There are no atheists in a foxhole, the old adage goes. As first Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma have unleashed catastrophic damage on the southern United States, the lesson of recent weeks is that there are no libertarians in a flood zone either.
These disasters remind us of the indispensable role of government in modern society – a role we too often ignore or denigrate.
As the hurricanes approached, the National Weather Service, an agency of the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, issued forecasts and warnings about the storms’ paths and likely dangers.
As stormwaters flooded large sections of Houston and other cities along the Gulf Coast, state and local first responders worked courageously to rescue stranded residents and motorists. Cities coordinated shelter operations and food distribution. The Federal Emergency Management Administration led the recovery efforts, provided emergency housing for tens of thousands of displaced residents, and coordinated disaster assistance funds for those who suffered property loss and damage. Congress has already authorized $7.9 billion in emergency federal relief for areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, which is just a fraction of total recovery aid that could exceed $150 billion.
In none of this does government act alone. Nonprofits, faith-based organizations, businesses, and individual citizens and neighbors have all contributed mightily to rescue and recovery efforts. But we still count on government as the central partner – including for safeguards put in place long before the disasters struck.
For one example, federal and state governments invest substantial resources in emergency preparedness programs for health care facilities and other critical services. In Texas, these programs helped establish emergency medical task forces that dispatched ambulances, personnel, and equipment from across the state. A federal rule stemming from Hurricane Katrina required…