The sheer size of the evacuation of New Orleans is astonishing -- assuming that 400,000 of the city's population got out on their own, that leaves 100,000 who could/should have been evacuated by other methods. To get 100,000 people out of a city and to a place two hours away would require 1,700 round trips by bus or 200 fully-loaded 747s. In other words, you have to start early.
With evacuees being scattered as far from New Orleans as Denver and Minneapolis, the exodus from the city will be one of the landmark events of the 21st Century. If we don't start establishing some of the lessons learned about disaster preparation from Hurricane Katrina, we're going to be in a big heap of trouble.
Reading about the problems in New Orleans from people on the scene really magnifies the incredible scope of the disaster. And it's not as though we haven't had previous experience with massive disasters. The Iowa Contingency Planners group has published a pretty considerable online library of disaster-response tools, and we here in Des Moines learned a lot about flooding and civil-works disasters during the Floods of 1993. Sometimes it's worth making plans for the absolute worst-case scenario.
Since we're likely to be welcoming at least 5,000 evacuees here in Iowa, we also need to ask ourselves what we're going to do to help these people find permanent housing and employment. If we're smart, we'll view it as an opportunity to make life better for those people -- and to welcome 5,000 new permanent residents.