Now is the time to prepare for the next disaster

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Hurricane Florence has lingered over North Carolina. The storm’s initial rain, high winds and storm surge flooding has been followed by even more rain, swollen creeks and rivers along with impassable roads from interstates to neighborhood drives.

Cities like Wilmington — not merely neighborhoods — are isolated, making it difficult to get resources and emergency crews in or out.

State, local and federal first-responders — along with those who have come from other states and utilities — have performed admirably in dealing with an emergency situation that just won’t relent.

Patience is an easier commodity to talk about than provide. The notion of contemplating Florence’s aftermath still seems premature.

But there is no better time to start logging lessons learned, determining the major needs to be addressed and what kinds of resources are required to both mend what is broken and make changes that will help lessen problems in the future.

Don’t be misled. North Carolina has the resources — combined with federal funds — to take on immediate needs and adopt preventative policies, procedures and infrastructure.

The rainy day fund that the legislative leadership likes to crow about now has more than $2 billion in it. There’s another $650 million in unspent money from the 2017-18 budget that is also available.

Hurricane Flo is the torrent the fund was meant to address.

The first priority must be as quickly as possible restoring families, businesses and communities to normal.

But that falls far short of addressing long-term solutions that could help minimize or avoid some of the problems communities are now struggling with. Too many communities had barely started to recover from Hurricane Matthew. Failure to take a comprehensive approach has resulted in too many North Carolinians suffering a repeat of the same troubles from previous storms.

The unfortunate reality is that current leadership in the state legislature has been reluctant, too often outright resistant, to address long-term preventative policies that would discourage building in flood-prone areas or prevent development that would exacerbate flooding conditions.

Gov. Roy Cooper needs to act now — not in the midst of an emergency — to bring together the people and resources on the local, state and federal level to develop comprehensive solutions to common problems that have emerged during Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

Areas of focus should include:

• How best to help those people and resources displaced by a natural disaster.

• What needs to be done to be sure critical infrastructure and transportation arteries, such as interstate highways and railways, aren’t susceptible to flooding. There is little excuse that critical routes, such as Interstate 40 between Raleigh and Wilmington, face prolonged closure in a natural disaster.

• Comprehensive review and updating of stormwater and dam-safety rules and regulations that put a priority on the protection of residents, businesses and the environment.

• Updating regulations for the storage and disposal of animal waste, particularly from industrial-size hog and poultry production operations, so they are not vulnerable to overflow and spills.

Florence won’t be the last hurricane North Carolina faces. But there are realistic steps that can be taken to mitigate, if not avoid, several of the challenges faced in previous storms.

It just takes the will to do it. Will North Carolina step up?