Pioneer Editorial: Answering the 'wake-up call' of disasters
With last year's federal government response to Hurricane Katrina universally accepted as a disaster itself, we hope lessons learned will mean disaster preparedness this year at a heightened level. Hurricane season is nearing, and the federal bureaucracy known as the Department of Homeland Security wants to make inroads to prevent anything like last year from happening again.
Hurricane Katrina, which nearly leveled New Orleans, was a "wake-up call" for disaster preparedness, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday at a hurricane preparedness conference in Florida.
The role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to be defined, as it sorely lacked in its response efforts last year. Chertoff is indicating that FEMA would now play "a supporting role" to local and state authorities, rather than be the front-line defense to a disaster. Meanwhile, Chertoff has his department readying federal disaster responders in 13 states to deliver fast aid and supplies to victims during the upcoming hurricane season.
But it appears that Homeland Security, FEMA and the states should play even a greater role. First formed in the after-math of 9/11 to protect the "homeland" from terrorist attack, Homeland Security must undertake a coordinating role in a number of areas, as well as preparing the states to handle emergencies.
The spring has yet to begin, yet the Midwest and particularly through Tennessee has been rocked with tornadoes, leaving their wake dozens of deaths and millions upon millions in damages. And while flooding in the Red River Valley is not at devastating as 10 years ago, this spring's floods tell us that we are not yet done in flood control measures and that we must be ever vigilant in emergency planning.
Just how quickly disaster can strike is evidenced by news Wednesday that a Midwest mumps epidemic -- hitting Iowa and moving in Minnesota -- may have been started by two people traveling by air after becoming contagious with the disease.
The thought of avian flu hitting U.S. shores is also numbing, and cause for concern and preparedness. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in his supplemental spending bill this session, is calling for the use of $10.5 million each year for the next three years from a Health Care Access surplus to avian influenza preparedness. It would provide resources for preparation and coordination of a statewide response, through $3.9 million in grants to local governments for their preparedness efforts and to conduct regional and statewide conferences and exercises. It would also help fund similar preparedness for a number of state agencies, from the Health Department to the Board of Animal Health.
Katrina isn't the only wake-up call. Every day, it seems, we find new examples showing how truly vulnerable we are to Mother Nature.