Earthquake Zone vs. Hurricane Zone – The Anxiety of Certainty

As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

-Donald Rumsfeld, Department of Defense news briefing, "The Collected Poetry of Don Rumsfeld"

Say you’re trying to decide between living in California or Florida. Both are natural disaster hotspots. In California, scientists confidently predict that a big quake will hit sometime over the next 30 years, maybe today, maybe in 30 years. No one knows exactly when. In Florida, hurricanes reliably strike every year and cause billions and billions of dollars of damage.

When you live in California, you might spend a little time every few years checking your emergency supplies. However, no one in California regularly worries about earthquakes. You don’t walk around each day wondering if today is the day.

In Florida, there are designated "Hurricane Seasons". Residents know that during certain months of the year hurricanes will come. Meteorologists can forecast the timing of hurricanes and residents can prepare. TV stations interview residents beforehand and ask, "How do you feel about the upcoming hurricane?"

In Florida they trade certainty and the ability to prepare for the psychological anxiety that yearly hurricane seasons bring. In California they trade uncertainty and the inability to prepare for the psychological tranquility that comes with such unknowing.

Natural disasters may be equally devastating in both states from a destruction or financial perspective (the Big Quake will make up for several years of hurricanes), but from a psychological / stress perspective, I would argue they ravage Florida — or places where there’s certainty around a frequent, smaller event versus uncertainty around an infrequent, larger event — more.

All else being equal, would you rather live in a earthquake zone or hurricane zone? Is it possible to extrapolate this thesis into a larger point about how we deal with known unknowns versus known knowns?

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