Is Atlanta prepared for a disaster?

But if the scenario were real, what would be the city's response? Coordinated or chaotic?

About 200 leaders in government, business and the nonprofit community will gather Wednesday at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss ways to strengthen Atlanta's response to a major crisis, whether it's a terrorist attack or a tornado.

The Metro Atlanta Meta-Leadership Summit is the 15th in a series of summits across the country that began in 2007.  It's the first for Atlanta and the third for Georgia.

Partners include the CDC, the CDC Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"There's got to be a way to change how communities think about what it means to be prepared and how to be more resilient after a disaster," said Charles Stokes, president and chief executive officer of the CDC Foundation.

One need look no further than Hurricane Katrina to see what happens when response efforts aren't planned and coordinated, he said. As a result, officials struggled to evacuate people and provide water and food. Subsequently, issues arose around rebuilding efforts, restoring law and order, utilities, and housing.

"The result was that communities didn't recover very quickly," Stokes said.

He said communities have to work together to identify and fill the gaps in emergency preparedness. Governments, nonprofits and businesses can do "more together than we could ever do apart," he said.

Leonard J. Marcus, co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health, has traveled to Madrid, Spain, and London, places that have been hit by terror attacks, to study their response to multiple terror bombings.

"We cannot consider ourselves immune," he said.

However, Marcus said he's impressed with existing coordination among hospitals and first-responders in Atlanta.

It's better, he said, to build strong relationships between governments, businesses and nonprofits now than to exchange business cards in the middle of a disaster.

"We don't have a lot of experiences with terrorism," he said. "It would not be a wise thing to assume it cannot happen here."

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.