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Coronavirus Is Trump's First National Disaster Test

Disasters point out the failures in leadership.

There are some direct connections between the examples of Hurricane Katrina and what led to the failures in that event and what we are starting to see happen now with the Coronavirus COVID-19. 

For Katrina, it was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that was hollowed out by the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and now we are reading about the actual and proposed cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that have impacted their ability to respond with significant resources and the coordination to make those resources effective. There is also the fact that bio-readiness, which was part of the National Security Council, was eliminated. Those types of actions is what will make the national-level coordination between with state and local public health officers and federal agencies problematic. 

While President Trump has his communications skills, they don't fit well with this type of event. Watch as the event plays out and you will see events on the ground not fitting with how the president portrays ongoing events and the situation as people know it — where they are. It is why snowstorms are deadly to elected officials' reputations. They can't bluff their way out of the event by saying "all is well" when people look outside their windows and see unplowed streets and cars not able to move.

Coronavirus pushes Trump to rely on experts he has long maligned.

We are only at the beginning of the economic impacts. The travel industry will be decimated in the coming months. Impacts to cruises, hotels, conventions, air travel, theme parks, etc., etc. Personally, we just delayed a networking event for emergency management professionals tentatively scheduled for April/May until next September. I expect the people who we want to attend will be consumed with responding to coronavirus events in their home jurisdictions. 

This is the event that we have been expecting to happen at some point, and it is at our doorstep!

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.