Occurring only 18 months after Hurricane Katrina, the devastating tornadoes in Greensburg, Kansas this month again prompted the question of whether our government can adequately respond to another Katrina-like storm. For residents of New Orleans, that question will be particularly pressing this summer. The hurricane season officially begins this Friday. Hurricane prediction experts expect a “very active” tropical storm season for 2007, estimating “the probability of a major hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast at 49 percent, compared to last century’s average of 30 percent.” To adequately prepare for another Katrina, the federal government needs to develop an adequate response system, including the rejuvenation of a shattered emergency response network in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the government has failed to provide this system, leaving the residents of New Orleans again woefully unprepared for the active hurricane season on the horizon.
- The war in Iraq has left the National Guard unprepared for emergencies here at home. “To put it bluntly, the members of the Guard cannot protect us here if they are fighting over there,” wrote Center for American Progress fellow Lawrence Korb this week. “Countless lives were lost” waiting for help when Katrina struck in 2005, as “the combat brigades of Louisiana and Mississippi and their equipment were in Iraq and Afghanistan.” While all the state’s National Guard will remain at home for hurricane seasonstorm season, “the Louisiana National Guard still lacks hundreds of military troop trucks that can forge high water.” And the federal government “still lacks a formal structure for coordinating a national response,” said Coast Guard head Adm. Thad Allen yesterday. According to Allen, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is still “reworking its national response plan to incorporate the lessons of Katrina and other incidents.” To train and equip the necessary units, “the president should ask the Congress to increase the budget of the DHS by at least $10 billion, the cost of one month’s operations in Iraq.”
- The flawed levee system in New Orleans still leaves the region at risk from a major hurricane. According to a recent investigation from National Geographic, “flaws in New Orleans’ repaired levee system could leave the region vulnerable to another disastrous breach.” Even a less powerful storm than Katrina “could breach the levees if it hit this season.” In rebuilt levees by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet ship channel, which broke in more than 20 places during Katrina and led “to devastating flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish,” engineers found several areas where storms have eroded the newly constructed levees. The engineers also found that, currently, “water appears to be seeping under the stout new floodwall erected along the Industrial Canal to protect the Lower Ninth Ward.” A recent report from the Government Accountability Office revealed that water pumping systems installed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2006 would only be operating — at best — at 82 percent of maximum capacity, with the total capacity still not meeting the “drainage needs to keep the city from flooding during a hurricane.”
- While a heavy hurricane season looms, funds have been cut from hurricane research. The federal government is more concerned with fanfare and glitz rather than real preparedness for the vigorous storm season ahead. National Hurricane Center director Bill Proenza said recently that the administration is “spending millions of dollars on a publicity campaign that could be used to plug budget shortfalls hurricane forecasters are struggling with.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is spending up to $4 million to publicize a 200th anniversary celebration while the agency has cut $700,000 from hurricane research, Proenza said. “No question about it, it is not justified. … It is using appropriated funds for self promotion.” “It’s part of our responsibility to tell the American people what we do,” a NOAA spokesman said in defense. “It’s inaccurate and unfair to just characterize this as some sort of self-celebration.”