On the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, watching the documentaries and news programs on the first few days after the hurricane passed through, it really hammered a few things home. My husband lived in Florida for a while and evacuated more than once due to an incoming storm. Listening to the comparison between how the state of Florida and the residents that live there handle storms versus the state of Louisiana and its residents was really very eye-opening.
Really, I think there are 3 lessons to be learned. We need to:
- Plan. Create an emergency plan. This should be a complete plan and include:
-a list of what to take when evacuating for yourself, your family, your pets (perhaps separated by how long you have to evacuate)
-what you need to have on hand if you need to shelter in place
-where you will meet up and how to communicate with family members if you have to evacuate and everyone isn’t together (consider a phone tree set up with a relative who lives elsewhere – you make one phone call and they disseminate information)
-evacuation routes and alternates
- Prepare. Having a plan isn’t enough. Having a list of food you need to have on hand should you have to shelter in place doesn’t mean that the food will magically appear. Make sure you write down the lists of things to pack when evacuating and let family members know where they are. If you’re the one doing the planning, make sure you tell family members about the plan. Write it down and put it in a central area that everyone can access.
- Practice. There’s a reason that schools, businesses and organizations hold fire drills. It’s about committing things to muscle memory, working out the kinks that you invariably don’t think about. (Have canned food but no manual can opener? You tell your family to meet at the park, but there are two nearby?) Pretend that a scenario has happened and live it for a few hours or a day. Live with water not being usable without being boiled. Live without electricity. Practice evacuating, including packing up. (Turn it into a fun overnight camping trip, maybe?)
While the above may seem aimed at individuals, the state and city governments really needed to plan, prepare and practice too. There was no plan on how to handle the levees breaking and fix them, how to evacuate a large group of people from the city, how to handle the volunteers who were willing to bring in the things that the city needed, how to help those who didn’t have the funds to suddenly up and leave everything they had. For that matter, how to handle the re-building process, how to bring back citizens into the city and avoid the catch 22 of not having a place for them to stay, but needing them to be there to help get the city back on their feet. Hopefully we learn from past mistakes so that they don’t happen again.