In Case of Emergency, Read This Blog

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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

In Recently Closed “Sun”, How Ike Recovery In Houston Has Been Community-Driven

October 4th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Unfortunately, the New York Sun, a six-year-old daily newspaper, printed its last edition this past Tuesday. Each day, the Sun could be relied on for an interesting, often provocative, take on the news — whether on its front, editorial or sports page — that a reader might not find elsewhere. I will miss it. The paper’s closing reminded me that that there was a recent Sun op-ed about the post-Ike recovery in Houston I had meant to post on the blog. 

The article, “Ike: Recovery That Works”, was written by Daniel Rothschild, director of the Gulf Coast Recovery Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. In his interesting (and yes somewhat provocative) take on the Hurricane Ike recovery, Rothschild, a native Houstonian, highlights the bottom-up, grass-roots nature of the effort. 

If it sounds like Houston has learned from the lessons of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it’s because it has learned a great deal – both from its experiences welcoming a quarter-million displaced New Orleanians, as well as from the pitfalls in that city’s recovery process. This recovery is starting right.

There will be no grand replanning efforts, partly because Houston has never had the arrogance to try to plan and control the city’s booming growth and economic vitality to begin with. A healthy skepticism towards politically-driven plans will serve the city well in the long recovery process ahead – and belie the claim of urban planners that only extensive and oppressive planning creates cities that work.

Because city and county governments are doing what they should do – enforcing the law, sharing critical information, and making honest assessments of the status and future of public services – they have cleared the way for the private sector to respond effectively. By yesterday morning, all local grocery chains had reopened at least some of their locations, and their trucks had made it into town and were busy resupplying. This would have been impossible if the city had been locked down, or if employees had been prohibited from coming to work.

Stressing that people should use their judgment rather than trying to freeze movement, officials have created space for what reports indicate is an incredible – and uncoordinated – response by people clearing streets and storm drains. The official attitude that recovery is a grassroots effort, of which government is just one sector that plays a supporting role, means that recovery is already underway, and people don’t have to wait for officials to draw up (and eventually fumble) a complex, top-down plan.

The private sector is playing a crucial role in sharing information. Citizen journalists have been liveblogging events as they unfold, the television and radio stations are sharing information called in by normal folks about grocery stores, gas stations, and hardware stores that are open. Indeed, the press has been a vital conduit of information throughout the process, as they were after Katrina when New Orleans radio host Garland Robinette famously stayed on the air throughout the storm serving as the only instrument of fact over a cacophony of official fiction.

As Rothschild points out in his excellent piece, there is a role for government at all levels, but ultimately disaster preparation and response is a local community responsibility.

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Tags: Hurricane Preparedness

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