May 29 2008

The last couple of weeks we have witnessed two major horrors of nature, the cyclone in Burma and the devastating earthquake in China. Between the two disasters near a quarter of a million people may have died. The response in each nation has been dramatically different. Burma's government literally added to the death toll of their own citizens by rejecting international aid until it was too late. China has responded with a major relief effort including soliciting foreign assistance for the first time in decades. Both situations are still filled with great peril as Burma could see massive death by neglect and China from a quake created lake that puts in danger tens of thousands of their citizens. Parkersburg_damage

Watching these two nations brings home the question to Americans - are we any safer than we were after Katrina? Are we better prepared in response to a comparable natural disaster? Have we forgotten the lessons of Katrina and returned back to business as usual?

My guess is that we are back to business as usual deducted from the lack of government reforms necessary since Katrina. Most of the same cast of characters who fiddled while New Orleans flooded are still in power. The White House made poor ole 'Brownie" the scapegoat while others got off lightly for their criminal neglect. We know the levees are still not safe not only in New Orleans but also in the Central Valley of California. The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense has most likely not resolved 'communications and change of command' issues in order to expedite aid and use of American troops in relief efforts. We can learn from China where the quick use of troops saved thousands of lives.

The shining light of Katrina was the United States Coast Guard and very little has been done to expand it's budget significantly, recruitment efforts and modernize the infrastructure. The Coast Guard needs a massive influx of funds and recruits since it's the first line of defense in our nation's disaster response. Effective preparedness is not happening.

As the population dramatically increases in America along the coasts and on top of fault lines, an imminent disaster has the potential for great loss of life, property damage and economic setbacks to our national economy. We desperately need a qualified head of FEMA and detailed disaster plans with clear lines of authority to be able to react quickly.

China and Burma should be enough of a reminder to get our own disaster preparedness in order. Let's hope that we never again have to witness again the horror of our own government unable to save, protect and care for its own citizens.