Viewpoint: Know the odds when you gamble against nature

The numbers of missing and dead from the recent Washington mudslide are still coming in. As are the voices of blame.

Who is to blame for loss of life and property in a natural disaster? Hint — it’s not nature. Nature does what it wants when it wants, according to its set natural laws. We can only do our best to not tempt the odds of getting caught in its way.

Nature’s indifference to human life and property leaves many laying blame wherever else they can. On the people who chose to build in high-risk areas on the first place. On the town officials who weren’t clear enough about the dangers of living in said high-risk areas. On the government regulations that don’t completely take away people’s choices to build on land that might be unsafe sometime down the road, which doesn’t seem a possibility until it’s happened and the mud has buried any hope for prevention.

Of course, no matter where you build, there will always be a risk of a natural disaster. Maybe it’s an earthquake-triggered tsunami in Japan or a massive sinkhole in Florida where there’s little to no warning, certainly not enough to save everyone and everything in the path of destruction.

We can’t bottle everyone up into some sort of safe zone where the chance of getting attacked by nature seems minimal. But we can try to take an active role in lessening the odds. In being prepared for when the odds fall through and we lose. Or, at the very least, we can find ways to not devolve into a finger-pointing war when things do go wrong.

Here in Utah, we have our fair share of potential disasters. Anyone who’s lived here long enough has no doubt heard about the massive earthquake we’re due for. The faults run straight through our cities and towns, places that were built up before people really realized what they were building on. It’s just too much of an inconvenience to move that much infrastructure, especially when there are faults all over the earth’s surface. It’s also becoming increasingly popular to build homes and other buildings directly on mountainsides or close (but not too close, of course) to potential flood plains and rivers.

Most people know what they’re building near. Before they even start building, someone, usually in the community, tells them risks. They’re sometimes encouraged to purchase property insurance to best fit their most likely potential natural disaster threat. However, some residents from the Washington slide area claim they had no idea the risk was that bad, or even there at all.

The thing about freedom is we have to take responsibility for the choices we make. Like where we choose to build our homes and live. But because we get to have those choices, we need to make sure we’re making them as informed as possible. We can’t rely on local or even federal government to tell us everything that might be a risk.

Take the risks you want. Live by the rivers, on the mountains, in the forests, as far away from big cities as possible. Enjoy it. But be aware of the consequences, and be willing to accept the consequences of losing a gamble. No matter what the odds are.