Katrina: The Lessons Unlearned
For the past year, the administration has been playing catch-up for the fallout of their infamously slow and undeniably inadequate response to the devastation and human suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina. Staff resigned, were transferred, or fired, and we were assured that now all emergency services were coordinated and response time in the future would be immediate for any perceived threat to American citizens.
Less than one year after the Gulf disaster, open warfare broke out in the Middle East. Americans in Lebanon, cowering under artillery shells, rocket attacks, and the loss of basic amenities including electricity, water, food, and medicine screamed for help to make their escape.
Again, the red tape, the lack of willingness to step forward, to take responsibility, to make decisions or to issue orders, prevailed. As Italy, France, and other nations quickly moved to get their people out, the most powerful and rich nation on earth dithered.
Embassy staff had no answers for the frantic incoming calls. Tourists, students, and employees were told "We're working on it." Seven days after hostilities began, a cruise ship started to evacuate, taking out 1400 of the more than 8000 people begging for a route out. Embarking passengers were required to sign an affidavit agreeing to reimburse the government for their travel - rescinded only after a public outcry.
The lessons of Katrina were clear and simple: any response must be expeditious or it is worthless. Despite the hundred of stump speeches and the endless public posturing, the government has again proved to be disorganized and helpless in the face of a humanitarian threat.
The lessons have been ignored. We forget that at our peril.