In one convincing and catastrophic stroke, Hurricane Sandy proved that it’s not simply about sand, boardwalk planks and rich mansions being swept out to sea.

Television cameras always seem to capture that first, leaving a lasting, though false, impression that only businesses and wealthy beach towns need rescuing. Nothing could be further from the truth. What you don’t see is the sheer magnitude of lower- and middle-class families that remain devastated after the cameras leave.

A March 2013 NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy study showed that low-income families were hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. Fifty-four percent of New York City homeowners who applied for FEMA aid make less than $60,000 per year. A February 2007 Government Accountability Office study found that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita affected some of the poorest areas of the country and that many of those affected were receiving federal assistance from social security, disability and food stamp programs.

What the storms illustrated most is that we need to recognize that citizens living in areas most likely to be harmed by natural catastrophes are mainly working class families. Helping people recover from a natural catastrophe is far from a beach house or summer vacation issue — this is an issue of fiscal responsibility that concerns homeowners across America.

America needs a solution to better prepare for the devastation from a catastrophe. The solution we support would result in a better and more proactive approach and leverage a stronger public-private partnership. This approach would strengthen America’s financial infrastructure by building a privately-funded national catastrophe fund. A national catastrophe fund that is part of a comprehensive, integrated program will help address insurance affordability and expand coverage options for all homeowners.

A newly introduced bill proposing a better catastrophe management approach, the Homeowners and Taxpayers Protection Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., builds upon legislation that passed the House of Representatives in 2007 by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 258-155.

A national catastrophe fund that is part of this comprehensive legislative solution can be thought of a little like a “catastrophe IRA.” Insurance industry money would prudently be set aside and built up — not for later retirement — but for a speedy and well resourced recovery from true natural catastrophe, whenever it hits.

Because the fund is financed through private insurance premiums, it provides protection without tapping the public or taxpayers. It is time to fortify our financial infrastructure before the next crisis. We commend Sires and co-sponsors for leading us in the right direction. Now is the time to take swift action and enact the bill.

James Lee Witt and Adm. James Loy are co-chairs of Witt is executive chairman of Witt O’Brien’s, a public safety and crisis management consulting firm, and was director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Bill Clinton. Loy is senior counselor at The Cohen Group and was commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.

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(1) comment

Amanda DeVries

Who would manage this fund?

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