Tuesday, July 24, 2007

U.S. Government Not Prepared for Disasters of Either Kind

Responding to natural or man made disasters requires similar skills and competencies. Two news reports should have Americans here at home very concerned about our ability to manage the aftermath in either case. The first deals with evacuations before hurricanes. One in three would stay in an evacuation zone to protect their property or safeguard their pets. This dramatically increases the need for post landfall rescues in catastrophic storms.

Hospitals need to be the last to evacuate and the first to return given their role of caring for the sick and injured. When a powerful hurricane strikes a large metropolitan area, it's likely half to two thirds of the normal hospital patient population will remain to ride out the storm. Having evacuated a Texas Gulf Coast hospital before Hurricane Gilbert in the late 1980's, I can personally attest to the difficulty in getting hospitals farther inland to accept patients. Added to the challenge of getting a bed is transportation. Ambulances are high profile vehicles and stop running when the winds reach 45 mph or higher.

This leads us to the second story of concern, the head of the U.S. military's Northern Command said he needs "at least two years before he is able to pull together the military units he needs to better respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear disaster in the U.S. They would largely be made up of support forces, such as evacuation, medical, logistics and transportation troops." Man made or natural disasters require the same type of response, safeguarding infrastructure, evacuating and treating the injured, bringing supplies and basic necessities to survivors. With months left in the hurricane season, America is less than optimally prepared to respond to a disaster. Apparently Bush will leave his term with yet another item unaccomplished.