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Changing the Hurricane Culture(2)

2005-09-12 00:00

  This casual attitude toward danger carries a high price, both in lives and money, and it's one that many in the Gulf Coast are beginning to question. People are asking whether taxpayers should have to bear the costs of rescuing those who ignore clearly noted threats. They are not talking about the tens of thousands of people who are unable to evacuate places like New Orleans or Biloxi because they lack transportation, but the others who had the option to leave but chose to stay.

  This catastrophe cowboy mentality has afflicted many government officials in the Gulf Coast as well, from local mayors to federal bureaucrats, who too often seem to produce the kind of less than effective evacuation plans we saw before Katrina. Granted, both residents and officials were working under a tight schedule before Katrina gained Category 4 strength and made landfall between Biloxi and New Orleans. And there is only so much people can do to prepare for a storm of Katrina's millennial magnitude. But there's a growing concern that as our hurricanes increase in ferocity, as scientists are warning, government officials aren't taking the threat seriously enough.

  In the end, what we need is to stop thinking of things like evacuation and storm shutters as recommended options and more as mandatory responsibility. It's like seat belts, one local official told me. They used to be optional, but now wearing them is the law. Already some communities are changing their thinking about this; some Florida cities now charge people who surf during hurricanes the cost of their rescue if they get in trouble.

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