Getting back in balance

Saturday, October 1, 2005

It has been four years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. What the terrorists were able to execute in this tragic event was astonishing. Since that time, we as a nation have spent considerable energy, funding and ink on what to do when the next terrorist act is inflicted upon us. We've reorganized our entire governmental infrastructure, funded first responders, built up hospital and emergency resources and instituted policies and procedures that would supposedly streamline efficiencies if or when there was another attack.
So when Katrina came rolling through, I think we all felt pretty assured that we, the government and FEMA, were prepared to meet the challenges. But they clearly weren't!
There has been endless chatter on all that went wrong in New Orleans and certainly things went wrong. But we've heard little about what went right. New Orleans evacuated their entire city and the surrounding communities that would be impacted by a hurricane of this magnitude. They got people out safely, in an orderly and efficient manner. That was no small feat and needs to be acknowledged.
The folks who remained were primarily, but not exclusively, the sick, the poor and the elderlys. The plan to move inner city people to the Superdome was not a bad plan. The dome survived the hurricane. The fact that there was no plan for these people after the hurricane was the problem. But officials were lulled into a level of complacency when the levees didn't break during the storm. They thought they'd dodged the bullet. It was when the water started flooding in that the real disaster began.
I suspect that few people really understood the level of devastation that was unfolding, regardless of all the talk about what would happen if the city was hit by a storm this big. When you went to New Orleans someone always told you that the city was below sea level and would be flooded if the big one came. But, how many people had really embraced how this would play itself out if a storm of this magnitude really came ashore?
So what do we hope we have learned? We hope that all the press about how myopic we have gotten about terrorism will actually be digested. Terrorism is a real threat but not the only threat. There are more hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, floods, earthquakes, power outages, fires and terrorist attacks in our future.
The best news in all of this was the incredible outpouring of generosity seen throughout this entire nation and world. 9/11 swung our populations concerns into fearing terrorism as our primary and perhaps only risk. Maybe now, we, the population, will actually get back in balance, acknowledge that terrorism is just one of the many risks that we face and that we have to think more rationally about the big picture.