Preparation, cooperation needed to help Atlanta weather future storms

EDITOR’S NOTE: Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore became a household name in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He’s the author of two books, including “Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and your Family From Disasters.” Last week, Honore discussed in an interview how the Atlanta metro can be better prepared for future weather events. Excerpts follow:

Attention. Be prepared. Now that people are safe and secure, and we know where we are and people have admitted that they’ve got to do what they didn’t do — we’ve got to do better. I think a way to start this is from the perspective of the family and the individual. The first line of that narrative is we’ve got to be prepared to be our own first responder. Having a survival kit in your car then takes on a new significance.

And the reason I am saying that is that, on any given date, Mother Nature can destroy anything built by man, No. 1. And, No. 2, government isn’t good enough to take care of everybody at the same time.

The best government decisions are made early. See first. Understand first. Act first. Government doesn’t go to sleep.

Now that being said, government has a responsibility for opening and closing roads, opening and closing schools, providing sustainable water supply, providing electricity and the things that we need to live in the community and to keep us secure. But I think most people I’ve talked to in Atlanta have said there are things they would do differently themselves the next time, to include deciding whether they would send their kids to school based on their own assessment — since the government’s going to have to win that trust back.

I think while this thing is fresh in everybody’s mind, we have to put a message to our government that, hey, we don’t need a patch put on it, we’re looking for a fix. We’re a global, 21st century city living with 19th century infrastructure and security.

That’s got to be fixed. We had 21st century predictions, but the leaders used an 18th century technique, which was to wait until the snow started falling to say, “We better send everybody home, it’s snowing.”

That lean, just-in-time mode gives you just enough to get overrun during a disaster.

Now is the time to force the legislative changes that are needed. Either the governor is going to create a policy that he’s going to make the (decision) calls on Atlanta, the biggest city in the South, or he’s going to defer that to the mayor or he’s going to create a joint command-and-control system because Atlanta is bigger than its shadow. When Atlanta doesn’t function, it affects the United States’ economy. What message are we sending to the rest of the world if we do not have a proper way to secure this town?

That is why, under the worst-case scenario, we need to have a joint command-and-control system so that, when we say Atlanta, it means the greater Atlanta metropolitan area and it’s not just what Mayor Reed got elected to in the city of Atlanta. Because that’s the Atlanta that has to dance together (in times of crisis).

The problem in Atlanta is a good problem to have. You’ve got a lot of commerce going on here, you’ve got a good economy. But all that comes at a cost, and that cost is 5 or 6 million people who have decided to live here, but there’s an expectation that they can depend on collective security working for them.

I’m not an economic forecaster, but what I’m saying is that if you don’t fix these types of problems, the wheels start coming off the machine. I mean you can go from 700 people a week moving here to 700 people a week moving away.

Weather has a vote in what we do. A good indicator for Atlanta is when Delta starts canceling flights, what are you doing sending kids to school?

What was that big (convention) group you had in town last week? Go ask any of them if they’re coming back to Atlanta. Since Katrina, we don’t have conventions in New Orleans in August anymore, because they can’t get insurance.

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