Have we learned the lessons of the 2005 hurricane season?
On the 5th anniversary of hurricanes Katrina & Rita, I think it is helpful to read the stories and first-hand reports from the various New Orleans shelters including the Superdome during the hours and days after hurricane Katrina. It is important to learn from the past and demand better from our government leaders and emergency managers. This stuff is hard to read, but imagine a National disaster and how bad things could get for our families and communities all across America if our major public health, healthcare and utilities infrastructures were destroyed or severely compromised.
What scares the daylights out of me is how those with disabilities or other vulnerable persons may be abused in future disaster sheltering operations. I am approaching an age where I may suffer a heart attack or stroke. I can image how terrified I would be if, after a stroke, I had to stay in a shelter where people were relieving themselves, having sex, fighting or robbing others all around me. Most people behave admirably in desperate times, but there will always be a few, who act horribly in these circumstances and prey on the vulnerable.
I’m a “Golden Rule” man and I beg those in policy positions at DHS/FEMA to consider investing in “necessities of life” sustainment support systems for persons with disabilities, special needs and people who are vulnerable to abuse in shelters. Please take actions in a manner that would make you comfortable to use shelters for yourself and for those you love. I would ask that the health and safety of vulnerable persons and those with disabilities be the first consideration in sheltering operations. Personally, I don’t see significant increases in capabilities to support medication, food, life-support equipment for anyone in a long term shelter, especially in very large population centers.
Where are special needs pharmaceuticals like chronic illness medications and supplies like insulin for persons with diabetes? How about those on anti-psychotic pharmaceuticals and other medications for those with medical illness? How about portable dialysis equipment? Can shelter managers order these medical products on-line or via satellite phone or ham radio patches? It’s not very hard to put these systems in place. Also, it is also infinitely more cost effective to have support systems in place, compared to the costs of generating emergency aircraft missions to care for people whose conditions became critical for lack of services. Why haven’t we developed these capabilities after the horrors we have experienced in past disasters? Do we truly care enough to do the right things?
How about patients who need ventilators, special feeding systems, infusion systems, mobility, sight, hearing or emotional or psychological support systems? Will these folks be exploited in general population centers during future disasters?
Will robbers take food, medicine and other critical life support products from people who can’t defend themselves? In the Superdome and other shelters during Katrina, people had very little protection from roving groups of thugs. Have safeguards been put in place or are we going to experience the same types of atrocities we saw during Katrina during future disasters?
Once again I’ll use the word beg. Suing emergency managers, communities, elected officials, healthcare organizations or NGO leaders will not protect those who need us desperately. I beg officials in policy and National leadership positions to put health, safety and security needs ahead of political correctness or even medico-legal considerations. Please make sure support systems are developed, refined, fielded and tested before we have another Human Rights catastrophe. I beg not for myself but for those who will desperately need our help.