Deconstructing Disaster

46 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2012 Last revised: 5 Aug 2013

See all articles by Justin R. Pidot

Justin R. Pidot

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law

Date Written: October 4, 2012


Over time, we have grown increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters. Each decade economic losses from such disasters more than double as people continue to build homes, businesses, and other physical infrastructure in hazardous places. Yet public policy has thus far failed to address the unique problems posed by natural disasters. This Article takes a first step toward improving public policy by offering a paradigm for understanding its failures, suggesting that three categories of obstacles obstruct sensible government regulation.

Drawing from philosophy, cognitive psychology, history, anthropology, and political science, this Article identifies and analyzes three categories of obstacles to disaster policy — symbolic obstacles, cognitive obstacles, and structural obstacles. The way we talk about natural disaster, the way we think about the risks of building in hazardous places, and structural aspects of American political institutions all favor development over restraint. Indeed, these forces have such strength that in most circumstances society automatically and thoughtlessly responds to natural disasters by beginning to rebuild as soon as a disaster has occurred.

The obstacles discussed in this Article interact and amplify one another, further impeding policymaking. The history of disaster policy suggests that efforts to respond to any one obstacle will likely fail. Only by understanding these obstacles collectively, and by coordinating responses to their individual and cumulative effects, can America effectively tackle the natural disaster problems it faces.

Keywords: Natural Disasters, Disaster Policy, Disaster Law, Land Use Planning

Suggested Citation

Pidot, Justin R., Deconstructing Disaster (October 4, 2012). 2013 Brigham Young University Law Review 213 (2013), U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-43, Available at SSRN: or

Justin R. Pidot (Contact Author)

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States

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