Disaster Prep

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(HOST) The massive rescue and relief effort following Hurricane Katrina has reminded commentator Bill Seamans that we may not be as well prepared as we should be for other potential disasters.

(SEAMANS) However far away Katrina has been, we sympathize with the people there and cannot help but wonder how we would cope if it happened to us.

Millions of people have lost their homes, electricity, drinking water and food supplies – and the toll of the dead is still being counted. Officials guess that it will take years to restore normal livability.

We here in the northeast are meeting Katrina at the gasoline pump. Oil experts are surveying the damage to the offshore oil rigs and onshore processing facilities which supply up to about twenty percent of the nation’s petroleum. The release of oil from the nation’s strategic reserve by President Bush could help to prevent a big spike in our already high cost of gasoline.

Looking to the future, Katrina might offer invaluable lessons for the Department of Homeland Security which is spending billions to prepare us to respond to the terrorist attack that President Bush’s aides say is sure to happen. The big difference is that the terrorism emergency we might face will happen by surprise – whereas with Katrina there were weeks of warnings by the weather service and the public was given specific instructions by local government officials on how to seek safety.

So what can our Homeland Security people learn from Katrina? Is Katrina telling the Bush administration to launch a major proactive program to instruct the people in every city and town in the country about what to do and where to go if we must seek safe haven elsewhere? Hundreds of thousands of persons were saved by the forewarnings that Katrina was coming. If we haven’t been taught a drill for survival, how will we move perhaps millions of people if we are hit by the surprise catastrophe of a terrorism attack?

We have seen how there were National Guard troops that were left in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who were put to immediate use for mercy missions and to supplement local police. On a national scale most of our National Guard is in Iraq because Defense Secretary Rumsfeld refused to increase the size of our regular army. Katrina tells us that the National Guard should be brought home soonest because it will be needed for the expected terrorism emergency. Later will be too late.

We the people, beyond the relatively small corps of first responders, have not been prepared to respond to a surprise terrorism attack because President Bush has called upon us to live normally. However, it is not normal living with the realistic threat of a terrorist attack here at home.

It is President Bush’s responsibility to assure that we the people are prepared to cope with the chaos of a terrorism disaster.

Right now we are living in a state of denial.

This is Bill Seamans.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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