What if the response to Hurricane Ike had been executed perfectly? Over 1 million people would still have been evacuated, given the uncertainties in forecasting track, intensity and structure. And even with a perfect forecast, thousands of homes along the upper-Texas and southwest Louisiana coast would still have been destroyed by the storm surge. Millions of people would still have lost power. And countless lives would still have been severely impacted.
I can’t stop thinking about the excellent article written by Gina Eosco and Bill Hooke that was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society after Hurricane Katrina. In the article, they state “Suppose, for the moment, however, that the Katrina evacuation and emergency response had been flawless. We might well have saved most – if not all – of the 1,300 people who needlessly and tragically perished. But we would have done little to reduce the pain and suffering, or the near-total disruption of the region. Evacuees would still be homeless, their lives and careers destroyed or put on hold. Katrina would still have hollowed out not just the city of New Orleans, but the state of Louisiana and much of the Gulf Coast. An entire national subculture still would have disappeared. We still would face a recovery that will cost a sizeable fraction of a trillion dollars. And – you can bank on this – regional recovery on this scale will inevitably be subject to abuse and misappropriation of funds, fail to make its citizens whole, and trigger repeated rounds of additional investigations.”
Eosco and Hooke go on to state “We must therefore enlarge our focus. Instead of concentrating just on the management of evacuations and emergency response of ever-increasing scale, we must reduce the scope of the emergency actions required. New Orleans’ vulnerability stemmed from decades, if not centuries, of public and private decisions with respect to land use, building codes, and the development and protection of critical infrastructure… And yes, the risks and the stakes also grew as a result of community, regional, and national decisions with respect to economic growth, education, and poverty. Though these decisions are myriad, and though the underlying responsibility is diffuse, they can be favorably shaped by slight adjustments in the respective governing policy framework. This is an important and urgent national matter, because New Orleans is not the only growing vulnerability out there. There are dozens of comparable disaster scenarios that we know about, let alone those that defy our limited imagination…”
I believe that Hurricane Ike has continued to make their point. The authors go on to propose a National Disaster Review Board (NDRB). The complete article is found at http://ams.allenpress.com/archive/1520-0477/87/6/pdf/i1520-0477-87-6-751.pdf, and is well worth reading.