I've spent more than my fair share of airtime complaining about the uselessness of the Emergency Alert System - how it wasn't activated on 9/11, or the time it accidentally ordered a one-hour evacuation of the entire state of Connecticut, or how it failed to suggest any course of action (or even mention the word "flood") when the Delaware River swamped towns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey last spring.
But you have to hand it to the EAS' partners at the National Weather Service for their warning on Hurricane Katrina. As the storm headed into the mainland, the agency offered this assesment to broadcasters in three states:
"Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer. At least one half of well constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail leaving homes severely damaged or destroyed. The majority of industrial buildings will become non-functional. Partial to complete wall and roof failures is expected. All wood-framed, low-rising apartment buildings will sustain major damage, including some wall and roof failure. High-rise office and apartment buildings will sway dangerously... a few to the point of total collapse. All windows will blow out. Airborne debris will be widespread. Power outages will last for weeks as most power poles will be down and transformers destroyed. Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards. Preparations for evacuations and relief should be rushed to completion."
The message is a rare glimmer of government competence in the sea of ineptitude that Katrina and its aftermath became.
Alas, that is not how Senator Rick Santorum saw it. Santorum introduced legislation (Senate Bill 786) which would make it illegal for the National Weather Service to issue such warnings, putting control of weather forecasts solely into the hands of private companies like Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather, which just happens to be a Santorum donor.