Daniel M.  Rothschild

The most successful neighborhood rebuilding efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi are those where neighbors share plans and work together. It’s neither safe nor inviting to be alone in a large neighborhood. And without knowing what your neighbors are doing, it’s hard to make your own plans. Relationships among people and families, not the diktats of urban planners, determine which neighborhoods get rebuilt, and which never recover.

What does this mean for you? Join your local civic association. If there isn’t one, start one. Share cell phone numbers and email addresses. If your community is scattered to the four winds, getting back in touch quickly will be important.

If you’re a policymaker, it’s better to under promise and over deliver. Politicians at all levels of government were quick to promise the moon to Katrina’s victims. Indeed, there was a veritable flood of promises—so many that residents had difficulty determining which were likely to come to fruition. New Orleans has had five rebuilding plans in under three years, which promise much but have yet to deliver.

While well-intended, politicians must not promise more than they can actually deliver. So if you’re an official, make small promises—and fulfill them. It’s better to promise that the electricity will be back on in 90 days and have it done in 60 that to promise grand visions that will never materialize. In other words, remember what your parents taught you: don’t lie to people. It’s not nice.

You’re on your own. The most honest disaster response plans admit that, for the first hours and sometimes days after a disaster, you’re on your own. No amount of government planning, and no amount of money, can bring in the cavalry within minutes of a disaster. There’s no federal agency for plucking people off rooftops, so when you plan for hurricanes or other disasters, being truly ready means preparing to do everything on your own.

This isn’t meant to sound cold-hearted. It’s just realistic. Preparedness begins in the community and in the home. No matter who’s in charge, FEMA and first responders can only do so much. As the 9/11 Commission Report noted, civilians are the first responders to terrorism. The same is true of natural disasters.

There’s no need to fret, or call your Congressman, or build a fallout shelter. A little common sense and preparation can go a long way.

That’s as true for your household as it is for bureaucracies. Hopefully, you can learn what the government doesn’t seem to have.

Daniel M. Rothschild

Daniel M. Rothschild is the associate director of the Mercatus Center's five-year, on the ground research project on Gulf Coast recovery following Hurricane Katrina.
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