We must plan for the next time. The first step is clear: The U.N. needs to formulate an international response corps. This corps would be tasked with contingency planning for sites known to be at risk of natural disaster. It would ensure there is a coherent game plan capable of putting rescue teams on the ground in any country. And it would apply the same alacrity and level of organization we use when we have a military objective. No matter how good an ad hoc response is, it will never be quick enough to save lives in the first chaotic days of a catastrophe. There are many components to building a more effective response in the future, but advance planning is essential.

Rescue teams, water, food, medicine and tents have finally started to reach the Haitian people. But for far too many, help has come too late.