In February 2020, a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, resulted in a hazardous chemical spill that put nearby residents at risk. At the time, Pete Buttigieg was the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and was also a contender for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Buttigieg’s response to the disaster has recently come under scrutiny, and in a recent interview, he admitted to making mistakes.

First, let’s review the events of the derailment. On February 26, 2020, a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, a small town located in the northeastern part of Ohio. The derailment resulted in a chemical spill of a product called styrene monomer, a highly flammable liquid that can cause respiratory problems and other health issues if inhaled.

The spill prompted an evacuation order for residents within a half-mile radius of the accident. People were told to leave their homes and seek shelter at a community center. Over 500 people were displaced from their homes due to this evacuation order. The cleanup of the spill took several days and cost millions of dollars.

Fast forward to present day, and Buttigieg is now the Secretary of Transportation under the Biden administration. In a recent interview with the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), Buttigieg admits he could have done more in response to the disaster. “We didn’t fully appreciate the scale of what was happening,” he said. “I regret not having understood more fully the scale of the incident and its potential for harm.”

So, what exactly were the mistakes that Buttigieg made? And why are they important?

For one, Buttigieg acknowledges that he should have taken the situation more seriously from the start. He admits that he did not initially understand the seriousness of the incident or the potential risk to public health. In hindsight, it is clear that this was a major safety issue that required swift and effective action.

Additionally, Buttigieg also notes that he should have communicated with the residents of East Palestine more effectively. He acknowledges that he did not keep the public informed about what was happening and what steps were being taken to protect their safety. This lack of communication likely caused confusion and anxiety among the affected residents.

Buttigieg also admits to not having fully utilized the resources available to him. “We had resources at our disposal that we didn’t fully take advantage of,” he said. “I regret that.” In this case, it seems that better coordination with state and federal agencies could have made a significant difference in the response to the disaster.

So, why is Buttigieg’s admission of mistakes important? For one, it demonstrates a willingness to take responsibility for his actions (or inactions) as a public official. Too often, politicians are quick to deflect blame or point fingers when things go wrong. By owning up to his mistakes, Buttigieg is setting an example of accountability that should be followed by others in positions of power.

Moreover, Buttigieg’s admission of mistakes also shows a commitment to improving his performance going forward. As Secretary of Transportation, he now has the opportunity to learn from his past mistakes and ensure that similar disasters are avoided in the future. This should bring reassurance to both the residents of East Palestine and the American public more broadly.

Of course, there are still questions to be answered regarding the derailment and the response to the spill. The NTSB is still conducting an investigation into the incident, and it remains to be seen whether any other parties bear responsibility for what happened. But Buttigieg’s admission of mistakes is a step in the right direction towards ensuring that we learn from this tragedy and prevent similar disasters from occurring in the future.