Katrina, Rita, and the Failure of Imagination

Americans have had to deal with disaster preparedness for decades, anticipating events such as industrial accidents, power plant meltdowns, natural disasters, and nuclear attacks. Since September 11, 2001, the nation has spent unprecedented resources, created new federal, state, and local agencies, and greatly intensified efforts to prepare for catastrophes. But when Hurricane Katrina hit, we were unable to respond in an organized and comprehensive manner. Hurricane Rita gave us a chance to correct some of our mistakes. But there was a series of additional flagrant missteps. It is obvious that we need to reexamine our most basic assumptions about planning for catastrophic events.