Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A time for rescue & recovery, and a time to rebuild and reflect

Currently, we are in the rescue and recovery phases of Hurricane Katrina. Soon, whether it be a few weeks or a couple of months, the nation will swing into the rebuilding mode. A disservice will be done to the people of New Orleans (and Mississippi) if there isn't a heavy dose of reflection to go along with it. The easy part of the reflection will be looking at and fixing what went wrong-the failure of so many people to evacuate, the return of some people too early, the broken levees and the failure in plugging them, etc, etc. There needs to be a deeper reflection on the why as well as the what, though. The fact is that much of the 20th century, or at least the second half of the century, was a fairly placid time here on the home front. Massive disasters were few and far between. Part of that was because we got better at preventing them, but part of that was because we were just plain lucky. Unfortunately for us, we've become more than a little arrogant about our ability to stave off these disasters, and when they come, we are caught off guard by our inability to do anything in the face of ruin. Part of the problem in this disaster, and possibly future disasters, is that many of the modern conveniences we've come to rely on cease to exist during these massive disasters, and that makes the aftermath even worse because confusion reigns. Perhaps we will learn from this, and we will develop at least limited communication networks that can remain up during disaster, create disaster relief plans that can rely on massive low tech solutions, and have in place public education plans that keep the public aware that there are occasionally disasters that we can do little to prevent, and thus public warnings need to be taken in complete and total seriousness.

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