With the apparent push to build more nuclear power plants, I think we really need to over-haul our emergency response plans and most importantly the operational structure used to respond to major disasters. This includes both man made and natural disasters. With the experiences of Katrina and the BP blowout, we can see how multiple layers of government and overlapping jurisdiction with respect to administrative agencies hinders a fast and effective response. I am also concerned about the apparent philosophy that in the case of man made disasters it is the private sector that is allowed to "run the show". Does this mean that if the Davis Besse Nuclear Plant near me has a serious accident I am supposed to trust my utility company to coordinate emergency response efforts? The same group that painted over rust streaks dripping down the reactor dome?
With the multiple layers of government - city, county, state, and federal, there is a great deal of confusion and inevitable political tensions. We saw this during Katrina and are currently seeing it in the gulf. Disasters become fair game for political posturing. I am not taking any side here, but it does come into play.
Especially in this current oil leak crisis we have seen the very agencies designed to protect us and the enviroment - EPA, OSHA, NOAA, ACOE - cause unnecessary delays in response. This is further complicated by state agencies with over-lapping jurisdiction. Skimmers sitting idle in port waiting for EPA clearance and an Army Corps of Engineers that takes weeks to make any decision are two examples that come to mind.
On the man-made disaster side of things, we need to look closely at those industries that pose a disaster threat and be sure regulations and emergency plans are realistic and complete. For example, in the event of another oil spill or blow-out the number of skimmers, booms, aircraft, and tankers able to respond, along with a time frame, need to be established. Material and equipment, like replacement well caps, need to be in place and on the ready. Contracts for the material and man power need to be in place with pre-approval from the various government agencies. For example, dispersants were used during the Exon Valdez spill and the same questions about there safety was asked then. Where is the science and why haven't we learned anything? In short, when it comes to emergencies we can't just "wing it"
These events require swift response with clear direction and jurisdiction. The leader of our federal response team must be able to make decisions on the ground in real time and have the authority to cut through red tape and overlapping levels of government as well as emergency powers to compell private corporate parties to act according to his/her directives. Along with this authority comes responsiblity and accountability and perhaps that is what the politicians fear - both sides of the isle.
The time for closely examining the threats we face from man and nature and developing realistic, detailed plans to deal with them is past due. The next disaster is in the making. Will we be ready?