Thursday, January 11, 2007

How Do Celebrities Respond to Natural Disasters? The Case of the Malibu Fire

I am happy to report that the Rand Institute is a great place to get work done. Malibu is located just a few miles Northwest of Santa Monica. Malibu offers the rich a mixed bag. Beautiful views of the Ocean, great climate and clean air but bundled with this is fire risk. This New York Times article highlights what can happen to the famous when they build homes in risky places. I guess this article allowed the Times to name drop and to offer people with an envious personality the opportunity to "feel sorry" for famous people.

The larger "Green City" issue here is urban development in risky to build areas. We see this issue popping up again and again in hurricane zones and coastal areas that flood. Do home buyers face the right incentives when choosing whether to build or not in a risky place? Do home buyer subjective risk assessments match actuarial risks?

January 10, 2007
Investigators Start Work After Malibu Fire

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 9 — Investigators inspected the wreckage of five oceanfront homes in Malibu on Tuesday trying to determine the cause of a fast-moving fire the night before that destroyed them and damaged several others.

The actress Suzanne Somers, best known for her role as Chrissy in the 1970’s sitcom “Three’s Company” and as a promoter of health and exercise products on cable television, was among the people who lost their homes in the fire.

“I really think that we’ll learn something great from this,” Ms. Somers told reporters on a visit to the remains of her house on Tuesday morning. “What else can you do with a tragedy, but look for the opportunity to grow spiritually and emotionally? And I know that we’ll learn something great. It was a beautiful house. It was a beautiful place to live.”

She said she planned to rebuild.

Ms. Somers and her husband and manager, Alan Hamel, were not home at the time of the fire, which began about 5 p.m. Monday in nearby Malibu Bluffs State Park, off Malibu Road. About 300 firefighters using 40 trucks and a few water-dropping helicopters brought it under control by 8 p.m.

No one was seriously injured.

The fire had spread quickly. It began as a relatively minor brush fire, but, whipped by winds gusting to more than 30 miles per hour, it consumed the houses and 20 acres within a half-hour.

“There was very little warning,” said Ron Harelson, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “It was a miracle no other homes were lost or civilians were killed.”

Inspector Sam Padilla of the Fire Department said the cause had not been determined.

Neighborhood residents, whose homes sit in close proximity to one another, dashed to save their property on Monday. The actress Victoria Principal was seen watering down her property with a garden hose.

The identities of the owners of the destroyed houses and the six that were damaged were not released.

Chief P. Michael Freeman of the Fire Department initially estimated damage at $60 million, but officials later said the figure was being reassessed.

Malibu, where the rich and famous live along choice beaches and rugged hills, has periodic disastrous fires, floods and mudslides. A fire in November 1993 near the same area as Monday’s killed three people and destroyed a few hundred homes.

Ron Soble contributed reporting from Malibu.