Some thoughts about preparedness:
We in the LDS Church are continually (if not consistently) counselled to be prepared for disaster of any kind. I believe it's a rare General Conference that does not bring at least one mention of having, at a minimum, a 72 hour kit available for minor emergencies, and a full year's supply of food, clothing, and other necessaries in the event of a full-scale disaster such as Hurricane Katrina.
Talk is cheap, though, and countless members of the Church have far less supply than would be considered prudent for their potential needs.
I have (foolishly, perhaps) prided myself on the amount of storage that I currently have. Then I projected myself into a Katrina-like situation and realized: my storage is vulnerable. We live near a flood-control wash which once was the Santa Ana river. I'm not certain, but I believe the entire river channel is now concrete and probably has been for several decades. During the monsoon-like rains of last winter, that channel got dangerously high. Although my family and I were never in true danger, had the rains lasted just a few more weeks, we could well have been under a foot or so of water.
The thing is, we live in a manufactured home. Like many parks, ours has a limit on the amount of external storage space you can have, and I happen to have a fairly decent shed built next to the house. That shed is jam-packed with the usual assortment of garage-like items, and also houses our not-quite year's supply of food, and our 10-year's supply of hand-me-down clothing. (That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.)
If, heaven forbid, we should ever experience a Katrina-like flood, I would likely lose most if not all of that supply and be no different from so many other victims of Katrina. It's a very sobering thought.
Are there differences? Certainly. I would have been one to leave town as soon as it appeared that the storm was as dangerous as Katrina was forecast to be. I would have had the means because I've been blessed with a good job that allows me to get in a vehicle and move my family to safety. Yet, even in this land of wonder called Southern California, how many are there who are in precisely the same condition as those in New Orleans who were unable to leave a doomed city? I doubt if our own local officials have enough data to make even an educated guess.
We don't get hurricanes out here, but this is hardly a disaster-free zone. We have earthquakes. We build homes on hills that are found, after a good, hard rain, to be completely unstable. One dry fire season can put literally thousands of people out of their homes. We have not yet experienced "the Big One" that seismologists have been warning us about since I was a lad. We've come close, as with the Northridge quake of '94, but that one huge, well-placed shaker will make a laughing stock of all the seismic preparations we've made in this concrete jungle we've created out here.
Am I prepared for a "big one?" Of course not. No one can truly ever say they are completely prepared for such a thing. There's no way of knowing whether I live in a relatively safe zone, or whether my home sits on top of a hitherto unknown fault that happens to be key tributary of the dreaded San Andreas. They're discovering new ones all the time.
This is where the principle of obedience comes into play. Through his servants, the Lord counsels us to prepare. We've lived in this area long enough to know, generally, what we prepare for. If a large earthquake hits our area, we will hopefully at least be able to dig through the rubble of our little shed and avail ourselves of our storage. We would probably feel a need to share those supplies with others, some of whom would likely have little or no storage of their own. And that's the way the Lord intends it to work. If I have been obedient to the call for preparedness, my family will be cared for. Even if, for some reason, my own storage were inaccessible, our obedience would mean we would be cared for by others. We would then rebuild our own stores in preparation for the next event, where we would hopefully be on the giving end, rather than the receiving end.
I cannot sit in judgement of how any given area responds to a disaster like Katrina. Certainly there appear to be egregious mistakes in leadership, and thouands of families and individuals simply were not in a position to prepare themselves for what is now expected to be a months-long evacuation. But from the warmth and safety of my home today, this is arm-chair quarterbacking at its worst. My duty as a fellow human is to do what my family and I can do for the victims, and try to provide for their relief. Somehow. I applaud those who will take the initiative to physically go and help. My own family's needs and challenges prevent me from doing that. But we can (and will) still help.
We will donate to a fund as we will be directed - probably today - by our Church leaders. I trust the Church's humanitarian system because they always deliver. I will then present myself and my veins to the American Red Cross at one of their blood collection centers, or at a blood drive that very likely will be organized by our local Church leadership. I will continue to pray and donate as much as I am able until those people are, at least, out of harm's way.
Then, and only then, will I return to a discussion of what happened, what went wrong, and how to fix it. In the meantime I need to re-inventory my storage. I'm probably short.