EDITORIAL: Ignoring Ike

A lot can be said for self-responsibility. It is usually thought of as a strong and noble character trait identifying one’s ability to manage his or her own affairs responsibly. But in the wake of Hurriance Ike, it has proven to ally with sheer stupidity.

Having “learned lessons” from Katrina, the local, state and federal response to Hurricane Gustav was effective, responsible leadership. From Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s smoothly executed hands-on evacuation campaign, to the newly proactive New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s grim warning for looters - political leaders weren’t going to be caught off guard post-Katrina.

Strong warnings also went out well in advance of Hurricane Ike. From the call for a mandatory evacuation in Galveston mid-week to the National Weather Service warning Texas residents in low-lying coastal areas that they “may face certain death” - action was swift, forceful and steady.

And there was no ambiguity. There is no stronger warning than certain death. Yet, many residents foolishly and stubbornly chose to stay put. What property is worth losing one’s life for? One Galveston resident and liquor-store owner told Fox News on Friday that many people were staying behind “because when they went for Gustav nothing happened.” Hindsight may be 20/20 but we have yet to find the man or woman who can predict which homes a storm wipes out.

As much as government has been blamed for its slow response to Katrina, even the quickest, most proactive planning can’t do much for those who choose to defy directives.

As FEMA will tell you, its efforts are but “one piece of the preparedness puzzle.” Local and state authorities are another. So too, are the people standing (or barricading themselves) in the path of an identified, imminent and impending threat.

Weather forecasters described Ike as “catastraphoic” and potentially “worse than Katrina,” in their warnings to residents. Even, when the media implored that “there is still time to get out,” there were reports of citizens who decided to stay. Undoubtedly, they misplaced their trust in the federal government, which it claims “is better prepared today than it was at Katrina.”

That may be so, and we agree the preparation process has markedly improved during these past two hurricanes. The question is: Who gets blamed when people die in defiance of government orders? It’s safe to say, it won’t be the levees.

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