Hurricane Katrina's effect on New Orleans demonstrated that poverty, segregation, and government neglect and incompetence are perhaps more important determinants of devastation than infrastructural defects.

In 2004 we developed the Urban Vulnerability Index to assess 78 major U.S. cities. Our index takes into account poverty, racial segregation, economic strength of the city, overall fiscal health and crime. New Orleans came in at No. 5 -- close to the worst. Its vulnerability was largely due to high poverty levels (50 percent more than the average city), racial segregation (75 percent higher than the average city) and a bond rating 25 percent below that of the average city.

The worst rating went to Miami. Hurricane Andrew demonstrated in 1992 that social vulnerability multiplied the devastating effect of a natural disaster.

How do things look for the District? Not so good. It ranks 24th. Baltimore is No. 12 and Richmond No. 26.

Despite its relatively strong per capita income and improving bond rating, the District has high levels of racial segregation, poverty and income disparities, the last of which are accelerating as gentrification reshapes the city to the detriment of the poor. The index suggests that the District needs to take more aggressive steps to alleviate poverty, racial segregation and income disparities so that it will be better positioned to respond effectively to any emergency, natural or man-made.




The writers are members of Howard University's School of Business and its Center for Urban Progress in the Department of Economics, respectively.


Since 2001, homeland security efforts have been hampered by a grant formula that guarantees each state funding regardless of the likelihood of attack. Risk plays no role. We provide more per capita to low-risk states than to high-risk, heavily populated states with crucial infrastructure, such as New York, California and Florida.

The Post is right that this formula contributed to a lack of preparedness in the aftermath of Katrina ["Congress, Heal Thyself," editorial, Sept. 12]. Louisiana ranks 20th in per capita funding despite its national importance as a transportation, energy and commercial hub.

The Lowey-Sweeney Amendment, included in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization bill that the House of Representatives passed, would reform this formula by requiring the distribution of homeland security grants primarily on the basis of threat, vulnerability and consequence. Each state would continue to receive a guaranteed minimum level of funding, while more dollars would be available to support areas at greater risk. Competitive grants requiring state proposals for these remaining funds would ensure that we address the most pressing homeland security needs with our limited resources.

The House and Senate must come together to do the responsible thing and put homeland security funds where they are most needed when we pass the final Patriot Act reauthorization bill this fall.


U.S. Representative (D-N.Y.)


U.S. Representative (R-N.Y.)