breaks out in an unsafe dwelling, firefighters would need to put it out while risking serious bodily injury or even death if they were to enter the structure.
If the building is known to have structural problems, it is important for the property owner to make necessary repairs. It certainly makes sense to do so.
But if the property owner cannot or does not fix an unsafe dwelling, then local authorities may have to intervene. In Beaumont, Texas, for instance, the city government found dozens of homes to be unsafe in October 2016 and plans to destroy them. Certainly, it is important from a public safety standpoint to get rid of unsafe dwellings.
Blight Laws and Personal Rights
Some towns and cities have developed blight laws to deal with unsafe dwellings. Government authorities can condemn a depressed property based on a number of issues.
While blight laws certainly have their place in society, some property owners argue that a blight law or any other law telling property owners what they must do to their property, infringes on their freedom to do what they wish. Furthermore, some people would argue that if property owners do not have the financial means to fix an unsafe dwelling or if they choose to live a house and let it rot in place, that is their decision.
Where Public Policy Intersects with Public Safety
Public policy exists to take care of individuals within a community and policies are in place to protect them. When it comes to unsafe dwellings, public safety issues come into play. There should be no unsafe dwellings in a community where people or first responders could be injured responding to an emergency.
Mitigation certainly helps to correct unsafe property issues before they occur. But there is a fine line between public policy and personal property.
Overall, hazard mitigation depends on the issue under debate and where a jurisdiction’s policies intersect with public safety. Most likely, the use of mitigation will change from situation to situation.