Like much of the nation over the past couple of weeks, I have been tracking the events along the Gulf Coast with much interest. I’ve never lived close enough to the coasts that tend to fall prey to such calamities to have experienced their wrath directly – though I was close enough to brush some 70 mph winds from the last bits of Hugo in the early nineties. Unlike tornados, which seem to come from nowhere and disappear almost as quickly, hurricanes take time to build and to strike – and their destruction is likewise spread out over a much wider area and timeframe than most natural disasters.
Katrina was a different kind of disaster, of course. By now we’ve no doubt become mini-geographical “experts” on the unusual topography of New Orleans. More than that, the impacted area was unusually urban, which not only revealed a new class of disaster victims (and found them clustered in high concentration), it likely facilitated the subsequent coverage of their plight. Moreover, unlike prior hurricane coverage (was it just last year that Florida was forced to contend with FOUR?), the worst of Katrina’s damage unfolded after she passed (unless, of course, you were in some parts of Mississippi, which the media seems to find less newsworthy than the debacle in the Big Easy). Imagine the result if Katrina had hit New Orleans head on, as some models had projected fairly late in the process.
It is exactly that presumed ability to see “it” coming that has engendered so much criticism after the fact, of course. For all the much-vaunted disaster preparedness of the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and the federal government, when push came to shove, too many seemed to either have their hand out, or their fingers pointing (some, of course, had both). All in all, it was a shameful display, and stood in sharp contrast to the way the people of this nation have traditionally responded to times of trial.
Unfortunately, those of us in the business of serving retirement plans have our own Hurricane Katrina – the retirement of American workers. Like Katrina, our pending calamitous event is projected to hit an extraordinarily large proportion of the population at about the same time. Yes, we’ve been able to see it coming for a long time, and while we’ve developed countless versions of plans to avoid that potential disaster, one can hardly stave off a certain sense that when ours makes “landfall,” the results could make the situation in New Orleans appear mild by comparison.
The picture draws to mind the lyrics from the Led Zeppelin song (I know they didn’t write it, but it’s the version I know), “When the Levee Breaks”:
“If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break,
When the levee breaks I'll have no place to stay.”
Here’s hoping we are able to do something about it before it’s too late.
- Nevin Adams firstname.lastname@example.org