Following is the lead editorial in the Sunday edition of the Tuscaloosa News. The issues outlined are specific to that community and this crisis. The issues below are also recurring aspects of catastrophe preparedness. The specifics are beyond predicting. But catastrophic potential can be anticipated. It is helpful to do so before the crisis hits.
Even as teams of volunteers, municipal crews and contractors with heavy equipment begin to clear the rubble that remains of a mile-wide, six-mile-long swath of Tuscaloosa, and thousands of people begin to pick up the wreckage the tornado made of their lives, so much — still — is up in the air.
Who are the dead?
Where are the missing?
Where will we house the homeless?
What is the plan?
Every disaster is different. There is no easy template for a response. We have confidence that Mayor Walt Maddox, county Emergency Management director David Hartin, and their staffs are hard at work to find answers.
They admit this won’t be easy. After all, we lost a police precinct and fire station in Alberta, the city’s Environmental Services building, the Emergency Management Agency headquarters, and agency headquarters for the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Not to mention schools and major thoroughfares. These all would otherwise play significant roles in recovery plans.
As the mayor has said, it is like having both arms tied behind your back.
Volunteers are essential, and clearly the community has a huge heart for jumping in with work, money, blood donations, clothes and sundries. We need to sustain that effort.
The leadership of our local officials and the professionalism of our police officers, firefighters, utility workers, road and maintenance crews are crucial, and much appreciated.
But we need more.
The focus has shifted from rescue to recovery of victims, and it must begin to shift again from sorting through the rubble to rebuilding lives. This will be long, difficult road.
The visit by President Barack Obama on Friday signaled the federal government has taken notice at the highest levels. As of Friday, there was expectation Tuscaloosa may be visited by at least one member of the president’s Cabinet today. Officials from FEMA have been in town almost since the tornado left.
The response so far has been well coordinated, but assistance to displaced families must be more direct and substantial, and it is needed right away. Some of those being released after treatment of injuries at DCH Regional Medical Center, for instance, have lost everything, even to the clothing they were wearing before they were rushed to the hospital. Where do they go?
One of the terrible features of Wednesday’s unprecedented fury is that it descended on neighborhoods where the most vulnerable among us had lived. Many of the survivors have little or no resources to draw upon.
Turning government funding and private donations into tangible assistance, fast and efficiently, is notoriously difficult. And still it must be done.