Fire Departments, Charities Fair Well in Katrina Response Report

Only fire departments and charitable groups retained public confidence following the response to Hurricane Katrina, according to a report published by Professor Paul C. Light, founding director of New York University's Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response, a federally-funded think tank created following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The report, which compiles data from two surveys on pre-Katrina and the other post-Katrina identified a "significant drop" in public confidence in the government's ability to handle disasters in the wake of the "botched response" to Hurricane Katrina. The report also noted "a perceived preparedness divide between rich and poor."

"Most Americans think catastrophe will happen just about anywhere but home. Although most have enough canned goods and bottled water to last a few days, the vast majority place their faith in their local police, fire and charities to tell them what to do," said Light. "The problem with Katrina is that many citizens simply did not listen, communications were cut off and the local governments evacuated with the public, leaving few behind to deal with the looting. If anyone had rehearsed for a category 5 hurricane, it did not show."

Light said that key findings of a study conducted in October, which repeated many questions included in a July survey, found:

  • Americans did not receive a wake-up call from Katrina more than half said they were no better prepared after watching the event than before.
  • Many Americans have lost confidence in their local government, police departments and local businesses to help those who need assistance following an emergency. Only fire departments and charitable organizations like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army held on to their pre-Katrina levels of confidence.
  • Americans were generally split on who was to blame for the federal government's lack of preparedness post-Katrina. Sixty percent said it was impossible to be very prepared for hurricanes, terrorist attacks or flu epidemics, while 40 percent blamed the government.
  • Among those who blamed the government, the vast majority said that the problem was mismanagement, a lack of leadership and an unwillingness to make preparedness a priority.

Rep. Thomas Davis (R, VA), the head of the bi-partisan congressional committee investigating the response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, welcomed Light to Capitol Hill last month for a press conference highlighting the report.

"Hurricane Katrina proved once again that we need to move from a bureaucratic model of government to an entrepreneurial one," said Davis. "Given the performance of government at all levels in responding to the hurricane, it is no surprise that Americans have lost confidence in government. The question is, what are we going to do about it? This report suggests some worthwhile answers."

Tomorrow: Light's recommendations for Congress and state and local governments.

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