Grand Forks, 17 A.F. (after flood)

Seventeen years ago the Red River flooded caused immense damage in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. It seems natural to take a look at the state of the economy. Certainly there were major changes, and it is important to note which changes had more impact or longer durations than others. The time patch of the Grand Forks experience is also important. Lessons for other communities about what went right, and what went wrong could be gleaned from this nearby history.

My research to date showed that there was an enormous response on the part of the business community as far as their level of disaster planning. Despite living ad doing business near the river for years, there was a significantly lower level of disaster planning by establishments in business prior to the flood and those that started after the flood. The reasons were many but focused on factors such as inadequate amounts of time and other similar issues. It seems that those starting after the flood learned from the mistakes experienced by those that went through the flood. This explained results from other articles in the disaster literature, particularly some results about business conditions after earthquakes in California.

The dynamic business response we observed in Grand Forks is part of the experience needing documentation for the future policy. There was clearly a major private-public dynamic at work as well that needs assessing, in particular for how far the government intervened in Grand Forks and whether that was needed or warranted and whether it set a policy trend for the future. In particular, the Grand Forks flood occurred at a time when the federal government budget approached surplus. To say it is not there right now is dramatic understatement.

There is an important larger policy question here too. What is the proper role of government in disaster relief and disaster recovery? I define “relief” to be the assistance provided in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. “Recovery” occurs at the indeterminate time when relief efforts wind down and the process of restoration and rebuilding commence. The timing of government intervention, the level of government intervening, the nature and amount of intervention, are all variables that need consideration in this discussion.


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