Hurricane Florence Strikes In Wake of 9/11 Reflections: Effective Disaster Relief Must Be A Top Priority For Government
September 11, 2001 is a day remembered by all those who witnessed the horrific acts of terrorism, as a well as heroism, that transpired on that day 17 years ago. For generations, it serves as a national holiday in memory of those whose lives were lost and those whose lives were forever changed by the tragedy as well as the wars that followed. There is an almost poetic irony that Hurricane Florence was barreling down on he East Coast of the United States as Americans reflected on the destruction of such a culturally traumatic event. What makes it even more ironic is the impact 9/11 had on the responses to past hurricanes. The aftermaths of Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina represented a colossal challenge that the US government failed to meet. In the wake of 9/11, the US government hyper-focused on its ability to respond to terrorist threats, but it failed to prepare for large scale natural disasters. It is a lesson learned that may well have been forgotten.
Despite President Donald J. Trump’s claim that the government’s response to Hurricane Maria was an “unappreciated great job," it was a chaotic disaster in itself. Not only did thousands of US citizens die in the storm surge and aftermath, the infrastructure and struggling economy of US territory Puerto Rico was decimated. It was nearly a year before the power was restored to the Caribbean island. Quite frankly, the US government’s response to Hurricane Maria paled in comparison to even its response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake disaster. While Trump would like to consider his Administration’s performance akin to that of the Obama Administration’s 2012 response to Hurricane Sandy, it was on par with the George W. Bush Administration’s handling of Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, it seems the US government’s ability to respond to a massive natural disaster may well be regressing under the leadership of Donald Trump.
The failure of the US government in the case of Hurricane Maria was best categorized by a lack of organization and coordination. Disaster relief supplies were literally left to rot in shipping containers due to a lack of proper management by officials at all levels as well as a lack of cooperation between officials at the local, State, and federal levels. In the case of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, FEMA, i.e. the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other agencies were simply unprepared to respond to a disaster of such a huge magnitude. Fortunately, the impact of mismanagement had yet to undermine the Federal government’s capacity to respond when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. While Local and provincial governments were largely incapable of adequately responding to the hurricane aftermath, the Federal government had the capacity. Disarray prevented the US government from providing an effective response, but things could have been a lot worse had the failures of the Trump Administration’s leadership undermined the capacity of FEMA and other agencies.
Crises like Hurricane Florence will test the Trump Administration. FEMA under Trump may well perform flawlessly in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. If the mismanagement that defined the US government’s response to Hurricane Maria has been allowed to metastasize, however, effective disaster relief will be beyond the capacity of the US government. FEMA will have been allowed to degenerate to the state it was in during the aftermath of Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina. While who runs organizations like FEMA determines how well managed, or mismanaged, they are, the priorities of the President determine the priorities of disaster relief agencies. Under the George W. Bush Administration, FEMA was retooled to respond to massive terrorist attacks. Terrorist attacks can occur anywhere at anytime, which represents a serious challenge in terms of disaster relief, but events like hurricanes, which are more of a certainty, are so widespread that they present even greater challenges. Looking at the Trump Administration’s decision to transfer $10 million from FEMA to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detention centers, the President’s priority is clear. This suggests top-notch disaster relief may well succumb to neglect under the leadership of Donald Trump.
Although there are those who deny the existence of accelerated global climate change and accelerated global warming, meteorologist and climatologists are predicting an increase in the number and severity of hurricanes. The reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks shows the willingness of people to support a massive mobilization of government resources to combat a global treat, i.e. a global war on terrorism, when it comes to such a shocking tragedy. The destructive power of hurricanes is shocking, but the gradual shift in the world’s climates is not. This makes it very difficult to mobilize the people of the world against the impact of climate change and global warming. While there are those who simply want to neglect the threat of climate change and those who want to take costly, yet potentially ineffective, solutions to slow global warming, the majority of the world’s population does need to recognize the increasing threat posed by major weather-related disasters. The governments of the world must proactively address the growing threat and buildup an adequate disaster relief management infrastructure. The US government must make disaster relief a permanent priority instead of prioritizing things like terrorism and illegal immigration above it.
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