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On Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 Anniversary          Send a link to a friend

Katrina Tests the Nation

[Sep. 12, 2005]  Some four years after al-Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, attack on America, and the expenditure of billions of dollars on preparing the nation to respond more effectively to similar disasters, we came up short in responding to Hurricane Katrina.

When the investigations are complete, I think we'll find that local, state and federal officials will have plenty of blame to share with one another over the response to the disaster in the Gulf Coast. All levels of government made major mistakes in their response to Hurricane Katrina - mistakes that surely led to a heavier casualty count than would have been true had emergency response plans been followed to the letter.

While shortcomings in the immediate response to Katrina are well worth investigation, what concerns me most are the lasting effects that Katrina is likely to have on the national economy. We've spent in the neighborhood of $200 billion already on the war in Iraq. Some authorities set the total even higher, at $330 billion. Now, the recovery from Katrina is likely to cost thenation well in excess of $100 billion. In addition, private insurers are likely to face an estimated $40 to $65 billion in claims. Federalbudget deficits will be much higher in the next fiscal year than anyone planned, leading to the possibility of rampant inflation and increased weakening of the dollar.

In addition to writing books on crisis response, I edit two newsletters relevant to this - "Energy PIpeline News" and "The Crisis Counselor."

"Energy Pipeline News" is currently covering the restoration of the Gulf Coast petroelum and natural gas infrastructure, the energy engine that supplies our Midwest, Southeast and Northeast. Energy consumption per capita explains over 90 percent of growth in gross national product. (The other variable explaining most of the rest is level of education of the population.) What Katrina did to the Gulf Coast will have long-term impacts on the national economy, including the loss of up to 400,000 jobs.

"The Crisis Counselor" newsletter, meanwhile, is covering in its Sept. 15 issue some of the more prominent response mistakes that were made to the Katrina catastrophe. It is going to be a very long list.

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What particularly concerns me about federal policy - and here the blame must be shared by all of our elected officials, not just the president - are these:

(1) Our officials failed to impose a gasoline tax after Sept. 11, 2001, that would have begun our shift to alternative energy sooner. They passed an energy bill that was loaded with pork while failing to provide the incentives necessary for developing new energy resources. The bill passed is a national disgrace.

(2) Despite the expenditure of billions of dollars on the new Homeland Security Department, its Federal Emergency Management Agency was inadequately led and staffed to respond to a catastrophe in kind to 9/11. FEMA leadership and staff were too arrogant, too ill-prepared and too poorly trained to meet the challenge.

(3) Our officials after 9/11 insisted on cutting taxes, which contributed to inadequate government resources at all levels. Even our military, expected to fight in at least two foreign nations and respond at home, was sorely taxed at first to assist properly in responding to a homeland disaster. I refer here mainly to the initial shortage of rescue helicopters and ground vehicles to move evacuees.

Katrina ripped away the illusion that we can cut taxes, properly educate children, compete with India and China; win hearts and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan; and respond to catastrophic emergencies at home. We're just not the superpower we thought we were. As the Greeks said back when the Iliad was written, hubris leads to ate - pride goeth before a downfall.

Noel L. Griese, APR Editor, Energy Pipeline News and The Crisis Counselor

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