|IKE LEGGETT for Montgomery County Executive
4401 Dustin Road – Burtonsville, Maryland 20866
September 22, 2005
Contact: Sue Shoenberg
Written for the September 2005 inaugural issue of
by Ike Leggett
My heart is saddened by the Hurricane Katrina disaster that
has hit especially hard in my native Louisiana. While waiting
with concern to hear about the safety of relatives and friends,
I mourn the losses sustained by New Orleans, a place so integral
to my life and the soul of Louisiana. But as a lifelong
government leader and educator, the human suffering that was
clearly avoidable especially haunts me.
I believe that it is the duty of local, state and federal
governments to help the most vulnerable to protect and recover
their lives; this takes thorough planning for and educating
those least able to help themselves. In areas likely to be
flooded, the poor were unprepared to get out safely despite the
dire consequences of not evacuating.
Along the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline we are
witnessing many of the death-causing errors that humans made.
Regulations allowed mobile homes to be sold and inhabited that
could not withstand high winds or were sited in flood plains.
Funding was insufficient to shore up the levees, even when
experts said they would likely be breeched by a heavy hurricane,
and the barrier islands were allowed to erode. Then unreasonable
assumptions about how to evacuate the disaster area left the
poor with few reasonable options. To add insult to injury, these
vulnerable people received instructions to check their websites
when they had no computers. They were told to leave the city,
but many had no cars or money for gas and no ability to pay for
Besides the sickening general devastation of the Gulf coast,
it has been wrenching to watch starving persons hanging onto
their rooftops, women in labor unable to reach delivery rooms,
and debris on the roads preventing trucks from delivering water
to the thirsty. These harsh scenes are the results of inadequate
Some leaders in Washington claim that rebuilding New Orleans
is not worthwhile. That inappropriate reaction has been
discouraging to those who have fled from a vital city, the
heritage of which is grander than the sum of its bricks and
mortar. Such statements could also embolden those thinking about
attacking our country. For the sake of our citizens and for our
culture we must rebuild. America should demonstrate to the world
that we are well equipped to meet the challenges of marshalling
resources both for fighting terrorism abroad and for repairing
our damaged coast at home.
Federal, state and local governments should refine and
rehearse their operational plans to ensure feasibility. Our
leaders must obtain public support and the necessary tax dollars
to deal with low-probability, but deadly events such as Katrina.
They must go beyond focusing unduly on the problems-of-the-day
to assure that long-term public safety is a priority, even when
it is not the popular or easy thing to do. Our leaders will have
to overcome public inertia and resistance to providing the
necessary investment for future emergencies.
Then we have to better educate the public about the range of
resources and coordination needed for emergency communications
in several languages, for food, health care, transportation
equipment, family placement, financial arrangements, and debris
removal as well as reconstruction. Further, building community
cohesion would help to discourage much of the unlawful behavior
that occurred in New Orleans such as arson and sniping at law
enforcement officers, who have heroically stuck to their jobs
despite the dangers.
I believe that Montgomery County is better prepared than most
communities to respond to various emergencies. While we have not
yet faced an obstacle as monumental as the Gulf coast-type of
disaster, we have had our share of ice storms, downed power
lines and severe wind damage, even some flooding, with adverse
ramifications for our entire region. However, we have to be
ready to deal not only with natural disasters, but due to our
proximity to the nation’s capital, also with acts of terrorism
that we hope never to see.
Bright spots amid the coastal tragedy have been evident.
Non-profits, individual entertainers and large businesses have
put on fundraising drives and collections of goods, and I hope
that everyone else will help in some way. We have all heard
heartwarming stories of the many people who have aided their
neighbors or who have opened their homes to those who now have
none. People have come from all over the nation to help, and
many nations have offered support. I am particularly pleased
that members of the Montgomery County Urban Search and Rescue
team, our firefighters and others of good will have been able to
help save lives of people trapped in flooded homes. This
outpouring of support reflects the core values of a nation that
prides itself in helping those truly in need.
Overcoming Katrina will be a long-term project. Improving
emergency response will require the active attention of our
community and nation for years to come.
A former County Council President, Ike Leggett is a candidate
for Montgomery County Executive.