The sluggishness of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort raises questions. We need a more responsive emergency management system, and we should consider going back to the civil defense system that was in effect from 1941 to 1979, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency was established.

Under the civil defense system, the federal government provided organizational structure and physical resources for civilian volunteers. Local volunteers provided emergency communications, rescue operations and medical emergency services. Having the people and resources to handle emergencies in each city and state created the advantage of quick response. The painfully obvious problem with FEMA is that it cannot respond quickly to any disaster because it has to first move people and resources to the disaster area.




Benjamin Forgey is correct in suggesting that New Orleans should be rebuilt with care and forethought ["Planning for a New, Improved Orleans," Style, Sept. 8]. Unfortunately, he is probably optimistic regarding the survivability of flooded homes. Even if a house is framed with sturdy cypress, what about plaster that has been submerged for weeks or months? Or sheetrock? Or decades-old electrical wiring buried in the walls?

The mildew problem also can be overwhelming. It would cost more to fix such a house than to tear it down and build one that could be a faithful copy of the old. Even if Congress steps in with reimbursement of losses for those without flood insurance, funky old New Orleans may be largely gone.

When state, local and national politicians have had their fill of assessing blame for the fiasco, they should come together and agree to guidelines for reconstruction -- not a specific physical plan but an approach for deciding what is to be done and how it will be financed. With luck and hard work, a splendid new New Orleans could emerge from the ruins.




How pathetic that in the aftermath of Katrina, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are devoting their energies to criticizing the president for his alleged nonchalance and indifference toward the dire conditions of those affected by this tragic event ["Partisan Rancor Accompanies Passage of Disaster Aid Bill; Democrats Say They Will Not Join GOP-Controlled Probe," news story, Sept. 9]. If that is the mind-set of those who are supposed to be the Democratic Party's top representatives, then the party is in a sad state of affairs.


Whitinsville, Mass.


In the Sept. 7 Metro story "New Orleans Bus Convoy Returning Mostly Empty," we learn that as many as 55 people spent five days to deliver perhaps two truckloads of supplies to New Orleans because the emergency relief services, including transportation of evacuees, were not planned and coordinated. Consider the costs of employing all those people over 24-hour days and covering transportation expenses.

But D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) pronounced the mission successful. That's double talk.




In June 1972 Tropical Storm Agnes caused severe flooding in the Chemung River valley around Corning, N.Y.

As soon as conditions permitted, the Red Cross and volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service moved in and set up temporary shelters, food and medical services. The Red Cross provided material resources and personnel to organize relief efforts. The Mennonites provided relief workers, some of whom came directly from helping in the cleanup after floods in South Dakota and had not seen their families in four months.

I was a Red Cross volunteer who helped to survey the needs of victims so that the right resources reached the right people. No one was confused about what to do.

That was in the days before the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Red Cross and the Mennonite Disaster Service did it better.


Potomac Falls