Learning from Disaster – Katrina and Beyond

Learning from Disaster – Katrina and Beyond

“We live in an age of disasters, but sometimes radical changes require a disaster as a catalyst to reform,” author Jed Horne told an audience of nearly 100 people Tuesday at UCF about recovery after crises and the new opportunities they can bring.

His work during the past 20 years as both an editor and reporter for The Times-Picayune, New Orleans’ daily newspaper, gave Horne first-hand knowledge of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

Horne’s presentation drew upon several historical examples, such as Katrina and two Japanese disasters, the 1995 Kobe earthquake and last year’s nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.

Disasters are a topic most people would rather ignore, Horne said. But they are inevitable and prior planning is imperative. Murphy’s Law, he reminded the audience – that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong – has value.

Even in cases where disaster strikes those who are not properly prepared, such as with the devastation of Katrina, the recovery process affords opportunity. “It is the chance to build on cultural traditions progressively.” After the hurricane, New Orleans entirely rebuilt its school system, something that might not have happened if the disaster not pressed officials to it.

There are also pitfalls in the recovery process, he said. While city planners often bear the majority of responsibility for disaster planning, the recovery includes multiple levels of government and non-governmental organizations. Acknowledging the challenge of numerous interested parties, Horne warned that too many reactionary policies are clouded by short-term benefits that may inadvertently degrade long-term growth and renewal. Even in recovery, planning is key.

When asked about the role of the news media in disaster recovery, Horne justified sensational  coverage. People should be upset, he said. “Memorializing great loss is the only way a community can heal from it, can learn from it, can grow from it.”

The event, organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office, was a co-curricular component of the UCF General Education Program Unifying Theme, “The Environment and Global Climate Change.” It also was part of the 2011-12 university-wide theme ”Covering Global Crises from the Frontline.”

In addition to the Global Perspectives Office, sponsors and partners included Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, the Orlando Area Committee on Foreign Relations, the Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship program, the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, the UCF Office of Undergraduate Studies, the UCF Nicholson School of Communication, the UCF Office of Diversity Initiatives, The Isle of Man Small Countries Program at UCF, UCF LIFE, the UCF Book Festival 2012 in association with the Morgridge International Reading Center, the UCF Political Science Department and the Global Connections Foundation