Katrina lessons for Iowa

Dan Rothschild, a co-worker of mine at GMU, writes:

The lesson of Katrina that matters the most is that the promise of federal assistance that will likely never materialize can be as destructive as the initial disaster…

What residents need in this maw of confusion is certainty. They need to know which roads will be rebuilt, and when the power and water will come back online. They need to know that the rule of law will be enforced. In short, they need to know what economists call the "rules of the game" for rebuilding.

These rules are critical to the myriad private-sector decisions that follow and signal whether and how a community will rebuild. Decisions about insurance coverage, when and where grocery stores, banks and numerous other businesses will reopen, and where children will play are vital private-sector decisions that require clear, credible commitments from the public sector to be made efficiently…

What residents of disaster-stricken areas don’t need are vague promises from officials that add to the confusion and force residents to delay the millions of decisions, small and large, they need to make to re-create a viable community. And they don’t need government leaders to make promises that are unlikely to be kept.

The dirty secret of government disaster response is that what’s promised immediately after a disaster seldom comes to fruition. Just ask the 75,000 Louisiana homeowners who are still waiting for their Road Home rebuilding checks, or the Floridians living in FEMA trailers 15 years after Hurricane Andrew.


"Floridians living in FEMA trailers 15 years after Hurricane Andrew"

That's pathetic, and I'm not talking about government response.

"Floridians living in FEMA trailers 15 years after Hurricane Andrew"

I don't understand how that's not past the "just give up and leave" point.

Absolutely correct. It's also important for public sector planning because broken promises result in expensive apologies. 35 billion dollars buys a lot of roses and "I [Heart] U" mylar balloons.

"The dirty secret of government disaster response is that what's promised immediately after a disaster seldom comes to fruition."

From the WaPo:

"But it was Hurricane Andrew, which hit Florida in 1992, that really energized FEMA. The year after that catastrophic storm, President Bill Clinton appointed James Lee Witt to be director of the agency. Witt was the first professional emergency manager to run the agency. Showing a serious regard for the cost of natural disasters in both economic impact and lives lost or disrupted, Witt reoriented FEMA from civil defense preparations to a focus on natural disaster preparedness and disaster mitigation. In an effort to reduce the repeated loss of property and lives every time a disaster struck, he started a disaster mitigation effort called "Project Impact." FEMA was elevated to a Cabinet-level agency, in recognition of its important responsibilities coordinating efforts across departmental and governmental lines."

... "Indeed, the advent of the Bush administration in January 2001 signaled the beginning of the end for FEMA."


" It is said of that most virtuous of Emperors Asoka that one day when he was riding through his lands he was appalled to see a tiger in the distance about to spring upon an old woman. To his amazement the woman was saved by a young man with a stick confronting and driving off the tiger. He called the young man before him, and soon found that the young man was wise and intelligent beyond all expectation despite his lack of years and of learning. Asoka promised the young man a rich and eminent future in his court. He would send for the young man before the next monsoon.

Asoka charged his third vizier to attend to the matter as soon as the court returned to the palace. The third vizier charged his second clerk to prepare the necessary letter of authority when the court had returned to the palace. The second clerk wrote a note to the junior archivist asking him to look out the appropriate model of letter from the records.

Years later, when Asoka was old, the Emperor's exasperation with his advisers made him remember the brave and wise young man. He demanded that the young man be produced to give his advice.

A week later a trembling village headman was brought before the Emperor. He said "O Light of this world, I am not the brave young man who faced the tiger; he was my brother. He died in misery two years ago. When he heard your august words of favour, he put aside all other thoughts but service in your court. He gave his small patch of land to me, and set out to live by the charity of others whilst he went about finding out what the needs of the pepole really are, and forming thoughts on how your august benevolence could best help them. For two monsoons he lived well, because many were aware of your words to him. After the second monsoon and still without word from the palace, I begged him to take back his land and to live the life of a villager until the call came. He refused. He could not be a common villager and at the same time a man with the Imperial promise of an official career. We offered to make him village headman. Of us all he was clearly best fitted for the post. Still he refused; he must wait on the Imperial will. After the third monsoon, men lost patience with him, and he began to starve. When a little money came to him, he spent it on drugs and on wine to enable him to bear the wait. All that was bright about him began to fade. The remnant of a man who died had lost all his wisdom and even his courage."

When the headman looked up, he saw that the good Asoka was weeping, and had torn his embroiderd robe."

The devastating results of waiting for very well intentioned and entirely believable official munificence to be delivered have figured in folklore about as long as such promises have been made. The trouble about these promises is their very generosity. It always appears rational to wait another day for the prize rather than do something worthwhile but relatively picayune today.

"Floridians living in FEMA trailers 15 years after Hurricane Andrew," are living there because they choose to. 15 years is time enough and then some to take charge of your own life, even if it means moving out of the area. Perhaps the lesson is that disaster victims should solve their problems themselves and then any federal help is just gravy.

How many of those still living in FEMA trailers were living in trailers before the storm? Could it be that the government trailer replaced what they lost so there is no reason to change.

Additionally, how many in FEMA trailers don't pay for their housing? Also inducing them to remain.

why he read so many books and well-known

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