You may not realize it, but we are in the midst of the Atlantic hurricane season. That may not be of interest to the people of Utah, but such was not the case 10 years ago, when evacuees from Hurricane Katrina found their way to safe havens all across the country, including here in the Beehive State.
The first group arrived on Sept. 3, 2005, and they were housed at Camp Williams, the home of the Utah National Guard. By Sept. 27 of that year, all those who had made their temporary home at Camp Williams were assisted in finding more permanent living arrangements, and many of them are still living here in Utah.
Amid all the criticism surrounding the inadequate response to Katrina and all that went wrong, it would be helpful for officials to review what Utah did right.
In the direct aftermath of Katrina, federal, state and local officials were criticized for their complacency and lack of preparation. The lesson was that it's essential to stay vigilant, but vigilance is often difficult to sustain over a long period of time.
It has been 117 months since a Category 3 or larger hurricane has made landfall in the United States, which is the largest gap between hurricanes in the historical record, which dates back to 1851. That's fortunate, but it should also serve as something of a warning. This hurricane drought isn't going to last forever, and no one should be lulled into a false sense of security in the interim. The fact that there hasn't been a Katrina-sized disaster in almost 10 years means we're more than overdue, and we need to be ready when the next one hits.
Of course, for those living in hurricane zones, the onus is on them to make adequate preparations. They should have a plan to evacuate and seek shelter, and they should be ready to implement that plan on a moment's notice. At the same time, even the most comprehensive plan won't prepare for every contingency, and there will likely be large numbers of people who will be displaced when the next storm strikes.
That's where the lessons from Utah come into play.
The Utah response to Katrina was successful because it was responding to individuals and not to a crowd. Initially, victims were herded into the Louisiana Superdome and essentially ignored, which resulted in a nightmare of unnecessary suffering. Compassion best succeeds when it's one-on-one, and that's true whether you're a government first-responder or just a neighbor helping another neighbor in need. It's that kind of compassion we need to cultivate in order to be prepared for any disaster that comes our way.