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By: Bill Shankle

The hurricane and subsequent disaster on the Gulf Coast revealed a deeper problem in America, aside from lackluster leadership and inadequate response. The media showed us the outward tragedy, with plenty of blame to go around. But the inward destruction, which was inevitable, remains invisible.

America is our home, a mansion with a first class address, and third world plumbing and wiring. Today I drove to work in air conditioned comfort along clean, dry roads, needing no detours to avoid looters and thugs. Americans down south wallowed in a filthy muck (toxic? We'll let you know) trying to tiptoe through snakes, lunatics with guns, dead bodies, and probably by now, impressment gangs.

Being typically human my compassion is eventually replaced by my usual number one concern - me. And the knowledge that the next disaster on the roulette wheel of calamity could place me in the same straights as the unfortunates down south, facing conditions that would tax the weariest Sudanese refugee.

This time, what we depend on, America's infrastructure, failed us. Buildings, levees, water, gas, electric, phone - all failed us. The basics of life were swept away by a hurricane everyone knew was coming. That's the definition of third world in the dictionary. What good is your cell phone if it's inoperable during an emergency? A high tech flashlight? The Superdome is an engineering marvel 30 years old, built to withstand winds of 200 MPH. Why did the roof blow off? Why did a building designed to service 80,000 people degenerate into a hovel within hours of housing a third of that? How safe would you feel congregating there? I'll take my chances in my home. Levees built 150 years ago. Everyone from the Army Corp of Engineers, to the Times-Picayune, to your Aunt Sally knew there were more leaks than fingers to plug them. The Dutch, for example, who live in the shadow of the North Sea, were mortified flooding of such proportions could occur in the "western world." Welcome to Ameristan.

How many state and local administrations sat on their hands, hoping, instead of preparing, that the disaster would be the next guy's (woman's) problem? Think your leaders are any more prescient? The failure of things, left us with the depressing knowledge than when disaster strikes, we are truly on our own. If we can't count on the infrastructure during a crisis, then panic and looting will become the norm during emergencies.

New Orleans and the surrounding area will be rebuilt, but if it's not done smartly, it will only be a face life for a cancer patient. Look around your corner of the country, and consider what needs updated - utilities, bridges, tunnels, tornado shelters - and let your elected officials know this a priority. Ask why the utilities have been pocketing enormous profits for years instead of updating equipment. Question why buildings recently constructed at public expense are more decrepit than the 2000 year old Coliseum. Insist local authorities have a modern communication system that will work when it is needed most. Above all else, let those in charge know they will be held responsible for all incompetent failures. And make sure the person directly responsible for emergency assistance has a better resume than playing with Arabian Horses. They may be fine animals, but I've never seen one coordinate a disaster response.

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