Stan West's inspiring testimonial is a great example of a family coordinated action that successfully saved a life [Just ahead of the storm, Viewpoints, Sept. 21].
As a former Oak Parker who now lives in the Washington metro area, I was saddened, shocked and horrified by how every level of government failed the people of the Gulf Coast and us as a nation. Poor souls passively and patiently waiting for the Big Easy, the Magnolia State or Big Federal USA to tell them what to do next. We, too, out of instant communication with our Gulf Coast friends, could no longer share with them a tip or a suggestion on how they might protect themselves from the chaos.
In the aftermath of the largest federal evacuation of Americans in this country (and, yes, they are "Americans" not "refugees," damn it!), let me share a few of my suggestions:
1) Information is power. Apparently, everyone seemed to have known about the fury of the hurricane and the weak New Orleans storm walls, except for those who didn't know. Have you ever thought about what it is that you don't know you don't know? Or what about those important facts that you think you know, but you are mistaken or naive or maybe your sources simply suck. My advice is to communicate more, share information in your household and with your community. Turn off the stupid TV programming (you pick) and turn on the news that makes a difference in your life! If none of the information you get adds up, continue to raise questions, get the answers and become the expert.
2) Prepare a family, school and workplace 3-day survival kit. Design a survival kit to fit your needs and remember that there are different types of natural disasters. Check the numerous websites that have survival kit lists or request one from your civic organizations, first responders or governmental agencies to determine what a family, school or business should gather. If you don't have time to gather a survival kit, you can order survival kits. The first time I heard about such preparedness was when I moved from the Midwest to Washington, D.C. Remember that you not only need a plan at your home, but your workplace and other places that you and your family frequent daily.
3) Volunteer in your community. Is there a chapter in your community for the Red Cross, the Salvation Army or such other organization that responds to disaster relief? If so, consider volunteering in advance with organizations that can build skill sets, help you stay informed and allow you to assist others (especially those displaced by Hurricane Katrina).
4) Create a survival plan for a wider network of people. Like Stan West did. Conversely, if your survival plan has something missing (like we're going to need transportation in the event that your driver is caught in the storm), create a reliable network of people to assist you.
5) Hug a first responder . I'm always amazed at the bravery and heroism of individuals who put their lives in harm's way to save others, like the Coast Guard or Army General Honore. Last week, I called and thanked members of my family, friends and others who serve in this capacity and, frankly, I don't think we thank them enough for the sacrifices they make.
So get your house, workplace and community in order and ask our elected officials to answer questions. But here's a few burning questions that I have:
Why is anyone calling Americans "refugees" when that term is defined on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website as "a person outside of his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion?"
Why were people sent to the New Orleans Convention Center and then locked in there without food and other provisions for days? More importantly, when will we build a universal social compact to avoid the devastating impact of another Katrina?
Patricia H. Lee is president of the National Institute for Urban Entrepreneurship, Washington, D.C.