This week is filled with hurricane news. Harvey did a lot of damage, and Irma has been doing a lot of damage as well. This is being followed up by even more hurricanes.
Some say it is God’s wrath, and others say it’s climate change. However, the lessons of hurricanes can be learned from Hurricane Katrina.
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was honored Wednesday by the Mississippi Geographic Alliance at the University of Mississippi for his vision and also his amazing work after Hurricane Katrina. He wrote a book that came out on the 10th anniversary of the storm, “America’s Great Storm.” I went to Jackson for the award ceremony and re-read Barbour’s book. It has so much wisdom that it should be read by leaders who are working on hurricane recovery operations now.
My favorite piece of advice was from Gov. Barbour’s mother. She said, “Crises tend to bring out the best in people.” Barbour and first lady Marsha worked on the devastation left by the storm for days, weeks and months afterward. He learned many lessons from the storm, and he details them in his book. The elected leaders of Texas, Louisiana and Florida would gain much by paying attention.
I am a liberal Democrat who thinks the world of the Barbours. They didn’t care who brought aid to the Gulf; they just cared that aid was being brought. He said volunteers came to the coast to help and did it for the service to God: “What a wonderful perspective from these loving, giving, caring Americans! They had been sent to Mississippi to help others they didn’t know, yet these helpers felt they got so much out of the service. They wanted their spouses and children to have a chance to experience this uplifting opportunity to help people who needed it. … six-hundred thousand volunteers.” He also said: “In politics, there is no such thing as a permanent enemy. You never know whom you will need to help you or who will be willing if asked, not a bad lesson for life, either.”
Gov. Barbour did not forget about the service members who were in Iraq during the storm, and he visited Iraq in 2005 during the Christmas season. He could have stayed in Mississippi and would have been given kudos for being there, but he choose to make the trip to see the Mississippi troops who were serving in a far-away land. He said, “Throughout that day, I was struck by the number of men and women who had families back in Mississippi who were recovering from the devastation of Katrina, all of whom wanted to know details about their particular hometowns but who also felt a sense of duty to serve their country.”
This week, former Gov. Barbour outlined how America is stronger because of immigration, and he talked about the December scheduled opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the only civil rights museum developed with public money. Barbour secured the $20 million for the building and development of that museum.
He has talked about the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, and they are very relevant for today. He says:
- There is no substitute for preparation; no government is big enough to take care of every problem for everybody all the time.
- Someone has to be in charge.
- It is critical in a megadisaster for the leader to be visible, present and active. … People need you, and they need to know they can trust you.
- Make decisions, and know you’ll make some bad ones. When you recognize bad decisions, change them.
- There is no substitute for having a strong team around you.
- Americans are the most generous people in the world, and it is not just the rich who are generous.
- A crisis brings out the best in most people (which, as I indicated earlier, he learned from his mother).
- A strong, loving partner is a huge asset.
America is facing a tough remainder of the year with the recovery efforts following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. We need leadership, and we need the advice and counsel of people like Gov. Barbour and his amazing wife, Marsha. It is time to ask the “elders” who have been through those times to help with these disasters. As Barbour says, “Good policy is good politics.”
Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].