Emergency review doesn&8217;t offer help

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hurricane Katrina changed many things across this country. Some of the changes, however, are more difficult to see than others and, perhaps, more costly.

The physical destruction of life and property is simple to see. Others such as our reactionary fear of the &8220;big one&8221; hitting us again &8212; and the paranoia such a fear can spark &8212; are more difficult to spot and more dangerous.

The Katrina Syndrome is a bit like what occurred in the days, weeks and months following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America.

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Following the terrorist attacks Americans voluntarily gave up more money and more personal freedoms &8212; all in the name of national security and homeland defense &8212; than ever in our country&8217;s history.

Questioning any of that often led to a kind of new McCarthyism. Doing so was akin to trying to sell door-to-door membership in the new &8220;Osama bin Laden Fan Club.&8221;

Through time, however, we&8217;ve learned that millions and millions of dollars spent in the name of Homeland Security has become the political pork of the modern world. Lots of agencies in remote areas &8212; least likely to ever be attacked by terrorists &8212; have received equipment for Homeland Security. At the same time other, larger targets &8212; like the U.S. border with Mexico &8212; remained virtually untouched.

Unfortunately, the same thing has occurred in the months since Hurricane Katrina ripped up large portions of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Our community became a bit of a safe haven in the days after Katrina. While other communities suffered with demolished houses and crushed infrastructure, the Miss-Lou&8217;s biggest effects were human in nature.

My impression, largely shaped by talking to lots of people involved in the effort, was that local folks and agencies did a great job in working together.

Despite those efforts, however, our community has recently spent $49,000 to have a review of our emergency disaster plan completed.

Mind you this isn&8217;t a rewrite of our plan or even a fix to the problems, but rather simply a review of the plan and a list of recommendations.

Perhaps that was a good idea. Community groups identified a revised plan as a top priority in the days after Katrina.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Baton Rouge firm, hired by the United Way, for whatever reason was unable to get everyone on the same page during the review.

Neither Adams County Civil Defense and Emergency Management Director George Souderes nor his Concordia Parish cohort Morris White participated in the plan.

That&8217;s a red flag, and I don&8217;t mean &8220;red&8221; as in McCarthy&8217;s communist fears.

Apparently, the two men in charge of handling the communication and planning for our areas didn&8217;t think the &8220;review&8221; was necessary or they probably would have participated.

The United Way defends the review saying it was worth the money. Reading the executive summary of the review evokes a rather lackluster reaction.

The consultants accurately point out that the local plan does not completely align itself with similar state and federal plans, but that&8217;s something apparently local and state officials have known about for years.

Souderes said he&8217;s been after the Mississippi Emergency Management Association to update the plan for years.

Other &8220;findings&8221; in the study just seem common sense &8212; hardly the kind of wisdom that outside experts are required to point out.

On page 9 of the executive summary: &8220;The Natchez/Adams County Emergency Operations Center should be set up to be used in all emergency response situations.&8221;

Perhaps I&8217;m only seeing part of the point, however, this seems pretty much a no-brainer to me. Couldn&8217;t we have accomplished nearly the same by simply getting everyone on the same page, working with state officials and reviewing the plan our self?

We&8217;ve invested $49,000 into the project and the result is that we have a seemingly common sense review of a plan that still needs to be fixed.

Just call me Joe McCarthy.

Kevin Cooper

is associate publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or