The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has come a long way since Hurricane Katrina in its response to disasters but the country has a long way to go to improve preparedness, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore told a gathering of homeland security stakeholders in Washington, D.C., last week at the 2009 Homeland Security S&T Stakeholders Conference. Honore was the commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina responsible for coordinating military relief efforts for areas across the Gulf Coast impacted by Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people. In contrast, Hurricane Ike killed fewer than 30 people, Honore said. That's largely because people were warned and evacuated ahead of time.
"I believe for every dollar you spend on preparedness you save $9 in response," Honore said. "The biggest example I can get you is: You go down to your grandma's house that has that big old tree next to it that's 200 years old that can fall on grandma's house and kill her. On a given day you can go cut that tree for $1,000. You wait until after the tornado hit or after the hurricane hit, and it's going to cost you about $10,000 to remove it. That is if grandma is still alive."
The best mitigation strategy might be to not build in a disaster zone in the first place. And that's a lesson that is well documented and used to be part of the popular mindset, Honore said.
"We're doing some pretty stupid things in where we're building buildings, how we build them, where people live, how they live. We have to get people to be more aware of doing a risk assessment of where they live and how they live," he said. "It is predicted that an overtopping of Long Island would also mean about one story of water on Wall Street, but yet, take a look at how our infrastructure has been built."
All the marketing and availability of useful products aren't going to do any good if residents don't use them to prepare for disasters.
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