BYU Law Students Fundraise for Disaster Relief

BYU Law students and faculty have been contributing to hurricane relief efforts. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, students from the SBA and Public Interest Law Foundation (“PILF”) and professors from the Law and Social Change Initiative went to Wendy Archibald, the Dean of Students and Internal Affairs, looking for a way to help. #BYULawServes was born. Under the direction of PILF, the students led a fundraiser for disaster victims and held a “Home Evening for Hurricane Relief” as the capstone event.

PILF President Alan Hickey stated, “PILF helps aid students in finding public interest law externships and other local service opportunities. The PILF leadership board is working in connection with the school administration to help expand PILF’s role so that the club can become the clearinghouse for all of the service projects sponsored at the law school through student clubs and organizations. We hope to make service a part of every student’s life.”

During his introduction of Professor Sun at the Home Evening, Hickey encouraged continued service, explaining, “For us to really practice what we’re learning in the classroom, we have to ‘comfort those who stand in need of comfort,’ and look beyond ourselves.” Professor Sun, a disaster law expert who also sits on Envision Utah’s Board of Directors, explored that theme further. As she reviewed some of the most recent disasters and their impact on the affected communities, she taught that “mitigating disasters is about mitigating human suffering.”

To help students understand how the skills they are learning can be used to mitigate human suffering, Professor Sun discussed some of the legal structures that contribute to the high costs of disasters. She used the National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”) as an example of a regulatory system that fails to achieve sustainable results. The NFIP is not actuarially sound, which has contributed to its debt of approximately $25 billion to the Federal Treasury. This is reflective of  the “Samaritan’s Dilemma”—because society is quick to help in the moment of disaster, communities may not think about risk as much as they should, which often leads to poor planning. There is a rampant disconnect between who controls the risk and where disaster harm falls.  

 

Despite these issues in disaster law, Professor Sun shared some reasons for hope: people and communities are generally good and resilient; FEMA is learning from the failures of its pas; and there have been promising attempts to engage in regional visioning, or long-term, local planning to prepare for and mitigate disasters. Professor Sun concluded by encouraging the audience to be aware of the issues and make their voices heard to local and national leaders in order to build the political will necessary to instigate change.