In one of the more enduring scenes in the early Robbin Williams movie The World According to Garp, a real estate agent is preparing to show a listing to Robbin Williams’ character Garp and his wife Helen, when the viewing is interrupted by a stalling plane narrowly missing the trio of them before crashing into the side of the house.
After everyone gets up off the ground and it is confirmed with the pilot that he is okay, Garp turns to the agent and proclaims, “We’ll take the house”. His logic is that the odds against this ever happening again are astronomical, proclaiming that the house has been ‘pre-disastered’
Throughout my career I have handled all manner of homes that were impacted by various disasters ranging from seawall collapse and failed retaining walls, to smoke damage or complete destruction by fire. Others still show traces of residual dirt or high-water lines reminding us of past floods, or structural damage ranging from lingering cracks in the chimney or foundation to open scarping and chasms in the ground reminding us of prior earthquakes and landslide activity.
Unlike the plane in the movie, in most cases ‘pre-disastered’ does not provide assurance of an event never happening again. In fact, the opposite is generally true. This reasoning is at the heart of the statutory Natural Hazards Zone Disclosure Report that is required in every transaction that we handle, rating the property in terms of its location relative to zones for Fire, Floods, Landslides, Liquefaction and Earthquake Fault Zones. And if the property fronts on a body of water you can add historic studies of erosion, accretion and reliction to the analysis of what has gone wrong in the past to determine the likelihood of what might go wrong in the future.
In response, entire industries have sprung up that specialize in the various phases of disaster response and prevention, running the full gamut from cleanup to reconstruction to hardening and retaining against future occurrences of the disaster happening. When properly implemented, these types of preparations are by no means a guarantee, but they can help improve your odds of staying safe and avoiding loss, so in the end it pays to do your homework and do your best to prepare for the worst. Based on this it would appear some wisdom has been gained from past experience.
So then why is it that every time we get a high surf advisory that the first thing many of us want to do is go see the waves up close to witness nature’s fury first-hand?
I would propose that at its essence, our relationship with nature is a tenuous balance of trying to manage things which are ultimately beyond our control while still longing to experience firsthand that primal source which can be at once so powerful and terrifying, yet beautiful in spite of the fact that it can destroy everything it created, including us.