The Long ViewIt can't happen here

Published 22 November 2005

What has been the effect of Katrina on how Americans view preparedness for disasters — natural or man-made? Professor Paul Light of New York University says that “The main effect of Katrina was no effect at all…. [The public] saw a lot of chaos and they learned perhaps that the government can’t be counted on.” If before Katrina people were both complacent about the need to prepare for a disaster and had a belief that the government would come to their rescue, now they are complacent about the need to prepare for a disaster and they no longer believe government would come to their rescue. Light prepared a report titled “The Katrina Effect on American Preparedness,”which concluded that Americans need a better understanding of who is responsible for preparedness. “The federal government needs to speak with one voice,” Light says. The report recommends the creation of a citizen preparedness directorate, either as a stand-alone agency or as part of DHS. The directorate would be in charge of developing interagency plans and distributing resources. The report also says that the public needs to have a better and more realistic understanding of what to expect during emergencies. “We’re telling the citizenry to be prepared for everything, and the result is they’re prepared for [nothing],” Light said.

The main finding of the report is that despite Katrina and 9/11, most citizens are not convinced they, too, could become disaster victims. “As Katrina surely suggests, the nation faces many possible catastrophes, some that can be predicted, others unexpected but inevitable,” it says. “Too many communities are waiting for disaster to strike to mount their first exercise. Plans are not enough.” CQ report (sub. req.)