We've all heard the term a zillion times. But what does "homeland security" mean, really?Since 2001, when the phrase became part of our everyday vocabulary, homeland security has been shorthand for preventing, and responding to, terrorists. Now Katrina has struck in New Orleans and in Mississippi. (Click here for a list of ways you can help.) The results, in terms of lives and property lost, are in the same catastrophic class as 9/11.But the government's reaction has been underwhelming, Eric Tolbert, FEMA's former disaster response chief, tells Knight-Ridder (via TP). "Weakened by diversion into terrorism," he says.
Federal flood control spending for southeastern Louisiana has been chopped from $69 million in 2001 to $36.5 million in 2005, according to budget documents. Federal hurricane protection for the Lake Pontchartrain vicinity in the Army Corps of Engineers' budget dropped from $14.25 million in 2002 to $5.7 million this year. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu requested $27 million this year.Both the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper and a local business magazine reported that the effects of the budget cuts at the Army Corps of Engineers were severe.In 2004, the Corps essentially stopped major work on the now-breached levee system that had protected New Orleans from flooding. It was the first such stoppage in 37 years, the Times-Picayune reported...The Army Corps' New Orleans office, facing a $71 million cut, also eliminated funds to pay for a study on how to protect the Crescent City from a Category 5 storm, New Orleans City Business reported in June...[I]n the 1990s, in planning for a New Orleans nightmare scenario, the federal government figured it would pre-deploy nearby ships with pumps to remove water from the below-sea-level city and have hospital ships nearby, said James Lee Witt, who was FEMA director under President Clinton.Federal officials said a hospital ship would leave from Baltimore on Friday.Hopefully, Katrina will trigger a larger conversation about what it means to keep America safe. Maybe funds for coping with natural disasters won't be so hard to come by. Maybe some of those billions taken out of flu and TB research can be reinstated. Maybe we can have a more have a more honest assessment of where risk really lies.