3rd Place - $1,000 Resolve to Evolve Scholarship Winner
Even before Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005 , Americans were growing keenly aware of the lack of initiative their elected officials possessed. Thus, by the time Katrina dissolved into a minor thunderstorm over northern Tennessee, it was no surprise that both displaced residents of the Gulf States and government officials were waiting for someone to take responsibility for the lack of organization and natural disaster preparation before, during, and after the storm. As a New Orleans resident, I have spent the past nine months asking myself that question: who should be held accountable for the suffering this storm has brought to me, my family, and my neighbors. As a true believer in federalism, it would make sense to equally distribute blame amongst the state, local, and national governments. However, recent events, including the re-election of New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, show that the majority of people affected by the storm no longer find fault with their local governments. With such blame removed, we, the citizens of the Gulf States, are left with an unmitigated feeling of resentment towards the national government and hold it responsible for our past, present, and possible future sufferings.
The national government is by far the most at fault for the lack of natural disaster preparation and organization associated with Hurricane Katrina. This blame can be easily arrived at by examining government actions from President George W. Bush inauguration to the present. When President Bush was first inaugurated, he received several documents outlining the great threat a hurricane of Katrina's magnitude would pose towards the Gulf Coast. These documents, identical in many ways to the ones presidents before him received, also included reports on the insufficient levee system of New Orleans and the funds the city required to properly fix and maintain it. Like all other presidents before him, Bush ignored the reports and moved on to devote billions of dollars to his own pet project: Iraq. These actions clearly posed a great problem on August 28 as Hurricane Katrina steadily approached the Louisiana coastline headed straight for New Orleans. If the national government had truly cared to protect their constituents, it would have done all it could to remove the citizens of New Orleans from harm's way. Prior to the storm, Mayor Ray Nagin arranged for buses to take those residents unable to flee by their own means out of the city. However, every city that was suppose to take the desperate residents closed their doors, forcing Mayor Nagin to turn away hundreds of buses without a single passenger, while moving hundreds of citizens into the Superdome without any security or any plan of escape if the situation deteriorated. Not once did the White House, FEMA, or Congress speak up for these citizens. Rather, they blamed the local administration for its inability to establish a defined evacuation plan for its residents - a crude action to prevent the nation from discovering the many ways it, federal government, had failed to provide guidance in a time of great need. Finally, the White House's chronic use of federal bureaus as a dump for nepotism makes them further accountable for the serious lack of natural disaster preparedness. President Bush knew when he appointed Michael Brown as head of FEMA that, outside of being a hardcore supporter of the Republican agenda, he lacked all necessary experience to make him qualified for the demands of his position. Such an action had numerous, devastating consequences including delay of government support in many small towns along the coast and inadequate help for displaced residents in the days immediately following the storm. These actions, only a few that paint the entire picture, blatantly show that had the federal government fulfilled its part of the social contract, much loss could have been prevented.
As we approach the beginning of June, Gulf Coast residents have begun to brace themselves for yet another hurricane season. This comes at a time when all those affected are only beginning to make progress rebuilding their homes, communities, and lives. At the present, the federal government has yet to issue any statement concerning the steps they will be taking to ensure the safety and future prosperity of these individuals. This is very disturbing considering the myriad of issues they will need to address, and the basic actions they could start taking to address them. For instance, Senators Mary Landreiu and David Vitter of Louisiana have campaigned with their colleagues from the neighboring Gulf Coast states for years for funding for coastal restoration. It is a well known fact that once a tropical storm or hurricane touches any form of land, the storm is drastically weakened. Thus, if the government were to dedicate funds to coastal restoration, the odds of a storm making landfall at full strength capacity greatly diminish. In addition to this, the White House could promote and Congress could approve the allotment of significant funds to levee restoration. On May 3, 2006, the Senate voted on an addendum to an appropriations bill. This addendum dedicated $4 billion to restoring the levees of New Orleans while giving an additional $70 billion to Iraq . This gap in funding is entirely ridiculous when one considers how much money the government has so far dedicated to Iraq and how little it has ever put towards saving those lives the levees protect. Therefore, it seems only logical that if we are going to prevent such mass destruction by way of natural disaster in the future, more money should go towards enhancing those things that protect us. Finally, to ensure that the overall level of preparedness increases, the national government should form a committee that consists of governors and representatives from all the states and towns affected by storms in the gulf. This committee would work together to formulate a valid plan of action to be implemented the next time a storm hits the area, and should include drawings of safe evacuation routes, agreements between various cities to help residents of neighboring areas in case of emergency, and outlines of how rescue teams and supplies will enter areas in distress. These are just a few actions the federal government can take to ensure organization and preparedness in the face of a future natural disaster.
Come August, I will be preparing to start school at Tulane University. By attending college in the city I have lived in and loved for the past 18 years, I hope to be able to give back to it in unparalleled ways. However, pursuing a career in politics for a city that doesn't exist is entirely useless. It is high time for the national government to take responsibility for its actions and start taking the steps necessary to make sure such events never happen again. Otherwise, this nation really could experience the death of a major city and the dreams of the youth that grew up in it.