My friend Dan Rothschild has been live-blogging Hurricane Ike from Houston and today he has his first impressions of the recovery effort in today’s New York Sun. He directs the Gulf Coast Recovery Project at the Mercatus Center and reports that Houston, so far, is avoiding the top-down errors that plagued the Katrina recovery:
Because city and county governments are doing what they should do — enforcing the law, sharing critical information, and making honest assessments of the status and future of public services — they have cleared the way for the private sector to respond effectively. By yesterday morning, all local grocery chains had reopened at least some of their locations, and their trucks had made it into town and were busy resupplying. This would have been impossible if the city had been locked down, or if employees had been prohibited from coming to work.
Stressing that people should use their judgment rather than trying to freeze movement, officials have created space for what reports indicate is an incredible — and uncoordinated — response by people clearing streets and storm drains. The official attitude that recovery is a grassroots effort, of which government is just one sector that plays a supporting role, means that recovery is already underway, and people don’t have to wait for officials to draw up (and eventually fumble) a complex, top-down plan.
The private sector is playing a crucial role in sharing information. Citizen journalists have been liveblogging events as they unfold, the television and radio stations are sharing information called in by normal folks about grocery stores, gas stations, and hardware stores that are open. Indeed, the press has been a vital conduit of information throughout the process, as they were after Katrina when New Orleans radio host Garland Robinette famously stayed on the air throughout the storm serving as the only instrument of fact over a cacophony of official fiction.
Dan’s just a few miles away from my parents, who are currently without power or running water. They ran out of fresh food this morning and will be on to peanut butter and canned goods from now on unless they find a local fast food spot open for business. Luckily the house survived without major damage, but they say they’ve carried about 30 trash cans of debris from the yard already. They’re flying out to Little Rock for a pre-arranged trip on Friday.