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Homeland Security Official: A Disaster is an "Unexpected Event"

The need for Americans to manage their expectations of how well the government can respond in the event of a disaster was a consistent theme struck by Department of Homeland Security official George Foresman in his interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep this morning.

Below are some telling excerpts from the interview, beginning with Foresman’s response to questions about the insecurity of levees around Sacramento, California, and how the state’s 30 million residents would fare if their source of drinking water is cut.

SI: “Does the federal government or someone have a plan to provide drinking water to 30 million people?”

GF: “Well, I think it’s not just simply the federal government, and the real question is do we have an … approach which allows us to deal with the potable water issues for 30 million people – and the simple answer is yes. But at, at the end of the day, is it going to be implementable overnight? – and the answer is no.”

SI: “You seem to be encouraging people to lower their expectations a bit, to essentially acknowledge that if a disaster happens, the government will do what it can – there may be some successes – but a lot of people are going to get hurt.”

GF: “Well, and I think that’s the nature of a disaster. We don’t have warehouses full of material within an hour of every community just waiting to respond to any disaster. The American public have to manage their expectations because a disaster is just that – it’s an unexpected event.”

SI: “And just to put a point on this, you’re saying that part of the solution to the problem of resiliency is to acknowledge that you’re not all that resilient?”

GF: “That’s right, unless there’s a dramatic change in the way people feel. People are not going to be willing to pay for a whole bunch of assets to sit at the ready every minute of every day, and frankly, we would spend ourselves into oblivion.”


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