Monday, September 11, 2006

Disasters and the Law: Katrina and Beyond

Disaster law bookOn behalf of my coauthor, Dan Farber, I am very pleased to announce the publication of Disasters and the Law: Katrina and Beyond.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Dan and I agreed that we would write this book. We hoped that we could convert what was then our shared sense of helplessness in the wake of Katrina into a modest contribution toward improving the law's approach to hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters. The book, as fate ordained, has now been published on the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks, a grim reminder that human and natural threats persist.

The following excerpt from the preface describes what Dan and I set out to do with this book:

Recent hurricanes and other natural disasters demonstrate serious gaps in the legal system and its ability to respond to events of this magnitude. Innovative policies are needed if society is to deal effectively with the aftermath of these disasters and the risk of future ones. Disasters and the Law: Katrina and Beyond studies disaster response, prevention, and mitigation strategies.

By integrating knowledge and experience from fields as diverse as urban planning, bankruptcy law, and wetlands law, the authors talk about the legal process in disaster response and reconstruction. Past responses to Hurricane Andrew, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the Loma Prieta earthquake also are discussed along with a history of U.S. disaster response efforts.

The book examines a wide range of issues and engages in provocative discussion of such topics as:
  • The goals and limits of Federal and military involvement in civilian and domestic support and our expectations of a swift and multilayered response from government in times of a crisis versus government and private sector capabilities
  • Medicaid issues raised by the hurricane such as the New York Disaster Relief Medicaid
  • Waivers granted in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks and current federal legislation related to Medicaid and Hurricane Katrina relief efforts
  • Environmental issues such as the Army Corps of Engineers' work on levee constructions and the controversy over environmental litigation's role in the Corps' projects, as well as the future reconstruction on floodplains
  • Issues concerning health care, communications, law enforcement, and evacuation
Katrina alone will involve at least a hundred billion dollars in compensation, insurance, and rebuilding efforts, and lawyers will be heavily involved for at least the remainder of the decade in disputes over these funds. Unfortunately, there is no reason at all to think that Katrina is the last word on disasters. At first glance, disaster law seems to be nothing but a collection of legal rules of various kinds that happen to come into play when communities have suffered severe physical damage. But at a deeper level, disaster law is about assembling the best portfolio of legal rules to deal with catastrophic risks — a portfolio that includes prevention, emergency response, compensation and insurance, and rebuilding strategies. Because of this unifying theme, we think that the topic is deserving of serious law school attention even beyond its newsworthy qualities.


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