Natural or man-made, disasters can be frightening, chaotic, and tragic events. In these events, nurses play a fundamental role in response and patient care. In our series, “Nursing and Disasters”, prominent voices in the field give voice to ensure that all nurses are personally and professionally prepared for a disaster.
Halloween 2005, Sandy Rosenthal of New Orleans decided to take action about myths circulating post Hurricane Katrina of August 29, 2005. One of the main myths that she and son Stanford, addressed was that New Orleans area residents understood the risk they faced from hurricanes and were not wise in their choice for living there.
Sandy is the founder of Levees.org, an organization devoted to educating America on the facts associated with the 2005 catastrophic flooding of the New Orleans region. The challenge of fighting myths is especially difficult for events surrounding that disaster “because over 100,000 families were displaced from their support base and could not collectively confront the myths and misinformation that dominated the media after the flooding," according to Sandy.
“Furthermore, since much of the levee failure evidence was covered up when levee breaches were sealed, the investigators had a difficult time ascertaining the causes. It wasn't until 2008 that federal investigators were truly able understand the depth and breadth of the disaster. And of course, by that time, the American people had long ago turned their attention elsewhere.”
Sandy is hopeful. “I believe we are making strong headway in busting this myth. After exhaustive review we pointed out that no one ever warned that the levees could break. But what sealed the coffin on that myth was probably the devastation of New York City in Hurricane Sandy. No one raised the question on whether NYC residents should return home” (Huffington Post).
Facts are among the earliest casualties of any disaster, and Hurricane Katrina was no exception. Through persistence and patience, Sandy and Levees.org continue to point out errors in the media. “Initially, the media treated me as a lone person with some interesting things to say,” she recalls. “It took a full year to get the attention of the New Orleans Times Picayune. Soon afterward, the Associated Press began to report on our work. Eventually Levees.org began to be considered by the media, as an influential group, but only after several years.”
Levees.org has over 25,000 supporters and satellite chapters in five states, including New York, Florida, Oregon, Illinois and Missouri. Sandy credits success to that persistence, stubbornness, and willingness to trust and utilize help from professionals who offered pro bono assistance. Among the many, media expert Ken McCarthy, civil engineer H.J. Bosworth Jr, water expert Mark Davis, computer software expert Stanford Rosenthal, lobbyist Vince Pasquantonio, and lawyer Mark Surprenant.
“By embracing and implementing the advice of experts, we were able to further the reach of our message and attain remarkable success for a group of our small size and limited financial backing.”
At Levees.org January 2006 kick off rally, Sandy declared, "We shall not stop until the truth about the New Orleans flood becomes mainstream knowledge."
Sandy notes, “We get closer every day, and currently are working on several projects, including our quest to list the site of the 17th Street Canal breach site to the National Register of Historic Places. I anticipate that by the 10th anniversary of the flood, we will be significantly close to the vetted facts becoming mainstream knowledge.”