When Americans think of “foreign assistance,” they usually think of us helping other countries. It is not always so. In recent years in dire times, other countries have tried to help America. The results have usually been haphazard and embarrassing. While such miscues and mayhem may be excusable for run-of-the-mill disasters, when real catastrophes strike, the consequences won’t be just an apology.

There are realistic “black swans” that could put America on it knees. All past calamities of the modern era, for example, would pale in comparison to the catastrophe caused by a successful high-altitude EMP strike. Other recent disasters – major urban blackouts, Hurricane Katrina and the recent earthquake in Haiti – also illuminate the daunting challenges of really big disasters.

It would be prudent for the United States to develop a reliable process by which to accept help from other countries when it is needed. A new research report, “Accepting Disaster Relief from Other Nations: Lessons from Katrina and the Gulf Oil Spill,” finds that although some progress has occurred since Katrina, the experience with the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico indicates that U.S. officials are still not taking adequate advantage of international assistance in responding to domestic disasters. The report concludes that America can, and must, do better.

Next steps should be to:

1) Revisit the GAO Katrina recommendations for improving consideration of international aid;
2) Modify the Stafford Act; and
3) Invest in planning for catastrophes.

  • Mike Kraft

    Good piece. We need to explore all avenues to strengthen our resiliency. May be lessons to be learned from the Christchurch earthquake where the New Zealand government, which is pretty sophisticated, has accepted assistance from other nations.