It is hard to believe that ten years ago many of us were glued to our television sets watching a hurricane develop in the Atlantic Ocean and then slowly but surely find its’ way to the Gulf Coast. It was named – Hurricane Katrina. While no doubt a horrific hurricane that caused millions if not billions in damages, it truly was the flooding from when the levees broke that made this hurricane written in to the history books. Who can forget the television footage of reporters on boats making their way through what were the beautiful streets of New Orleans? How can people erase the images of people crying out for help? So many sad memories of those who evacuated, lost everything or suffered trauma that to this day may be unspeakable. It was “Katrina” that cast a dark shadow on the United States’ ability to help their own people during a crisis. For many, Katrina will forever be remembered as a “one-two- three punch” of a storm. First the hurricane, then the flooding and then the failure for help to arrive when needed the most.
There is no question that we did not prepare nor evacuate and assist those in need to the best of our collective abilities. Families were shipped off to different locales including sending relatives to opposite sides of the country. I recall meeting families who had been uprooted and sent to the Washington DC- Baltimore area. They simply were in shock. They had nothing. Our local neighbors and religious organizations offered them food, clothing, toys for the kids and just about anything else we could think of! I often wondered what has happened to them ten years later. Did they go home to New Orleans?
Then there were those who refused to leave their homes. Many because they wanted to “ride out the storm”. Yet a good number wouldn’t leave as they couldn’t handle leaving behind a family pet. Others were unsure of how their elderly relatives or ones with special needs would be able to endure shelters- so they stayed.
And now looking back we now know that for some of these families these were fatal mistakes.
There must be some lessons we have learned since August of 2005? But, what are they? How did we alter the way we prepare and respond to disasters since Katrina?
I believe that emergency responders never again want to have what happened during and after Katrina be repeated. Never again do we want people to feel helpless and hopeless. As aforementioned, many people failed to evacuate because they couldn’t bring their pets to shelters or provide for their safety. Others failed to evacuate because they felt they were “safe” only to be in dire straits when the levees broke. Lives could have been saved if pets, the elderly and better communication were all in place. Although we cannot undo the tragedies of 2005, we have learned from them.
Thankfully now many laws and initiatives have been instituted that are a direct result of Katrina. One is regarding the care of animals during emergencies. In some areas, no longer do people need to make a choice. (Read how Congress changed animal care during disasters by clicking here). People are now encouraged to plan ahead and have “back up plans” for their animals in the event of an emergency.
Communication also has improved as now videos in multiple languages, including American Sign Language (ASL), have been made available for all to access important information about preparations needed for families to be safe in case of an emergency situation, how to ready for impending disasters, and what to expect from response and recovery. Local community response teams (CERT) have grown and are now a wonderful grassroots effort to help our citizens be safe, including our most vulnerable members – seniors and those with disabilities. I can’t rave enough about these amazing people who give beyond measure by engaging the most during a time when many would prefer to go away from a disaster.
It is amazing how many people are now more responsive to hurricane warnings. After all, Katrina was suppose to be a Category 1 storm that quickly gained momentum and strength. One of the lessons that many have learned is to have a disaster preparedness kit. Flashlights, batteries and crank radios are now common place in people’s homes and cars. The Red Cross has put together a very useful website chocked full of disaster preparedness recommendations.
Remember to plan with your loved ones to prepare before a disaster happens! That is the lesson we ALL can take away from Katrina and apply in preparation for any other disasters – natural and at the hands of man. As there is bound to be “something” in our future and at least we can be ready.
I am sure that many of you have many more suggestions. As always, please feel free to comment.
Thanks for reading and may this hurricane season be kind and gentle and not as catastrophic as Katrina.