Lessons From Katrina and Other Mega-Disasters

Real Clear Politics


As our country confronts the coronavirus pandemic, there are lessons we can and should learn from previous mega-disasters. Although Hurricane Katrina was far different from the COVID-19 pandemic in so many ways, the worst natural disaster in American history, which struck the Gulf Coast nearly 15 years ago, has powerful lessons for us today.

First, no government, however big and powerful, can solve every problem that may strike every household or business all the time. Frankly, we shouldn’t want a government that powerful or expensive, or it would take away our freedoms.

As happened during Katrina, however, government has ramped up to respond to an unprecedented catastrophe. And, as with Katrina, there is criticism of governments’ decisions and efforts. I recall vividly that during Katrina I was attacked for not being critical of the federal response. And, yes, FEMA’s execution of its logistical plan failed. But every governmental entity involved in responding to the storm made mistakes, including the state of Mississippi, which I led at the time.

In any mega-disaster there is a fog-of-war component to the response. You are making it up as you go along. Decisions must be made, but some won’t produce the best outcomes. When that happens, you admit the decision needs to be changed and change it. Then move forward.

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