Tuesday, October 24, 2006


The RAND Corp. has released a study which proposes that the rebuilding process should not concentrate on restoring things the way they used to be but rather improving and restructuring the infrastructure to have the Gulf Coast better weather the next catastraphe.

The politically volatile option of closing flood-prone areas to redevelopment might do more to reduce death and property loss than building bigger and better levees and floodgates, a new RAND Corp. study concluded. The study released Monday also warns public officials to plan now to avoid a repeat of the breakdowns in regional infrastructure and services, including a disruption of first-response and public safety networks, in the event of another Katrina-like storm hitting the Gulf Coast.

And it warns that as the community rebuilds, the "inherent bias towards creating what used to be" could blind residents and public officials to better rebuilding alternatives.

The wide-ranging 66-page report, which examined four flood disasters around the world in an effort to find lessons for New Orleans, contains both short- and long-term recommendations and examines both preparation for floods and rebuilding issues.

"In the short term, you've got to realize that someday this kind of disaster is going to come back," said James Kahan, one of the authors of the report and a senior behavioral scientist with RAND, the Washington, D.C., policy think tank. "It may happen next year or in two years or five or 10 years. But you've got to have the infrastructure to deal with it, even if it brings another tidal wave and the levees break again."

These are all good points and citizens need to see that their elected officials follow-though on their obligations. That said, one of the authors, James Kahan, points out the obvious that throws spanner in the works:

"Some activities, such as evacuation planning, simply cannot be implemented on the fly," the report said. Kahan said the most difficult decisions will concern where people rebuild in Katrina's aftermath.

"You've got to have a place for people to live or you can't encourage them to come back," he said. "But if you just put people in the same old flood plain, the next time a similar storm comes, you'll have the same problems all over again, and you don't want that.

"Maybe you don't want to encourage a return for everyone who wants to come back," he said. "It's not an automatic decision. Their protection has economic and environmental consequences, and I think there's 100 percent agreement that what happened last year is not to be tolerated."

He realizes that with private-property rights, the government cannot simply tell people where they can and can't live. What can be done is to offer incentives for people not to rebuild in flood-prone areas. Use the carrot, not the stick.

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