News & CommentaryArchive
Sep 03, 2008
Preparedness Pays Off for Disaster Recovery
After a European-style August we are back, just in time for the height of hurricane season. With all eyes on Gustav, the New York Times took a look this week at how the city of New Orleans and FEMA applied lessons from Katrina to prepare for this storm. FEMA more than doubled the number of search and rescue teams ready, and the coast guard had 500 people ready to respond. Long-term care facilities were evacuated and the city declined to set up local emergency shelters in an effort to encourage residents to evacuate rather than tough it out. The levees, apparently, would not stand up if Gustav were a category four or five storm, but the Army Corps of Engineers has nonetheless made dramatic efforts to reinforce the system, and their work on new canal gates used for the first time this week helped prevent damage from water build-up.
Critics point out that Gustav was much weaker than Katrina, and that is true, but credit should be given to all involved in recognizing the importance of preparedness in the prevention of disaster impacts. Indeed, preparedness is something of a theme this week, and not only when it comes to hurricanes. In Arizona, a flood that rushed through a remote Indian reservation in the Grand Canyon in mid-August has inspired state officials to revive a tabled plan to create an early warning system that would allow time for locals and tourists to evacuate should water levels get too high.
Similarly, Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the technology company, is working in Kenya on an early-warning system that will collect weather data and help predict public health disasters such as the Rift Valley Fever outbreak of 2006, brought on by three months of excessive rains. A particular interest of Dr. Larry Brilliant, Google.org’s executive director, a health detection system might also be used to predict and prevent outbreaks of cholera and malaria.
Not all disasters can be prevented—weather in particular doesn’t particularly care what we think of it. But investments in prediction and prevention can save millions in lost lives, homes, livelihoods and infrastructure. The challenge of preparedness is continued investment when recent memories of disaster have faded. We should keep an eye on hurricane preparedness on the Gulf Coast especially now that Gustav’s relative lack of punch will make it easier to return to comfortable complacency.