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Katrina response

2005-09-02 19:51:41.374262+00 by Dan Lyke 20 comments

I'm not going to pile on to the "response to the New Orleans disaster could have been better" bandwagon. One of my grandfathers' life's work was emergency response, I mentioned before that at 84 he was sent his "Fireman First Class" certificate, he worked with various New York agencies and the Red Cross in public safety and disaster planning.

When we last talked before his death, one of the concerns he had with one of the planning groups he was involved in was a storm surge scenario that could cause devastation in parts of Long Island similar to what's currently being seen in New Orleans. There are vulnerabilities everywhere, in hindsight there will always have been shortcuts that "should not" have been taken, money that "should" have been spent, and there is some potential disaster looming over right where you live that you are not prepared for.

And risk versus reward calculations are a tricky thing.

That having been said, the Department of Homeland Security offers as one of departmental realignments that it is tasked to:

  • Improve National Response and Recovery Efforts by Focusing FEMA on Its Core Functions. FEMA will report directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security. In order to strengthen and enhance our Nation’s ability to respond to and recover from manmade or natural disasters, FEMA will now focus on its historic and vital mission of response and recovery.

Well, yes, it seems that adding another bureacratic layer of political patronage and graft above FEMA was a bad idea. Go figure. Hey, eighty billion bucks a year spent on "no fly" lists and whiz-bang security technology which doesn't work doesn't make us safer. Whoah. So contact your elected representatives and tell 'em that you prefer programs that work to political posturing.

And then make sure that you've taken care of yourself. Figure out how you're going to get water if everything goes to hell, and if you're in coastal plain that means either reverse osmosis or stockpiled water. Make an emergency plan; both Charlene and I have target locations in the event of something going bad and communications going down, hers involves her job so that makes that part both easier and harder. Have some extra canned food and dry goods in the cupboard. And just because of where we live we've got a couple of gallons of gas stashed that we rotate through as we get low, this isn't always possible to do safely.

Finally, just as we're hearing reports of tourists who were told not to evacuate before the storm arranging their own evacs, and then having those vehicles commandeered, understand that what the authorities tell you is a guideline. My years of swift-water experience have taught me that with a little bit of experience and caution my own judgement is as good or better than most police or rescue people. Use their commands as information in making your decision, but don't assume that their judgement is better than yours, and sometimes you have to say "yes, officer", and then do the right thing anyway.

And if you're in a place where the cops have been notoriously corrupt for decades, then, yeah, assume that they'll be looting too.

[ related topics: Politics Food Law Enforcement Hurricane Katrina ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-02 21:12:35.300475+00 by: Dan Lyke

Okay, I said I wasn't going to pile on, but this one's just too rich to ignore: Robert Siegel (of NPR) interviews Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. Wow is Chertoff clueless, and whatever chain of command that appointed him needs to be disassembled and destroyed, link by link.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-03 06:25:33.115843+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

piling on is fun, ain't it?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-03 17:07:18.537466+00 by: Dan Lyke

I don't know if "fun" is exactly the word I was looking for, maybe "cathartic". The American Red Cross says:

so while the inciting incident is clearly an act of nature, it's sure looking like someone's engineering the subsequent disaster...

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-03 18:12:07.913042+00 by: DaveP

They started engineering it before the storm hit. They're now chartering sixty buses to evacuate people, but this picture raises a question, as does this news story. If an eightteen-year-old-kid who's never driven a bus before could successfully evacuate 100 people, how much more could have been done with those 100+ buses that were left parked?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-04 04:54:20.357694+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

Yeah, my flippancy not-with-standing, I'd like to go commandeer a bus.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-04 05:13:21.946867+00 by: DaveP

It's even worse. There were enough buses available to the Mayor to get everyone out from the Superdome in one shot. Start reading this weeks post at the junkyard blog and just get angrier and angrier as you go.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-05 02:52:39.790492+00 by: meuon [edit history]

Hindsight is 20-20, and ya'll have barely a clue how screwed up both the New Orleans 'society' was/is, and the political morass it created. Looks like I'll be experiencing a lot of it as 4 kinfolk are moving in with my Dad for an unknown period of time.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-05 19:06:16.888762+00 by: Dan Lyke

As I watch the vastly different reports I'm getting from various different resources, I'm having this tremendous feeling of being played. Everyone is pointing the blame somewhere else, everyone is trying to keep their political careers intact, and everyone is trying to leverage this to their advantage.

Here's a Katrina response timeline that looks worth a read in trying to suss out the who did what, and when.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-06 03:14:15.880045+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

Dan, I read the whole thing. Then I read the comments.

I'm not that interested in which politician did what. I want to know why volunteers are being turned away.

It seems that FEMA is turning away able-bodied volunteers.

It looks like they're assisted in their efforts to reject help by the Dept of Wildlife and Fisheries.


#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-06 10:45:31.160546+00 by: jeff [edit history]

From Brian Williams, NBC News:

"In a strange way, the most outrageous news pictures of this day may be those of progress: The palettes of food and water that have just been dropped at selected landing zones in the downtown area of New Orleans. It's an outrage because all of those elements existed before people died for lack of them: There was water, there was food, and there were choppers to drop both. Why no one was able to combine them in an air drop is a cruel and criminal mystery of this dark chapter in our recent history. The words "failure of imagination" come to mind. The concept of an air drop of supplies was one we apparently introduced to the director of FEMA during a live interview on Nightly News on Thursday evening. (Watch Brian's interview with FEMA Dir. Michael Brown from Sept. 1.) He responded by saying that he'd been unaware of the thousands gathered at the Convention Center. Later that evening an incredulous Ted Koppel on ABC was left with no choice but to ask if the FEMA director was watching the same television coverage as the rest of the nation."

This sums up my fury and anger over this disaster. Obviously, at an individual level, many people are working hard to save lives. Obviously, the local and state governments could have planned better. However, it didn't take a rocket scientist to understand very early on in the tragedy that there were (2) locations where people had massed. I simply knew this by watching various news media outlets.

I don't give a "rat's ass" if a few people were taking potshots at helicopters. 50,000 people (at least 3 orders of magnitude more) were peaceful and starving for food and water, and the ability to supply them with both was obvious to me and millions of Americans who followed this tragedy on television.

Where in the hell does our government get its supposed "intelligence?" How simple does it get? You make airdrops of food and water to two locations where people are massed. That alone would have alleviated a good portion of the misery and at least some of the unnecessary death. It would have also mitigated a public relations nightmare for the Bush administration.

Both Mike Brown (who previously was fired for legal work done with an Arabian horse consortium), and Michael Chertoff need to be unceremoniously fired from their posts in OUR government. FEMA and "Homeland Security" better get their "act together" before another major natural disaster strikes. Or before terrorism rears its ugly head. Heads need to roll from this one.

Of course, this also begs the classic question of do we choose to produce "more guns than butter?" We've diverted more than $200B to Iraq, rather than to necessary projects here in the homeland.

#Comment Re: I have not followed this closely.... made: 2005-09-06 12:00:19.993684+00 by: BC

but I have to attribute the terrible missteps to; no experience by many who Bush has appointed to these important positions and no resources due to our misallocation to Iraq. Lastly, and I hate to say it, but beyond the political price that will be paid, I think Bush and his crew could care less about these people, they are nobodies, from their perspective.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-06 20:54:47.471029+00 by: Diane Reese

You are 100% on the money, BC. When the FEMA directorship becomes a political crony position and someone with zero emergency response experience wins the prize, innocent people do suffer. (No need to drive the Iraq point into the ground: from the standpoint of money, National Guard troop strength, and materiel, it's an absurd cowboy adventure.) The next steps are going to all come down to a matter of economics: what are we going to do with our limited national coffers? Let's propose a nationwide ballot measure: Iraq or New Orleans? (And yes, I *DO* think it ought to come down to either/or like this sometimes. We can't always do all things well all at once. Setting priorities is an important part of growing up.) I'd love to see how the results of that vote get manipulated.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-07 01:51:46.319045+00 by: meuon [edit history]

I am almost at the Zen level where I know enough to know I know nothing about Katrina and the resulting subsequent multiple disasters.

Still, I thought this says things that need saying well:

An Unnatural Disaster


People living in piles of their own trash, while petulantly complaining that other people aren't doing enough to take care of them and then shooting at those who come to rescue them—this is not just a description of the chaos at the Superdome. It is a perfect summary of the 40-year history of the welfare state and its public housing projects. The welfare state—and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages—is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans. And that is the story that no one is reporting.

And yes, his viewpoint is remote and distant. In recent conversations with kinfolk with as first-hand experience as you can get (they are on their way to Chattanooga until they can get back into Violet LA and parts south of New Orleans and see if they can rebuild) they say similiar things, but not as politely.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-08 02:10:20.005705+00 by: baylink

I'm hoping that all the pilers on will help me acquire some traction for a Lessons Learned collection I've started at katrinahelp.info:


Please: Share and Enjoy. :-)

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-08 03:56:50.1226+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

meuon: I wasn't there, but I lived in NOLA for 10+ years. My friends are in NOLA, and my inlaws are in NOLA.

The people in the superdome/convention center weren't all refugees from public housing and public assistance. Many of them were homeowners (albeit poor ones).

How is this breakdown any different from any other city where the leadership and police force have a long and sordid history of corruption?

Blaming the victim is easy. And there is some truth to it, in this case. But the problem in NOLA is bigger than those who have nothing. These are people who grew up in a city whose leadership had a history of betraying the citizenry.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-08 11:55:41.688478+00 by: meuon

Mark, your point, how corrupt and ineffectual the government was/is is yet another aspect of the mess down there. Looks like it's getting better as others move in to get things done. Some kinfolk showed up at Dad's late last night after filling out lots of FEMA paperwork in Memphis. I'll probably get an earful or two of more aspects later.

Side story: A couple of college kids from Lake Charles LA, friends of Nancy's son, were in the 'dome. He proposed to her (his girlfriend) in the SuperDome, and as they were being bused to Houston, stopped not far from Lake Charles - and was able to call family and get them to pick him up.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-09 14:58:17.514185+00 by: Dan Lyke

Two more timelines, I want to compare these with http://rightwingnuthouse.com/a...09/04/katrina-response-timeline/ since they come from sites with very different philosophies:

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-09 20:32:19.571992+00 by: jeff

It looks like one of the people who deserve blame has been removed from the scene: Mike Brown. There is a lot of remaining blame to be thrown around.

Hurricanes are fickle. Sometimes they strengthen; sometimes they weaken. They often change course. Nothwithstanding his other deficiences, within an hour (and I believe within 15 minutes), New Orleans mayor Nagrin ordered a mandatory evacuation of the entire city of New Orleans ONCE Max Mayfield publicly declared that this storm could lead to a "significant" loss of life. I know; I was following this event very closely from the outset.

This indeed was a "once in a lifetime storm" for many. We can, and should learn a lot from it.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-11 02:55:57.137041+00 by: meuon

Mark, Dorian and Caleb showed up today... and will be staying in Chattanooga while they figure out 'what when where' next is. He see the whole thing in very personal terms, for very good reasons.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-09-11 14:07:17.89225+00 by: meuon

Talking and emails from a couple of people today who are working with the displaced in Chattanoga summarized: Those who were already in the system and knew how to work it, are better off now than they were before, the working class that took care of themselves for a while and are now starting to look for assistance are finding little left for them.

The other interesting comment I heard was that the drug dealers are doing record business and prices are way up. A lot of that crowd's never had $2k in their hands at once.