Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn got it right when he told NBC’s Willie Geist “This is when government matters,” after Hurricane Irma passed through his city.
It matters when government is prepared to lead. We honor and fully appreciate our first responders whose mission is to serve and protect us in the wake of disasters, both natural and human caused. We want and fully expect our governments — federal, state and local — to execute a coordinated and effective disaster response of immediate rescue and relief followed by supportive recovery and reconstruction efforts.
We hail the many heroes from government, the military, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and every-day citizens running full speed to aid those in distress. We are mobilized by the common call of our human decency to help our friends, neighbors and strangers in times of immediate need.
President Trump made the right call when he unequivocally ordered immediate national disaster declarations directing rescue and relief aid to the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. His focus was on saving lives, not what it might cost. It’s a call we should expect any president to make. Thankfully, it’s a decision made all the more easy because the United States has a well-prepared, expertly trained team ready to mobilize at a moments notice. A team long in the making years before Trump’s presidency. A team championed, created and funded by generations of forward thinking federal administrations, state and local governments, NGOs, and citizens committed to sustaining it year after year.
It’s a team comprised of weather scientists from NOAA and NASA who could rationally predict with a high degree of certainty the course and magnitude of the storms as they approached; of a network of seasoned news media skilled in broadcasting events as they unfold, and disseminating the government’s warnings alerting the public; of expert first responders ranging from FEMA to military units to local fire, police, and emergency medical services; of hospitals and NGOs fully prepared and ready to fulfill their missions of aid and relief; of faith-based organizations calling on their congregations to respond; and concerned citizens, like you and me, ready to answer the call to assist our neighbors in need. Our ability to respond is the value of time-tested responsible government leadership. It is born of commitment to collaboration and trust, and a willingness to partner.
Our natural rush to respond to disasters brings out the collective best in us to help each other survive and recover. It unifies us. Let’s capitalize on this unifying spirit to mitigate the occurrence of self-inflicted disasters. Disasters caused by how we may choose to negotiate international diplomacy; to send our military into harms way; to address economic growth and security; to understand science; and to enforce the rights and fair treatment of the abused and vulnerable. Being passive observers won’t do. We must rush to help our government focus on creating a common good that is meant for all of us. To avoid self-inflicted disasters our leaders must choose wisely, and choose our leaders wisely we must.
“This is when government matters.” This is why government matters. Government always matters.
Don Shaw, Jr., director emeritus of Hartford Habitat for Humanity, is writer and editor of the blog RedTruckStonecatcher.com