1948 years ago in AD 63 an earthquake in southern Italy by the gulf of Naples seriously damaged the ancient city of Pompeii causing an undetermined number of deaths and spread out destruction, but the locals went to work rebuilding in the same spot until they were buried by the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano 16 years later in AD 79.
Galveston TX Hurricanes
Average Brushed or hit every 2.94 years Average Direct hit every 8.63 years
The Great Storm of 1900 - Sep 8th 1900 - Pop: 42,000 residents Category 4 @ 135 mph -Great loss of life between 6,000 and 12,000 individuals – officially 8,000
The 1915 Storm, August 17th, Category 4 @ 135 mph 42 people dead in the Galveston area
$60 - 1915 million dollars in damage
Ike Sep 13th 2008 - The third most destructive hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States Final landfall in Galveston Texas as a strong cat 2 with cat 5 equivalent storm surge winds extended 120 miles from the center.
Blamed for at least 195 deaths – 74 in Haiti and 112 in the USA 300 still missing. - Damages estimated at 24 billion (2008) US Dollars
Resulted in the largest evacuation in the state of Texas history and the largest search and rescue operation in US history
Chernobyl, An Experiment Gone Wrong
On Saturday, April 26th, 1986 at 1:23 am, one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded. Ironically, the experiment consisted in testing how the power plant would respond in the event of an accident. The operators at the plant wanted to bring down the power output of the reactor to 25%, but over-confidence, poor training and poor knowledge of how a reactor works caused them to overdo it, and they ended up bringing down the power output to 1%. When they then tried to bring it up to 25%, the reactor overheated and exploded causing the worst nuclear accident in history.
It has been almost four years since hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf coast of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, an event recorded as the most devastating, costly and tragic Natural Disaster in American History.
No previous natural disaster compares with the physical destruction, human toll (over 1,300 people killed and millions of evacuees) and devastation brought on by Katrina and Rita. New Orleans the largest city affected suffered by the hurricane impact and from the subsequent flood caused by breaches in its levee system, leaving 80% of the city under six to twenty feet of water making uninhabitable more than 300.000 homes requiring one of the largest search and rescue operations in our nation’s history.
The Katrina wave of destruction created and environmental and health hazard across the region causing at least ten major oil spills, the breakage of sewage systems, hazardous waste sites flooded, household and industrial chemicals were released and both human and animal remains added to the catastrophe.
The inability of government to coordinate and respond effectively to this crisis was a collective failure exposing significant flaws in community preparedness at every level, federal, state, and local. Promises were made to make corrections and be better prepared the next time around, but other challenges have taken priority and the worst disaster in recent US history is barely mentioned by the media or politicians
A Deadly Reminder
It is hard for those who have not witnessed first hand the hurricane’s destruction and its human toll to fully comprehend the magnitude of a calamity that can happen to them and the urgent need of every citizen to protect themselves and their families.
Documentary and News Reports of hurricane preparation for populations living along the eastern sea board depict cities and communities at risk of repeating the same mistakes that unfolded with the response to hurricane Katrina.
Government agencies have not been able to deliver a holistic approach to the problem, leaving counties and communities on their own, unable to implement effective programs and at risk of severe flooding and damage in the event of another large hurricane.
Problems abound and range from having done some preparation and development to having limited response plans to none whatsoever.
To mention a few:
Lack of coordination between the state and local governments;
Outdated and incompatible communications and electronic systems precluding effective communications between agencies, communities and first responders;
Accountability, performance and management problems;
Lack of funds and personnel;
Insufficient coordination between state and local agencies and private sector;
Lack of effective awareness and educational programs;
Lack of community participation in preparedness programs.
Continued neglect and missing a National Response Plan and commitment to preparedness investment threatens to leave peoples in hurricane prone zones, more exposed and more at risk
Federal, State and Local government need to be better prepared to respond more effectively the next time a city along the coast get hit yet by another hurricane
It is crucial for the country and all the communities along the east coast to learn the lessons of the Katrina disaster and implement clear and up-to-date plans for responding to hurricanes and other calamities.
A Call to Action
Statistics (See Weather Channel Chart) show that the east coast has a hurricane strike frequency of 3 to 4 years in some areas (e.g. Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina), and from 5 to 15 years for the rest of the eastern seaboard, being the Gulf Coast and Long Island the second most prone areas. Coincidentally the eastern seaboard is the most populated area of the country
We cannot continue to relearn the lessons of every catastrophe without implementing solutions to mitigate the constant risk.
Response to catastrophic events before, during and after requires cooperation, communication and trust in a big network of public and private organizations.
Local governments being the first responders rely on the direction and expertise from the Federal and State government to fund, formulate, standardize, coordinate resources, monitor and oversee the planning, also ensuring compliance.
We recognize the current financial crunch afflicting the country and the limitations of local governments, however no improvement will happen until funding and resources are clearly dedicated to education, awareness and a coordinated national direction is implemented.
The replacement of decrepit obsolete and incompatible communication systems should be a national priority for the government and communities. Continuing use of outdated equipment is a major obstacle to a future coordinated response.
Modern computer technology tools and weather predicting advise have become more reliable as the technologies and tracking of storms becomes modernized being able to predict with a high degree of certainty the projected track of a hurricane one or two days in advance. The use of these technologies in the strategies is an imperative for communities to incorporate in evacuation planning and preparedness.
No matter how prepared we think we are we must continue to work diligently every day to improve our chances for survival. Community participation at all levels and practice drills must be incorporated in the planning for the testing of our preparedness raising in the process, awareness and promoting education.
The Gulf Coast is still hurting. Those affected have not recovered from the unfathomable human loss and the loss of their homes. Thousands continue to live in temporary housing still suffering from grief, anxiety and frustration to recover and rebuild their lives. Businesses are struggling and the cost of rebuilding is skyrocketing by the day.
The current 2009 hurricane season underway is our best chance to remind our leaders suffering from Katrina amnesia to focus on preparedness and make the Gulf Coast recovery a top priority of their campaigns to bring it back into the spotlight
Roberto O. Ramirez
President, Survival Insights LLC