The following piece was co-authored by Jay Liles, a policy consultant with the Florida Wildlife Federation, and Gary Appelson, policy coordinator of the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Andrew. Charley. Wilma. Say these names in Miami-Dade or the Florida Keys or Port Charlotte and people wince.

As we all know, the past decade has been remarkably quiet. Since the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season in 2005 that featured both Wilma and Katrina, we have not seen any hurricane strike Florida, which makes the length of this “drought” unprecedented. While we don’t doubt that it’s better to be lucky than not, as Floridians, it’s worth asking whether “hope” is a sound national disaster management policy and just how long that luck will last.

The central issue is that, after years of shortsighted government policies that exacerbated Floridians’ vulnerability to storms, the state is facing a fiscal time bomb that ticks a little faster each time a hurricane nears. The federal government has held off on putting serious policies in place that mitigate the impact of storms before they hit.

The potential for destruction has grown as development has concentrated near the shoreline. Today, Miami alone contains $416 billion in assets at risk for flooding and sea level rise, making it the most vulnerable city on Earth, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

To date, federal disaster policies squarely focus on rebuilding only after a storm has struck, instead of encouraging smarter preparations and building practices on the front end. Instead of continuing with this reckless course, federal lawmakers should take inspiration from a report recently released by SmarterSafer, a diverse coalition of environmentalists, budget watchdogs and insurers that are calling for a more rational national disaster policy.

While the impact of floods and hurricanes has escalated, federal disaster policies have compounded their toll. Since the Stafford Act was passed in 1988, making it easier to appeal for disaster assistance, the number of disaster declarations has skyrocketed. In 2011, a record 242 declarations were issued — a far cry from the 16 in 1988. As a result, the federal share of disaster spending has ballooned from just 23 percent of all spending for Hurricane Hugo in 1989 to 80 percent after Hurricane Sandy.

Moreover, the National Flood Insurance Program, which covers millions of policies in Florida, is deeply in debt and in financial jeopardy, the result of decades of keeping rates below the rate of risk. The program’s finances took major hits from hurricanes such as Katrina and Sandy, driving up its debt to $23 billion. Without significant reform or continued massive taxpayer bailouts, the program faces insolvency.

The current course is simply unsustainable. There are a number of proven ways, however, to make disaster policies work better for the long term.

Reforms to NFIP are critical, particularly for a state that relies so heavily on the program. To make the program sustainable, flood insurance rates should reflect actual levels of risk, based on updated flood maps that incorporate the latest science and modeling technology. Additionally, risk-based rates would organically discourage development in disaster-prone areas, or at least encourage more resilient construction to better mitigate the risks and help protect natural resources.

To help those residents who would genuinely struggle with higher rates, Congress can address affordability with temporary, means-tested assistance outside of the rate structure. Lawmakers should also look into loosening regulations on private flood insurance, which traditionally has faced significant barriers to entering the market.

As a whole, disaster resources must be shifted to mitigating the impact of a storm before it makes landfall. Such preparation should include building standards that explicitly take heightened flood risks into account and the preservation of natural infrastructure that can protect built areas from storm surge. Fortunately, Florida is blessed with a wealth of such natural infrastructure, ranging from marshes in the south to reefs and barrier beaches along its coastline.

Rather than settle for piecemeal reform, Congress must come together and craft a comprehensive, bipartisan strategy to prepare Florida and other disaster-prone states for the challenges it will face in the future.

With the stakes rising, now is the time to act.

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