An Ounce of Advocacy

When disaster strikes, governments often rely on nonprofits and businesses to pitch in with relief efforts. But making up for the public sector's shortcomings is neither an appropriate nor effective use of the private sector's strengths. Instead of mopping up after government failures, nonprofits and businesses should lobby governments to focus more on disaster mitigation and less on disaster relief. An ounce of the private sector's advocacy would be worth more than a pound of its response.

For years before Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the Gulf Coast, scientists, engineers, and journalists warned that New Orleans’ levees might not withstand the inevitable “Big One.” Yet government officials at every level ignored the warnings and cut the programs designed to fortify the city’s defenses. So when disaster finally struck in late August 2005, government agencies were woefully unprepared to deal with the devastation.

Into this breach waded nonprofits and businesses. The American...

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