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Book Review: Disaster, Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security by Christopher Cooper and Robert Block

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The disastrous mess left by Hurricane Katrina along the gulf coast was so catastrophic that the entire nation was shaken with an overwhelming sadness. We cried for the loss of the many people trapped in their homes. We cried because the government foibles led to more destruction and ultimately more deaths. We also cried because we had to ask ourselves the question… what if Katrina had happened to us?

No matter where we live in the United States, or the world for that matter, there is no guarantee that we will make it through a natural or manmade disaster unscathed. With hurricanes, floods, mudslides, earthquakes, forest fires, tornadoes, and even terrorist attacks looming in close proximity, we could be in our own “New Orleans” within a matter of seconds.

These unseen evils could strike at any moment. We are not prepared for the inevitable. We have no safety net. If we fall, we are freefalling and that is the scariest prospect of all.

It has been a year since Katrina and there is still deep-seated destruction. The levees may be fixed on the surface, but the original problem that caused the destruction of these levees was ignored. We did not learn the lesson from Katrina. Instead, it is all about cutting corners. If a human life is lost as a result what does it matter? What is one casualty, or two or three or thousands?

In Disaster, Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security, two Wall Street Journal reporters, Christopher Cooper and Robert Block, examine the many failures, largely on the part of the government, during the first days immediately preceding the disaster.

This book exposes the many failures during Katrina. How many drills happened prior to Katrina? Why were things that needed to be implemented to mitigate the destruction not done until well after the fact? In a general sense, why did the government fail to respond to the hurricane until it was essentially too late and the damage was so bad it still is not fixed over a year later?

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the questions and answers Cooper and Block explore. One of the most shocking elements of the book is how grim and gritty the depictions are. Your heartstrings are tugged as you relive the devastating disaster, an unwitting bystander unable to help.

You do want to help though. You do want to pack it up, go down to New Orleans, and do the job for the government. Unfortunately, work, children, lack of transportation, and an ill-prepared goveernment are the things standing in your way.

Disaster takes an honest, matter-of-fact, in-depth look at FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and their delayed response. Cooper and Block point out that many of the problems stem from the shift in focus in 2001 on the threat of terrorism. As FEMA became less prominent compared to agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, funding was cut, as were many of the authoritative freedoms that FEMA originally had prior to 9/11.

The bigger picture, according to Cooper and Block, is one in which higher-up government officials, including the White House, failed to act. As a result, FEMA was stuck in a virtual hodgepodge of red tape that left them unable to adequately respond to the disaster.

Was Michael Brown, head of FEMA at the time, a scapegoat? That is ultimately a matter of opinion. According to Cooper and Block FEMA, and all the FEMA employees, can and should be held responsible for their actions or lack thereof. However, the failure of FEMA should also be taken out on those who have prevented FEMA from doing their jobs properly including higher up government officials in the White House.

I found Disaster to be interesting and well written. I was compelled to read more and must admit I was a bit horrified by what I was reading. Cooper and Block have constructed a solid, well-researched, and well-presented novel. While some, who may not be politically driven, may find the material too dry for their tastes, they should try to read this book anyhow. They will learn something from it.

Disaster, Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security is a book that simply cannot be ignored. Every American should read it.

Where will you be when the next Katrina hits? Hopefully, the disaster will not be in your backyard next time, and if it is… all we can do is hope that all the kinks in the government emergency response system have been ironed out.

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About Dominick Evans

  • Bliffle

    Katrina was the result of replacing capable people with political appointees.

  • This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!