FEMA’s efforts may not have been sufficient

New Orleans has arguably seen the worst of it: Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster to ever hit the U.S., a Category 3 storm that rampaged the now infamous levees and flooded 80 percent of the city.
Critics at the national level blamed both local and federal response as unsatisfactory, as well as lambasted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for making seemingly every mistake possible.

With the continued onslaught of hurricanes, the Gulf Coast has been cyclically spewing out and welcoming back its coastal city populaces. Now three years have passed since Hurricane Katrina, and New Orleans, at two-thirds the population size it was before, was evacuated again as part of the preparations for Gustav. FEMA, which has been working in the city of New Orleans since 2005, claimed complete readiness, and while the process was still extremely hurried, it was mostly able to cope with a Category 2 storm like Gustav. That said, management of supplies and food, which have still not reached everyone, leave room for further improvement.

But while FEMA now admits there is “still a lot of work with Gustav,” we expect they will be working hard to make sure every family is happily reunited to the FEMA trailer they have called home since Katrina, munching on snacks from their post-Gustav food stamps.

And this was, by landfall, only a Category 2 storm. Had it been stronger, would the response have been sufficient? After the lack of destruction that Gustav will now be remembered for, will residents refuse to evacuate next season, or in just a few years when the next big one comes? Or will they forget to return at all, with each new hurricane threat chopping off another bit of a dwindling city’s population?

While we certainly don’t want to point to the occurrence of storms as an example of, say, larger changes in the climactic patterns around the planet, we believe that FEMA and the Gulf Coast need to seriously continue to push for preparedness as these storms continue to chew up the country.

While Gustav, for all the excitement it stirred up, was, in the media’s eyes at least, a bust, we can consider it a warning for the larger disasters that the future will present us with.