In response to the devastating crisis of Hurricane Katrina, the DSCEJ has developed a Public Policy Task Force for public engagement. Even as Katrina was sweeping away businesses, homes and lives, a steady stream of stark televised images of desperate and seemingly abandoned residents that flowed through the media, began to shatter many of the illusions Americans held about things associated with disasters. The first illusion to be shattered was that the government would always be there as an effective safety net for everyone in times of catastrophic disaster. It was a largely African American and often poor population that lived in the areas most vulnerable to the collapse of the levees that was unable to secure transportation for evacuation, and who was now scrambling in frightening conditions to secure scarce resources and aid for their families, friends and themselves. Both the impacts and the response to disasters, it seemed, were heavily affected by income and race. As reconstruction and rebuilding move forward in New Orleans and the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama Gulf coastal regions, it is clear that the lethargic and inept emergency response after Hurricane Katrina was a disaster that overshadowed the deadly storm itself.
If policies are not developed to protect vulnerable populations, there will be a permanent and systematic depopulation and displacement of African-American, other minorities and the poor in communities of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Extraordinary efforts must be taken by leaders and allies to effectively ensure the inclusion of environmental, public health, and social equity in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast restoration process.