Opinion

Americans are a generous people

by Don C. Brunell
President, Association of
Washington Business

Too often today, we hear too much about what is wrong with America and its leaders. It has become a feeding frenzy. The massive national news media with its army of reporters and commentators look into every nook and cranny to find the latest screw up.
We are left wondering, do we do anything right? The answer is yes.
Americans are an altruistic and compassionate people. We give generously to those in need at home and around the world. Our nation continues to be the beacon of hope for millions of families who want to come here for a better life.
We are the first to respond and one of the few countries which can mobilize a massive relief effort quickly.
The example that sticks in my mind is on Dec. 26, 2005, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the west coast of Northern Sumatra, Indonesia, triggered a tsunami a series of giant waves that inundated coastal areas of Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia, as well as Indian Ocean islands and parts of East Africa. Both the American people and the U.S. government responded with massive support for the people swept up in this terrible tragedy.
Twenty-five ships and 94 aircraft were immediately deployed and people saw images of Navy helicopters from the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier (home ported at Everett) dropping food, water and essential supplies and hoisting victims from flood ravaged areas. Within a single 24-hour period, the U.S. military delivered 2.2 million pounds of relief supplies, including 16,000 gallons of water, 113,000 pounds of food and 140,500 pounds of relief supplies.
President Bush provided $350 million in immediate aid. By Feb. 9, he asked Congress to increase the U.S. commitment to a total of $950 million. He dispatched former Presidents Bush and Clinton to lead a worldwide campaign to provide relief.
One of the reasons it worked so well is that the military was in charge. We have the best equipped and supplied forces in the world and they train for disasters continuously.
Conversely, people point to the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina and talk about a monumental failure. It wasnt Americas finest hour. It was a disorganized nightmare between federal, state and local government officials, all of whom couldnt wait to hunt down a gaggle of reporters to point the finger at someone else. Theyd forgotten the old adage that when one points your index finger at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you.
The silver lining in the Katrina disaster shows up in the lessons learned and applied recently in Washington.
When the Pineapple Express inundated the west coast in early December, we saw flooding of biblical portions. For example, Bremerton received nearly 13 inches of rain in 48 hours.
While Katrina was an example of how local, state and federal officials failed in their coordination and response, the western Washington flooding was an example how the system should work.
Military helicopters from throughout the west coast immediately swarmed the area, rescuing people. Even some TV news helicopters got in on the action. Immediately, local, state and federal agencies mobilized and restored power, water and transportation networks. The huge body of floodwater plugging I-5 in the Centralia-Chehalis area was drained and the roadway repaired. The freeway, the main north-south artery between Vancouver, BC and San Diego, opened in a few days.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was widely criticized for the Katrina failures, was here quickly with aid to people and businesses. People throughout Washington immediately donated money, food and clothing. In fact, the donations were so great that in some areas they overwhelmed relief workers.
The point is, while some people and businesses are still reeling from the flooding, the coordinated government response and the generosity of Washingtonians especially are something to be very proud of this Christmas.

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