Jack wrote this in September, 2005:
A decade ago emergency management workers used to marvel.
A tidal wave, an earthquake, mudslides, floods hit in South America, China, Armenia, casualties would be in the thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands. But a similar event in the US would leave a few dozen people dead with just a lot of property damage.
Emergency management workers knew this wasn’t their doing. Mitigation workers knew it wasn’t their doing. A few believed it was just a confirmation that God was on the side of America. Most believed it was pure, dumb luck.
Everyone knew the potential was there, the vulnerabilities. In fact, one of the reasons no effective mitigation efforts found support lay in the fact that these things simply don’t happen to the United States. They happen elsewhere, to foreigners, to strangers.
We watched the tragedies, helped as we could, we Americans, but we came to believe a catastrophy for America was an airline crash where a hundred or so people died. A hurricane where people lost their homes.
It’s clear our luck ran out on this one.
I saw a newspaper this morning and read with shock about the chaos and the inability of the emergency response and recovery infrastructure to deal with an event of this magnitude. I shouldn’t have been shocked, because it’s obvious, in retrospect.
Maybe things would have been different if we’d not stretched our resources so thin…. if we’d continued to use our regular Army to fight our wars and left the National Guard and Army Reserves inside the US boundaries, but there’s no assurance of this.
There’s a certainty that a lot less human death and suffering and property damage from looting would have resulted if there’d been a determined evacuation before the storm came in. There’ll definitely be a lot of questions asked about why that didn’t happen.
But the reason it didn’t happen is right there in the beginning of this jotting. Things of this magnitude don’t happen here. Those victim-faces filled with anguish could have made the choice to leave. They didn’t do so because they believed as we all tend to, that US soil is somehow sanctified against such stupendous tragedy.
The costs will by high in their personal lives because of this tragedy. Their choice to stay will also be enormously high for the rest of us, as well.
If those traumatized victims had merely used good judgement, taken measures to behave the way any prudent person would behave when a CAT 5 storm’s coming in from the Gulf of Mexico, the only thing those FEMA, National Guard, Police, Firemen and rescue workers would be dealing with would be a few stragglers who simply found it impossible to leave, and the hospitals who couldn’t.
Hopefully all over the US people with spare bedrooms will give over a piece of themselves in the form of shelter, make the sacrifice to trust those people who made a lousy choice we might well have made ourselves.
Somehow those people have to be relocated to the spare bedrooms of America for a while.
Are we up to the task?