Living (and Dying) on the Edge: The Consequences of America Being Spread Too Thin


This is an important article that suggests that while hurricanes may not be preventable, there is much that should have been done to protect infrastructure and lives in the Gulf Coast states that was preempted by other priorities the Bush administration had.
Read the whole piece, but here is an excerpt:

New Orleans had long known it was highly vulnerable to flooding and a direct hit from a hurricane. In fact, the federal government has been working with state and local officials in the region since the late 1960s on major hurricane and flood relief efforts. When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.
Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.
Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security — coming at the same time as federal tax cuts — was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.
Newhouse News Service, in an article posted late Tuesday night at The Times-Picayune Web site, reported: “No one can say they didn’t see it coming. . .Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation.”

In 1992, after Hurricane Andrew, California conservative-journalist-turned-candidate-for-the-U.S. Senate Bruce Herschensohn argued that the federal government had no constitutional authority to involve itself in disaster relief for states — that state and local governments were the only entities empowered to act in such cases. He went on to say that when the “big quake” comes, California should absolutely refuse all federal assistance and coordination.
The Bush administration has been incrementally dismantling FEMA and legislating a general end to the central government’s key role in disaster relief and remediation. What we see unfolding in Louisiana and Mississippi is not a break down of material supplies to help — but rather of coordination.
What the federal government and large corporations tend to do well in this country is highly complex systems integration, organizing responses to demanding situations with myriad issues and players involved. However, we have gutted FEMA before there was another agency in place to take over its role — and the Department of Homeland Security which Secretary Michael Chertoff is trying to rationalize and re-organize is not prepared for prime time.
These are real gaps in American security and well-being and after the many victims are seen to in these impacted states, the American public should be outraged and demand change.
— Steve Clemons
ed. note: hat tip to LF for the article.