Sunday, November 06, 2005

Staring in the Rear-View Mirror

The military has this saying, that you have to be careful you're not just preparing for the last war. What that means is simply to look forward, not back, when planning for the future.

For the good citizens in uniform, that means don't assume the enemies of the future will use the same weapons and tactics of the past. Technology, politics, economics, even cultures change with time.

Put another way: You'll never get safely to your destination if all you do is stare in the rear-view mirror.

I hope we keep this in mind as we rebuild New Orleans and South Louisiana. Yes, Katrina was a bitch, and Rita was her wicked sister, but they're not the only threats to our homes and neighborhoods.

For the past few weeks, I've been hearing a lot of talk about building higher levees and raising houses. And that's nothing but smart coming out of what we've just been through.

But is that all?

No doubt that if my house had been about 8 feet higher I'd be a much happier man. No doubt that if my neighbors were likewise elevated we'd be waving to each other across the lawns instead of emailing each other from two, three, four states apart.

But if that's all we do, if we just build higher and quit there, I'm afraid we'll be prepared for Hurricane Katrina only. And I think we all know that Katrina will never come again.

Hurricanes bring more than storm surges; they also bring high winds. Katrina knocked out a lot of windows from high rise buildings and tore shingles from rooftops across the city, and she wasn't even all that strong.

If we're going to rebuild smart, it's got to be not just higher, but stronger. We've got to design our homes and businesses to withstand destructive hurricane-force winds.

Right up front, we can look at roofing and see if there's a way to improve the performance of roofs. A quick look down any street in town at all the blue roofs should give us a clue as to how poorly our roofing systems perform even under minor hurricane force winds.

And what about shutters? They've become a joke in all the newer neighborhoods. Most of them are just color-coordinated vinyl bolted to the brick. Again, recent hurricanes like Cindy and Katrina really didn't blow too hard on our town, but one day a 160 mph monster will come through, and we'd better be ready. We should have actual, functioning shutters on every new home, and we should encourage same on all existing homes when they renovate.

These are just a couple suggestions to consider as we rebuild our city. Everyone's talking about rebuilding smarter and better. I just hope we're smart enough to not just protect ourselves from the last hurricane.

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