The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists its response to Hurricane Katrina as one of its top three accomplishments of the year. (tip) Meanwhile, former FEMA Chief Mike Brown has launched a “disaster-preparedness consulting firm to help clients avoid the sort of errors that cost him his job.”
According to the Asspciated Press, Brown believes that officials need to “able to answer questions to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is” — not that they actually need to know how to do their jobs. The consensus is not that Brown was canned because he was inarticulate; he was canned because he was ineffective. Large parts of New Orleans remain without power this Thanksgiving holiday, and an estimated 1.5 million people have been unable to return home. Yet Congress dithers and FEMA still struggles.
From a Washington Post editorial:
New Orleans today is a city of contractors, low-wage workers from elsewhere and a small number of “natives” living in the relatively undamaged higher-altitude wards. Even if they have homes, most of those residents still have no easy access to hospitals or to schools. Large chunks of the city are without electricity, gas or water, and large numbers of homes are still uninhabitable.
There has been little said about the approximately $3.7 billion bill that Louisiana “is estimated to owe the federal government for its share of relief aid after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.” And according to a Florida Today editorial:
- The White House opposes a bipartisan Senate allocation of $450 million in loans and grants to businesses damaged or destroyed by the hurricane. Rationale: too costly.
- “FEMA ran out of cash to pay flood insurance claims, and told insurance companies that underwrite claims to stop making payments until Congress approves borrowing more flood money. “
- About 50,000 displaced families currently living in hotel rooms will have to find someplace to live come January, according to FEMA. Last week, the families were told they would have to leave by Dec. 1. However, those who are living in New Orleans have few options other than hotels.
A Tuesday op-ed in the Times-Picyaune said it well:
If in the future we are all left to fend for ourselves when the federal levees fail, whether really or metaphorically, then New Orleans will truly have given up its heart for an America that is no more. And what can Los Angeles and St. Louis and Charleston expect when the next big earthquake hits? …
We use the words “catastrophic structural failure” from both scientific and social perspectives. Katrina has forced us in Louisiana to look hard at what steel and earth was or wasn’t under those levees in New Orleans. Similarly, the national response to Katrina tells us all whether we have a government by and for all the people, or only for those who have not yet tested the federal engineering systems that they think protect them.
It is possible, however, for disasters to help us see our similariaties instead of focus on our differences. This tale of evangelical Christians and Rainbow Family “hippies” is a heartwarming and optimistic view of possibility.
This article first ran at uspolitics.about.com