Progress for tomorrow: Preparing for the next disaster
BENJAMIN: I think we have equated disasters with inevitability and confused the fact that what we're trying to prevent. While we may not be able to prevent a disaster - although to some degree we might we can mitigate it substantially. You know, a disaster is not the time to be exchanging business cards or coming up with new solutions, and you need to do that up front. And so, we often do what we always do with disaster plans. We write great plans and we exercise those plans in a variety of tabletops and nice things. But we never really figure out how to integrate them in the real lives of people. And we continue to learn those lessons over and over and over again, and then we do after-action reports, and there are lots of dusty after-action reports all around this country, which have never been implemented into plans. They've never been integrated into reasonable solutions, and that has to do with accountability, and again I think, this sense of inevitability that - well, you know, this bad thing happens; it'll be terrible, but we'll get over it. Well, sometimes you don't get over it. And one of the things that we saw from Katrina is that the health status of the people that were evacuated from that continues to erode. And so, you know, we can do better and we should.
HEALY: Would you say that we've had a lot of discussion about the pandemic. I mean, it seems to be the issue that people are seeing as perhaps one of the more imminent disasters, something that has a unique characteristic, and that is, theoretically, no one would be spared. I mean, it's not just going to be a certain high-risk area, if you're on the San Andreas fault or if you're in the hurricane zone, or if you're in a neighborhood that's likely to flood. But this is something that touches everyone. Why isn't everyone exercised about it?
BENJAMIN: I think people are exercised about it. If they're reading about it or they're seeing articles in the newspaper about it, it's worrisome. But it's complicated for them to figure out what they can do personally. I think we had two speeches today about the importance of community planning and people taking things on their own, but that's important - and I think all of us in the room, it's mom and apple pie - we all agree - but there are some things without which the local plans will be relatively ineffective. If we have no vaccine, if anti-virals aren't going to get there for a couple of months, if we have no technical guidance for how to prevent the spread of disease because there are only a few people in the federal government and a few local health departments who are smart enough to be able to think through these things, if the information sources like after anthrax 2001 are so poor, then people aren't going to know what to do and their plans won't be useful. I think we all would agree with the comment that if you believe the federal government is going to come in and bail out your community, then you're tragically mistaken, all agree, but I think we also all should agree that any community that gets no external assistance is going to be tragically forsaken, essentially. People can't bootstrap this entirely on their own. And so, I think people - there is a sense that the federal government is doing all that it can. People are going to pitch in. But it's not prescriptive enough. That advice, you've got to plan on your own, I don't think that's prescriptive enough to get people energized and on the streets planning.