I was governor of my home state of Mississippi during one of the worst natural disasters in American history, Hurricane Katrina. It was a catastrophic, devastating, and humbling event. As terrible as the actual storm was, the recovery and rebuilding processes were even bigger challenges. Watching Hurricane Ian make landfall in Florida this past week calls to mind many of the lessons learned as we worked so hard to rebuild our state. Here are three of the most important lessons I learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that could help Floridians as they begin to dig out.
Lesson 1- Prioritize cleanup as it will be a gigantic undertaking! While the first immediate priorities will be search and rescue, security, and re-opening roads, etc., begin planning and executing the cleanup of debris, for you can’t start rebuilding until you’ve cleaned up. After Katrina the cleanup by government entities took 11 months. Use that time to organize planning of the rebuilding and renewal. It will be time well spent.
Lesson 2- Early in the recovery effort, organize a board structure of experts and leaders to help develop the various plans for rebuilding. Be sure the public knows about this group and its efforts, as it is crucial the citizens, businesses, families, etc. believe the communities will be as good or better to live in than before. To return and rebuild their lives, they must believe jobs will be plentiful, schools will be exceptional, and the quality of life will be at least as good as it was before Ian.
Lesson 3- Let people help you. Americans are the most generous people in the world. They want to help other Americans who have been hurt, especially by forces beyond their control. Yes, businesses are incredibly generous with their resources but so are average citizens who will give their money and, even more valuable, their time. In the five years after Katrina, we had more than 900,000 individuals who came to Mississippi to volunteer to help their fellow Americans. Many of them came more than once.
My mother used to say, “Crisis brings out the best in most people,” and, boy, did Katrina prove her right. I suspect Ian will do so again. Indeed, during a time when our politics has us very divided, polarized over issues and elections, our appreciation for our fellow Americans in Ian’s path may be the catalyst that draws us together and thereby reminds us we are all Americans who help each other. President Biden has said we should “Build back better.” As Americans, we should work together to do just that for the victims of Ian.
The BGR Foundation has made a contribution to the Florida Disaster Fund to support the recovery effort following Hurricane Ian.