Which makes it all the more difficult to understand why, at this moment, the country's premier agency for dealing with such events -- FEMA -- is being, in effect, systematically downgraded and all but dismantled by the Department of Homeland Security.
Apparently homeland security now consists almost entirely of protection against terrorist acts. How else to explain why the Federal Emergency Management Agency will no longer be responsible for disaster preparedness? Given our country's long record of natural disasters, how much sense does this make?
What follows is an obituary for what was once considered the preeminent example of a federal agency doing good for the American public in times of trouble, such as the present.
This year it was announced that FEMA is to "officially" lose the disaster preparedness function that it has had since its creation. The move is a death blow to an agency that was already on life support. In fact, FEMA employees have been directed not to become involved in disaster preparedness functions, since a new directorate (yet to be established) will have that mission.
To be sure, America may well be hit by another major terrorist attack, and we must be prepared for such an event. But I can guarantee you that hurricanes like the one that ripped into Louisiana and Mississippi yesterday, along with tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, floods, windstorms, mudslides, power outages, fires and perhaps a pandemic flu will have to be dealt with on a weekly and daily basis throughout this country. They are coming for sure, sooner or later, even as we are, to an unconscionable degree, weakening our ability to respond to them.
The writer is director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
To all you folks affected by Katrina, our hearts go out to you and we wish you all the best. I mean it, but having said that, there's more:
That "Compassionate Conservative" you love so much has seen to it that your National Guard is not in position to help you, he's reduced flood-control funding by 70%, and he's gutting FEMA. You'll eventually be paying more local taxes to provide emergency services that would be better if we all kicked in on the Federal level. You better hope this is the last natural disaster that befalls you. Yeah, right.
Next time, when you're floating down your street, better bring your own paddle. There likely won't be a Federal one.