Rabbits May Not Need Disaster Plans, But We Do

Yesterday the Washington Post ran a humorous article about a magician in Missouri who’s been required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop a “disaster plan” for his rabbit – the one he pulls out of a hat during magic tricks.  This plan describes how the “Marty the Magician” will protect his rabbit in the event of a natural disaster.

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  • DISCLAIMER: This is not Marty the Magician’s actual rabbit, although it bears a striking resemblance to the photograph in the Washington Post article. Photo credit: Flickr user Cloudtail

The point of the article is that it’s bureaucratic overreach to apply the USDA disaster-planning regulations to a magician with a single rabbit.  After all, you don’t need a written plan to save a pet bunny from a flood or a wildfire; you just put it in the car and drive away.  The USDA’s requirement was intended for people who can’t take such simple measures – people who have lots of large animals, like circuses, zoos, and wholesale pet dealers.

But despite the critical tone of the article, I think it provides a good opportunity to recognize the fact that disaster planning is actually incredibly important in certain situations – like when Marty the Magician is our state government and the rabbit is, well, all of us.

States develop disaster plans – also known as “hazard mitigation plans” – to prepare strategies for keeping people and property safe during natural disasters.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides guidelines for the plans, and FEMA’s approval of a state’s plan makes that state eligible to receive federal grants for disaster preparedness projects.  While disasters themselves aren’t avoidable, states can reduce their impacts by carefully preparing and planning ahead.  FEMA has found that every $1 spent on hazard mitigation provides the nation with $4 in future benefits.

The disaster plan that a volunteer disaster expert wrote for Marty the Magician’s bunny is quite entertaining and worth a read – it made me laugh out loud several times – but a state’s hazard mitigation plan is serious business.  State plans are hundreds of pages long and set out strategies for reducing deaths and damage during disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, floods, droughts, and more.  They’re not bureaucratic red tape – they save lives.

But the scary thing is that FEMA is allowing many states to operate under disaster plans that don’t adequately prepare them for future hazards.  That’s because FEMA allows states to base their risk assessments and mitigation strategies on historical disaster data.  Many states aren’t taking into account the fact that climate change is creating the conditions for more frequent and severe destructive weather events.  Ignoring this fact comes at a dangerous cost: those states are not going to be adequately prepared in the future when disasters strike, potentially resulting in more lives lost and more property destroyed.

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  • Climate change is already creating the conditions for more frequent and severe natural disasters, like the flooding that hit the Midwest this summer.  Photo credit: USDA

NRDC petitioned FEMA last fall to make sure that states’ hazard mitigation plans consider the projected impacts of climate change.  So far, the agency has yet to respond.  In the meantime, we’ve been working with states directly to encourage them to think about climate change as they prepare their disaster plans.  You can urge your state to prioritize climate preparedness in its disaster mitigation planning here.

Climate change isn’t hocus pocus, and disaster planning isn’t just for magicians with rabbits.  We all need to be prepared.