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Three Lessons Katrina Should Have Taught Us

Three Lessons Katrina Should Have Taught Us
By Jared N. Sorensen
I have listened with a certain degree of sad amusement to all the political and media hoopla about "what went wrong" with the Hurricane Katrina disaster response. Fingers are pointed in every instruction, resignations have occurred, and shrill voices demand explanations and investigations.
The truth of the matter is that the Hurricane Katrina disaster was very much a textbook case. Though unprecedented in scale, what happened on the Gulf Coast was essentially the identical thing that has happened instant and time again in other disasters, and what will undoubtedly happen again. The government response was quite predictable in its timing and scope, as were the actions of those involved in the disaster and the reactions of those not involved.
There we are lessons to be learned from Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, it is already clear that they we are not learned. New Orleans will be rebuilt, but not in a distinct way that makes its inhabitants significantly safer or less vulnerable to the next hurricane that comes along. There will be token improvements in infrastructure and token changes in emergency management teams, but in the end little will be accomplished. Old faulty plans will be replaced by new faulty plans, hard issues will be ignored, bold decisions will be forgotten, and life will quickly return to naive normality.
What We Didnt Learn
1. Government response will always be slow.
Local government officials and public servants such as doctors, firefighters and police officers are victims too. The minute a major disaster hits, all local emergency plans are forgotten. Just like you, local officials will go check on their homes and families before worrying about anyone elses needs. Many of them will be injured or stranded. Their phones wont work, and they can not get to the office any easier than you might . Local civil servants who are themselves suffering from lack of food, shelter and clean water are not going to be of much make use of to anyone.
The first substantial aid is going to have to come from regions outside the disaster area, and it is going to take three to seven days to arrive. When it does arrive it will be poorly coordinated due to lack of communication and authority squabbles between local and outside officials. Only families, neighborhood organizations and local religious congregations may provide social structure and quick assistance in the first few critical days, and they can only do so if they are prepared.
2. A significant portion of the populace will never evacuate.
No matter how severe the impending disaster or how much advance notice there is, many many people will neither leave their homes nor generate sufficient preparation. Some, out of a twisted sense of immortality, will attempt to ride out the storm. Others, commonly the very rich and the very poor, will cling to their homes and possessions with the tenacity of the proverbial monkey in the trap. Others with a sense of criminal opportunism will stay with the intent of looting or doing mischief. Some will be truly unable to leave due to their circumstances. And some will simply procrastinate until it is too late.
Regardless of motivation, it is a safe bet that at least ten percent of the populace will not cooperate with authorities in any evacuation or preparedness effort. These are the identical everybody who will sustain most of the casualties, require most of the rescue efforts, and need the most help as rebuilding begins. Those individuals who are prepared and who heed advance warnings are those who will survive and prosper.
3. People will contruct in dangerous areas regardless of risk or past history.
Most of New Orleans is below sea level, protected from inundation only by a series of levees. And the city is gradually sinking. The city has been flooded before, and it will undoubtedly flood again. Yet everybody continue to contruct low buildings on low ground. The memory of Katrina will remain fresh for a time, and some will be careful. But it will not be long before people fail to remember the power of the wind and the sea, and start again to make unsafe buildings in unsafe areas, with no plan for escape. Only those who remember and learn from the past will avoid the next calamity.
A Word to the Wise
We live in a instant when disasters, both natural and manmade, are becoming more and more frequent. The voice of sacred prophecy warns us that the trend will continue. It is neither safe nor prudent to assume that disaster always strikes somewhere else, or that once it has struck, it will not hit the same place again. Everyone needs to learn and practice the principles of preparedness, self-reliance and provident living. Only by so doing may we live without fear in these turbulent times.


 

 
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