SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Policymakers face a complex environment in making hazard loss R&D funding decisions. In the previous chapter, we highlighted the need for several essential first steps: establishing a loss database, using loss modeling in making allocation decisions, and reorienting the R&D portfolio toward longer-term mitigation efforts and the use of science and technology for infrastructure improvements. Now, we conclude by addressing a philosophical issue that has emerged repeatedly throughout our analysis. Specifically, we consider on a more conceptual level the expectations for federal hazard loss R&D. What, after all, is hazard loss R&D being asked to accomplish? Are the right questions, in fact, being asked of it?
With losses from natural hazards escalating, the federal government faces a dilemma. Maintaining the status quo will have growing negative implications for regional economies and the federal budget. But what role, precisely, should federally funded R&D play in reducing hazard losses? What can it offer that policy attention, legislation, code enforcements, and land use strictures cannot? More broadly, what is it expected to do?
At present, as discussed throughout this report, although hazard loss R&D may not be able to eliminate all hazard losses, it can certainly make significant progress in limiting avoidable losses—those that could be prevented if specific measures were taken. R&D is also critical for adapting federal response to the changing nature of hazard losses. As citizens increasingly inhabit vulnerable regions and as communities continue to develop in high-risk areas, the hazard loss potential soars. Thus, R&D that continuously responds to societal trends is crucial.
Unfortunately, investments in R&D are receiving increasing criticism that federal support is too great or that the payoff is too scant. In this environment, the call to demonstrate in concrete terms the value of federal R&D is becoming increasingly urgent. As discussed in Chapter Four, however, establishing the rate of return on scientific research is difficult. Connecting basic research—research conducted without an application in mind—to a measurable outcome is particularly problematic. Basic research is meant to contribute to the larger body of knowledge, so the ultimate applicability of its findings may be years away or merely impossible to chart because such