Local politicians suggest that, given the Federal Emergency Management Agency's bungling of the response to Hurricane Katrina, a regional preparedness and reaction plan that relies less on the federal government is necessary ["Katrina Prompts a Regional Reassessment," Metro, Sept. 15]. I agree.
Unfortunately, to achieve a regional plan, local political leaders have to be "regional" in the first place, and why would anybody believe that could be achieved?
We have no regional approach to traffic (except occasional photo ops designed more to advance political messages than to move toward a real solution). We have no real regional planning for our extraordinary growth, except (again) for the occasional high-visibility declaration of good intentions. We also lack a regional focus on critical issues such as health care resources, facilities and workforces.
The list of unaddressed regional problems grows longer every day as leaders continue to defer problems due to competing interests and red tape. Now these politicians want to work on a regional response to a terrorist attack or natural disaster? Based on the record, such an effort would make FEMA look efficient.
To develop a regional solution to any problem, first must come a commitment to think regionally and act collegially. And that does not exist.
Disaster planning in this area almost ignores the fact that colleges, universities and other schools are some of the largest gathering places for people of all ages. In the District, universities are the largest private employers, with more than 100,000 people flowing through campuses daily. Despite many meetings with public officials, universities lack specifics from authorities about disaster plans.
We have heard repeated directives to be ready to "shelter in place" without receiving any follow-up information about access to medical supplies or staff in the event of injuries or effective emergency communication channels to obtain the information necessary to keep people calm and willing to stay put.
The government's directions about disaster planning seem to focus on people being at home where they can access modest emergency kits. But the likelihood of a terrorist event happening during the day, when students and families are in widely disparate places, is great. Disaster planning in this region needs to include supply and communication plans for the institutions where people are actually living, working and learning.
I was disappointed by the characterization of the National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Campaign in the Sept. 11 front-page article "Terrorism Could Hurl D.C. Area Into Turmoil." While references to "duct tape" seem to be great fodder for late-night television, they aren't a great educational tool for the public.
People can take steps to protect themselves. As we learned from Hurricane Katrina, they should have supplies to sustain themselves for at least 72 hours. They need to have a gallon of water per person per day in their household. They need to put aside nonperishable food, a first-aid kit, a battery-operated radio and a stock of personal supplies (such as prescription medicines). Although these steps will not keep Metro running, the power grid secure or the Beltway moving, they will enable people to survive the first hours and days of a disaster.
The regional campaign was in the works long before Katrina. Now that the vivid images from the Gulf Coast have caused many people to think about how they would respond in a similar situation, it is more important than ever that they heed the campaign's central advice: "Be ready. Make a plan."
JAMES LEE WITT
The writer heads a consulting firm that works on the National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Campaign and was director of FEMA from 1993 to 2001.