Individual preparedness is the front line of national preparedness. As the political class debates "who dun what," in an effort to sort out mistakes after Hurricane Katrina (logging as many political points as possible), YOU better take responsibility for yourself and your family's welfare.
Civil Defense efforts since WWII ensured a significant level of preparedness at the local level. But Civil Defense preparedness waned at the end of the Vietnam era (the great malaise), and by the end of the Cold War, local, state and federal government agencies no longer pre-position large emergency-relief inventories.
So, at a time when the nation was becoming more dependent on centralized food, communication and energy distribution networks, particularly in fast-growing urban areas, local, state and federal government ready response inventories dwindled.
Though catastrophic events like Hurricane Andrew and the 9/11 attack on our nation a decade later sounded alarms about our lack of preparedness for such events, efforts to correct those deficiencies have largely focused on central government preparedness rather than preparedness at the local and state level, (local and state agencies in Florida being the exception).
It was for this reason that New Orleans' EMA plan called for all residents seeking shelter in the city to bring three days of provisions with them. They didn't -- most of those residents, unfortunately, expected "the government" to take care of them.
Government agencies, under ideal circumstances, will likely not be able to meet even minimal needs for days or possibly weeks. Depending on the nature of the catastrophe, the government must activate its resources (military primarily), and those of major relief agencies and thousands of contract providers, and surge response and recovery efforts to a level sufficient to meet emergency provision needs. (<%=site_refdomain%> posts an excellent resource page "Recommended Action Plan" with all you need to know about emergency preparedness measures for yourself and your family -- link to <%=site_refurl%>/useprpc/.)
While Hurricane Katrina heavily impact coastal Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the greatest number of people displaced by the Hurricane were from New Orleans. Thus, it is worth reviewing the failure of emergency management chain of command for NOLA.
In other words, all responsibility for proactive preparedness and reactive response recovery begins at the local level. If response and recovery fails because of a lack of preparedness, then a crisis can become a catastrophe, as was the case in New Orleans, and every responding agency above the local government is tasked with cleanup.
The chain of command notwithstanding, individual preparedness accounts for why most residents of New Orleans evacuated and survived. A lack of individual preparedness is why some residents did not. The bottom line -- be prepared.