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Why Governors Need to Watch the Weather Channel

With the unprecedented horrific hurricanes hitting Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico in just the last weeks, we’re reminded of a conversation we had some time ago with one-time Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. It seemed to be particularly timely in the wake of these devastating hurricanes, and so we thought we’d share it.

When Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was about to take office in 1999, he went to the National Governors Association’s “New Governor’s School,” and sat next to then-Governor Zell Miller of Georgia. Vilsack had one big question to ask his seatmate: “What are the one or two things I should focus on? Should it be health care? Should it be jobs? Should it be education?”

As Vilsack recalled in his conversation with us, “Governor Miller said, ‘Son, emergency management. I guarantee you that within six months something is going to happen in your state and if you don’t handle it well it won’t make any damn difference what you do in health care or jobs or education.”

Vilsack took Miller’s advice, and when the state was hit with a huge tornado three months later, its leaders handled the situation in a coordinated, capable way that saved lives and property damage.

This isn’t the kind of story that people need to hear today. But when this onslaught of horrific hurricanes, and other natural disasters, has passed, and there’s the potential for months to pass without another, it’s entirely too easy to forget.

That’s a bad idea.

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