The same folks who brought you the post-invasion chaos of Baghdad and the post-hurricane debacle of New Orleans are the same folks we must rely on to deal with bird flu. As ABC so succinctly put it, "It could kill a billion people worldwide, make ghost towns out of parts of major cities and there is not enough medicine to fight it. It is called the avian flu."
Run for the hills!
Or maybe what we need is to invest in developing neighborhood-based response stategies that could allow us to cope with a variety of different local threats. At the first organizing meeting, put together a list of local residents and all of their contact information. If the communication infrastucture survives, you can use it to get the word out and also to quell rumors. If our landlines and cellphones die, we can also go on foot around the neighborhood with updates. Make sure to collect information on people with special needs.
Next step is to identify a safe refuge within walking distance. The basement of a school, the township hall, the community center. Pitch in to stockpile food, water, blankets, flashlights, batteries and all those other things we will need if something goes wrong, whether it's a blizzard, a tornado, an epidemic or a terrorist attack of one kind or another. Put someone smart and organizing in charge of developing the checklist and seek local donations.
Then we need a response plan to get people to the refuge, while identifying fallback options. Make sure that volunteers conduct periodic dry runs to make sure the plans work.
I would be overjoyed to find that my local and state officials, as well as FEMA, have it together. But I do not want to bet my life and my family's life on it. In most cases, the challenge is to get through the first few days. That persuades me that it's time to get to know my neighbors better. How about a potluck to get started?