Monday, August 25, 2008

Changing Behavior: Mitigation in New Orleans post Katrina

From the Times Picayune:

Three years after Hurricane Katrina, houses are still going up across the metropolitan area. And "up" doesn't mean new: It means, well, up.

The sight of homes being raised 3 or 4 or even 10 or 12 feet above ground has become common. But what will this do to the local architectural landscape? What is the impact on neighborhoods? Individual blocks? And how high is too high?
This article discusses a project by the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology (CHART) at the University of New Orleans.

Early on, Laska says, the group realized that elevation conversation can be complex. The earliest house-raisings post-Katrina often looked like structures on steroids. Laska refers to them as "flood rage houses" -- residences hoisted by people who said, succinctly, "Never again."

In fact, many homeowners lifted their foundations to the level of their Katrina watermarks. Which is actually not such a bad idea, Laska said.

"That kind of reaction is based on actual flood experience. It's a good barometer of what the highest potential flood level might be."

More recent elevations, however, tend to be less severe. "The elevated house has grown on us, and people are doing a better job at it, " Laska said.

It appears that individuals' psychological response to risks has followed patterns discussed previously in academic literature on risk and mitigation. Individuals appear to assign higher probabilities to these risks immediately after the event, thus overcompensating. These people may have raised their homes more because of this experience. As the event becomes more distant in individuals memories, they do not overcompensate as much. This poses the question, will we continue to see less and less mitigating behavior as Katrina becomes a more distant memory?

Here is a link to an interactive map of New Orleans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The thing is, in NO they were living in excessive risk for years. Colleagues mentioned to me that NO would eventually get wiped away with a hurricane bc half was below sea level. They never took actions that a rational city would take.

Also, the fear during the hurricane and for the next month was palpable. NO is always a crazy place, but during that time the violence of the city escaped and there was no presence to hold it down. Although legit violence spread through the area, rumors of the same also spread to surrounding areas, including Baton Rouge.

In any case, the poor morons in LA won't have the money to mitigate too many risks. Only the few who have enough juice. Just the way it works.