Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


Jan Whittington


Can people expect buildings and infrastructure to last, keeping their occupants sheltered from the elements, free to go about their business? The professionals who design facilities—as well as the taxpayers and entrepreneurs who fund them—make this assumption, but is this a safe assumption to make? Contemplate the effect of one extreme event—a magnitude 9.0 earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone of the Pacific coast—and it is easy to realize that this is not a safe assumption. Though seismic technology can be used to fortify structures against extreme events and land use plans can keep development out of harm’s way, the adoption of these measures has not kept pace with scientific understanding of the risks, and the ensuing scenarios of mega-quakes portend widespread devastation across the urban landscape. For the benefit of all involved, it may be helpful to recognize the barriers that prevent people from making investments that will withstand the test of time, because many such obstacles can be overcome with sound capital investment planning. This essay situates the problem of human vulnerability to extreme earthquakes within the emerging empirical science of behavioral economics. When science makes biases in capital investment predictable, solutions become self-evident.

First Page


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Disaster Law Commons



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