Monday, September 05, 2005

Arrogance…

Is that what it is? Or, is it just that we like to ‘stick our heads in the sand’ believing’ that somehow, the problem will be avoided, averted or not actually materialize?

I’ve been watching the reports coming out of Louisiana, Mississippi and surrounding areas for a while now. While it’s obvious there has been a massive movement of equipment, materials, supplies and manpower to the area, what’s not so obvious is that there’s any sort of cogent plan in place to utilize all the resources at hand.

I read that New Orleans had run a disaster preparedness drill about a month before the storm hit, and yet, the magnitude of the storm, and the materialization of the worst fears of the planners seemed to have stunned the agencies and also their efforts subsequent to the storm.

Unless you've lived through an actual disaster, where everything you've known, come to rely on, people, places, resources, is wiped out over night, it's very difficult to understand the extent of the impact. The local rescue workers, and when I say local we're talking about folks from an area of 1,000's of square miles, have all lost homes, friends and family members. How difficult would it be for you to jump in and know exactly what to do at a time like this?

There are a lot of folks jumping on the ‘Blame Bush’ bandwagon. I’ve heard him blamed for virtually everything that’s gone wrong there. From the fact the levies weren’t high, or strong, enough, to the fact that not everyone in every shelter was evacuated. He may be to blame for some things, but the fact is, 'Katrina' is to blame for the mess, no one else. We humans seem to think we can 'control' nature, we can't. About the best we can do is attempt to prepare for it, and then do our best to recover from the effects after the fact.

It’s pretty easy I think, to sit in our air conditioned living rooms and point a finger at the recovery efforts, spout off about what we would have done, what should have been done, or how the plans were flawed in the first place.

It’s a disaster area; nearly every single evaluation of the destruction that’s occurred there has included some reference to it being of ‘Biblical Proportions’. The coastal area of Mississippi has been leveled, as in totally destroyed, over an area over 250 miles long and 2 to 3 miles wide. Power outages and significant damages are spread over a much wider area.

What we’ve been seeing, over the past several days is triage at work.

For those of you who don’t know, "triage" is defined as:
  1. the process of sorting victims, as of a battle or disaster, to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors.
  2. the determination of priorities for action in an emergency.

If you think about the expanse of the damage and devastation, the near total destruction of infrastructure (including major traffic conduits) in many areas, it takes some time to evaluate the actual situation and begin to direct activities appropriately.

In this situation, as hard as it is to watch, the folks already in shelters are not the primary focus.

Initially the rescue workers have to determine safe routes in, and out of, the area, While it might be safe to drive a car, van or light truck over certain roads and bridges, driving heavy equipment over those same routes could be disastrous for heavy equipment and troop carriers.

Communications have to be established, command posts, local government liaisons, essentially, in this case, an entire temporary infrastructure. It takes time folks. It can not be done over night, at least effectively.

Plans must be drawn up to begin searching those areas that are accessable for survivors, as those who may have survived, and are not already in a shelter are the 1st priority.

We’re beginning to see now, what appears to be a much more organized rescue effort. Everyone is being removed from the worst hit areas. The levies are being repaired, and once that’s done the pumps will be turned back on and the water removed from New Orleans.

When the water’s gone, those areas that were submerged will be searched, bodies removed and the areas secured.

I suspect, that once that initial pass through is complete (and that alone could take weeks) a decision will be made as to the disposition of those buildings, homes, businesses. Some may be deemed habitable, some uninhabitable, and many will be deemed unsafe and will be torn down without the owners ever being able to return before that’s done.

This is, in my opinion, very likely to become far more tragic, before we begin to see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

Why didn’t the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, the country as a whole, do more to protect the citizens there? In short, it boils down to money. The cost of preparing for a ‘worst case’ disaster like this was probably deemed to have been ‘too high’. The odds of it occurring were small, and the elected officials, at every level determined taxpayers would not foot that kind of tax burden.

We all do similar things in our personal lives. How many of you have flood insurance? It’s available to nearly every home/business owner, but only about 1 in 20 actually has purchased it (including me). Why? Cost I would imagine. Flood insurance can cost as much as, or more than the Homeowner policy you already have, and unless you live in an area known to flood, why spend the money?

Could the Gulf Coast region done a better job of preparing for this type of disaster?

Certainly.

Would everyone who was asked to shoulder a portion of the cost, that didn’t live in the immediate area complained about spending money to prepare for something that had ‘never happened’ and 'might never happen'?

Most likely.

We’re at half time here folks. We got it ‘handed to us’ in the first half. It makes no sense to look back and say ‘what could have been done’… it’s time now to look forward, deal with the damage done, decide what needs to be done and get everyone back in the game that is capable of playing.

One of the things I love about this country is the way we all pitch in and do what we can in times of need. States all over the country are sending money, people, equipment and supplies, offering housing, and other services, to displaced residents.

One of the things that always saddens me though is all of the ‘second guessing’, by the politicians, the media, and even us ‘regular’ folks while all of this is in play. In my mind, this is the time to get ‘on the team’, do what needs doing, make all the efforts we possibly can to get that area back on its feet, until that job is done.

Then, ‘after the game’, when all the facts are in; when what went right, went wrong, or could have been improved on, is known, that’s the time to re-evaluate the over all strategy ‘pre-game’ plan. Not now while so much needs to be done.

We simply don’t have all the facts, and neither does the media. The folks with the facts, well they’re too busy doing what needs to be done, to be talking to us, or the media right now!

Anyway… the point of all of this, is, let’s just do what needs to be done, now. Later, months from now there will be plenty of time for finger pointing, name calling and appointing an ‘unbiased’ commission to investigate the entire matter. For now, let’s just get in there and get the job done.

Let's let the folks on the ground there determine what is the best course of action, for the situation. We can disect their decsions later.

25 comments:

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Firehawk said...

Bill,

All good points. The sad fact in this era of the "War on Terror", though, is that if it doesn't have something to do with terrorism, it's chance to get proper funding is not so good. The funding to do upkeep and improvement on the levies around N.O. was decreased by 80% in recent years. I'm not saying that this funding could have made everything okay. Everything's never okay when a category 5 hurricane comes around. No one person can be blamed for the initial effect of the hurricane. I don't think the people in the local area should be blamed for their difficulty in marshalling their resources or finding a unified plan.

The fact that is troubling is that the President elected to go to California on a fund raising venture rather than being in the theater of operations for the relief effort. I also think this reveals how thinly stretched our National Guard troops are. I don't like the idea of playing a tragedy for political gain any more than the next person, but I think all the politicians who spent a lot of time getting their faces on the television could have helped more by immediatly nationalizing helicopters all along the eastern seaboard and sending them down there. I'm talking about the first day.

It's easy to Monday Morning Quarterback, to extend your analogy, but I think there were some serious errors made. It turned out that all the poorest people in the area were the ones that took the brunt of the storm, being unable to evacuate. It's a tragedy, all the way around. All we can hope for now is that no one who's still alive dies needlessly due to insufficient rescue efforts.

In the end, there are no "Natural Disasters". This is what nature does. The disasters occur when we get in the way. It's true that we can't plan for all the worst-case scenarios. There isn't enough money lying around for that. If you live in hurricane alley, though, there's always that chance. Let's hope that the relief effort is well-run from here on out, and that there's no more suffering than there must be.

No_Newz said...

I also read that report and thought, how didn't they change things? Disbelief is all I got left.
Thank you for all of the car help the other day. I'm still leaning toward the computer. Mr. Lane says I'm nuts. :)
Lois Lane

Whit said...

On one of the news channels the other night a commentator asked a Coast Guard rep why there were still people needing to be rescued. He explained that since Katrina had hit, that they had rescued MORE THAN 10,000 people -- which translated into about 100 per hour. They were going as fast as they could, as safely as they could. He also said that boats were not available earlier than when they hit because there was NO WHERE TO DROP THEM. Because everything was so flooded, they had to be dropped (they had been airlifted) north of the city and then driven down because there was no place to land them because of the flooding. The fact of the matter is, it is a terrible NATURAL disaster. And for those criticizing the efforts, I would like to know what THEY have done to assist? This is time to pull out the phrase -- Don't be part of the problem...be part of the solution. If all these folks who knew so well how to address the situation would start putting their 'expertise' in practice instead of exchanging it with one another, to hear them tell it, New Orleans would be back to normal by now. (This is a little bit harsher tone than I usually take, but I am so tired of hearing what an awful job our government has done...strike that...what an awful job BUSH has done.) For those who are sacrificing time, money and resources to assist in the effort -- keep up the good work and thank you! For those who can only criticize and say it can't be done, please move out of the way and make room for the folks who are doing it.

Beth said...

I don't get into blaming people for natural disasters. I don't understand those who do.

panthergirl said...

Yes...but. The media managed to get in there. To rescue people. While Katrina is responsible for what happened (although the flood walls did fail, even though what hit NOLA was category 2 and not 3, which they were supposed to protect against), there was clearly no leadership in the aftermath. Not local, not state, not federal. Nothing.

This was something everyone knew was coming. How the hell are we supposed to believe that the "Department of Homeland Security" could possibly react to an unexpected attack or event?

This is a shameful time for our country.

Bill said...

Firehawk - I think, that what's escaped most of the observations is the scope of the devestation. The real problem with New Orleans was originally building a city, belwo sea level in "hurricane alley"... the rest, was probably inevitable, sad, tragic, but inevitable all the same.

I read today where Kuwait has pledged $500 Million dollars to help with the recovery efforts, Qatar another $100 Million... Seeing that part of the world, step up, is something I never thought I'd see.

I just hope the efforts help build better lives for all those effected.

Lois - Keep me posted on the car... I chased a problem similar to yours for quite a while, 'til I swapped out the 'puter. In retrospect, it is hard to believe not more was done, "pre-storm". Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call to all coastal areas prone to hurricanes.

Whit - Thanks for adding what you've learned... Everything I see, beyond the 'gloom and doom' reporters tells me there are massive efforts, by everyone involved to do everything possible, as quickly as possible, safe;y. Your info also points out the logistics of getting 'people moving' equipment to the hardest hit areas, it's just not simple.

BTW, your tone is fine, it's an emotional issue, for everyone.

GK - We humans, or at least the ones I know, seem to want to have a reason, and for someone to be responsible, for everything. Maybe it's because we live in times where so much is explained, maybe it's because we all work for finger pointers... Maybe it's just our nature.

What I do know is that knowing "who's fault" it is, is rarely ever a step towards actually solving a problem.

Firehawk said there aren't really natural disaters, that it's just what nature does, and he's 100% right. For millions of years nature has been reshaping this planet.

The best we can do is recognize that, prepare as best we can, and then help one another put things back together once the storm has passed.

I'll join Whit in thanking everyone who's out there, doing what they can to help. Keep up the good work!!

There'll be plenty of time to critique the overall rescue and recovery efforts, once the crisis has passed.

Bill said...

Panthergirl, I understand your point.

However, the media, in my opinion, is part of the problem. The fact that they got to the superdome was no big deal. Those folks aren't the ones who 'needed' to be rescued. They were already in a shelter, not the best conditions, but a shelter all the same.

Many areas are unreachable, except by air, and despite the wonderful abilities of the helicopter, they don't move large quantities of people, 6-10 at a time. These people need to be moved not simply a couple of miles, but I'm guessing 20-30 or more miles to get them to an evac shelter.

It's logistics, and staggering ones at that. While there may, in the final analysis be a number of ways this could be better managed, I'm holding off my decision on that until all the information is in.

As for what the levies should have withstood, and didn't, again someone made a design decision many years ago, and obviously something about the calculation was wrong, at least where the levy failed.

So who do you think we should blame for New Orleans being built, below sea level (and below the level of the Mississippi) while surrounded by water?

Personally, I'm thinking the 'blaming' gets us no where closer, but possibly further from, to helping these people and these areas.

Master of None said...

Bravo Bravo Bravo. I could not agree with your points more. I make it a point not to air my political views--even though this is not, it will be perceived by some as--in my blog, and have resisted saying the same thing.

As a native Mississippian, it pains me to see the pain and suffering there. It also pains me to see partisan politicians exploit the situation into political gain and name calling WHEN THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE IN A CESSPOOL OF WATER AND TRAPPED IN ATTICS. Equally as bad are all of the media folks who are sensationalizing the breakdown of communications and are doing their part to spin this into a political battle rather than saving people.

Bill said...

MON - Thanks. Like you, I promised myself I'd stay away from political, and religious, discussions here as I've found the 'net' is not a place prone to rational discussion of these topics.

I can already see, despite my attempts to 'extract' politics from this discussion, that for some folks it's a very tightly bound issue.

Regardless, thanks for voicing your support, I'm hoping that eventually at least one, or two of the rescue workers will stumble across this and realize that at least some folks understood that the problem is far greater than we can really comprehend from afar.

jenbeauty said...

It took too long Bill. You are logical and trained and could see what needed to be done. More people like you from the outside should have been ready for this. I personally think the Governor of LA failed miserably. It has been a full 7 days to finally see more of a cohesive plan put together. It leaves you wondering what other cities will plan after this. The way I see it, each and every city needs to devote some thought and effort into evacution planning and be in alliance with other surrounding cities and states to help. Relying on the Federal Government all the time is not necessarily a good thing.

Nina said...

Well, it seems to be in our nature at least here in America to place blame. I read an article today that stated the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana.
So when our government wants to place blame . . . something is wrong, very wrong.
Things did go wrong, and New Orleans was turned down for matching federal funds to repair the levees. They shouldn't have been . . . and for years to come our government needs to find out why? We all need to learn from this. You are right now is not the time.
Mississippi was hit and there is damage there too . . . Mother nature was and will continue to show us her power, just the way it has always been.
So when these officials said that Mr. Bush and his political aides rapidly changed course in what they acknowledged was a belated realization of the situation's political ramifications. It truly saddens me . . . that the White House Enacts a Plan to Ease Political Damage. People need to not place blame, just as the White House shouldn’t either. They need to not worry about political damage . . . and worry about the human need. Because that need is going to be great for a long time to come.

Bill said...

Jen - I don't know as I agree with the 'it took too long' statement, I just don't have enough information to make that call. I know that often, the FD would get 'critiqued' for how long it took us to arrive, and set up at a scene.

But it takes, the amount of time it takes, given the situation and what you have to work with. Unfortunately every situation is slightly (or drastically) different.

You may be 100% right, I just don't know. It was 10 days after the Tsunami before there was a confrerence on how best to get aid to the victims... and that was despite a lot of 'stuff' showing up, and starting to be distributed, within days of the event.

Nanina - I also agree with you, no one, especially not the White house should be placing blame anywhere at this point.

I have to believe that everyone involved, at every level wanted, and wants, to do the right thing and as quickly as possible...

As for the federal funds... 1000's of projects a year get turned down for 'matching funds'... a result of there simply not being enough money for everything, everywhere...

In retrospect, it probably wasn't a good place to cut... but then again, (to play devil's advocate) why should you and I be paying for a problem that's local to New Orleans?

I sincerely hope that once the immediate crisis is over, and we begin to reclaim the areas hard hit by Katrina, that we, as a nation will hold a critique of what went right, and wrong here, and in the end, make our response the next time better, in every way.

I'm a firm believer we can always improve, by studying our previous actions, or inactions.

Nina said...

Bill, I see your point about "why should you and I be paying for a problem that's local to New Orleans?"

I don’t have a good answer to that . . . other than growing up on an Indian reservation and being taught that America is ours to take care of, not just our little part of it.

I am not that political so I don’t know who decides what, and I am sure alot of it is, if we knew then what we know now . . . I do know I wouldn’t want the job of deciding who needed what and where said money should go.

The cost we will pay now for New Orleans and learning from this experience, will hopefully improve some of those policies.

I too am a believer we can always improve, by studying our previous actions, or inactions.

jenbeauty said...

I definitly see your points Bill. I guess what I am trying to get across is that your simple basic plan was better than what seemed to be taking place. FEMA just did not seem to respond at all. Seemed that a lot of spin was taking place.

I keep seeing those police officers, local FD/EMT and keep thinking "what about them, what about their families" they needed the relief as well.

Bill said...

Nanina - For what it's worth, I think the philosophies of the Native Americans were far better than most of is accepted today.

Actually, wasn't it more a the 'planet' is ours to care for?

I was also playing the 'dark side', it's not my personal philosophy... I certainly wouldn't want to fund a "New Orleans" scenario from scratch today... but, given it's already there, we need to get it right.

Jen - I understood what you were saying, and thanks... I guess my point is, when it all finally comes out, I suspect we'll find (or at least I hope we find) that it was the process that took some time, not an inability to do anything.

In some cases, doing 'something' can be worse than doing nothing.

I really want to thank you all for joining in here, and discussing this with me in a calm, and amazingly rational way!! This is a very emotional issue, for me, and I'm sure for all of you... This kind of discussion helps me think through things far better than any other method I know!

I knew I had the best folks in blogland stopping by here, this conversation is just a perfect example of that!!

Y'all are just the best!!

Whit said...

I just heard something that chapped my fat to no end...
There was a comprehensive evacuation plan IN PLACE in New Orleans for an event greater than a Cat3 storm. Many elements of it were never put into place. In the plan, THE MAYOR had the authority to activate many of the action items. That doesn't mean that other items could not have been done better, faster...whatever, but it does beg the question about the severity and the depth and breadth of the devastation if preventative measures that could have been taken -- that were outlined -- were not.

Also, I have a double-edged question: Are Mississippi and Alabama having these same problems? If they are not -- why not? If they are -- why are we not hearing about it?

Nina said...

I guess American Indian philosophies are more about "Our Mother the Earth" when we are talking about the planet. But America holds a special place in our hearts. As this is home . . . and the people here are our family. It isn't that we aren't taught to care about all people . . . but living on a reservation is a small world all it's own.
Yesterday I met a woman whose grandfather came from Italy. She has never been there. I found myself telling her that I wish that some of my family had come from somewhere else because I would go visit . . . everyone there laughed. But the truth is home for me is America, because my Ancestors have been here from recorded history. So while I try to care about all people, those in America hold a special place in my heart. Not sure if I made any sense in explaining this. LOL

Comfort Addict said...

Good post, Bill. Since you have some experience with fire fighting, I was waiting for your point of view on this topic. I agree with a lot of what you said. However, I think that we can't absolve the policy makers of responsibility. They appear to have had their chances to do something to mitigate this possibility for nearly a century now and they haven't done it.

I think that a lot of people are blaming Bush because he is a perfect symbol of the callous insensitivity to the poor who were so severely affected by this tragedy. It reminds me, strangely, of Marie Antoinette (“let them eat cake”). Poor people don't have the same means to evacuate as middle class people do. Therefore, they were sure to be disproportionately affected by a crisis that called for evacuation. Under these circumstances, what did the policy makers do to provide a means to massively evacuate the poor? Nothing. Bush’s Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, exacerbated this by dismissing as rumor an eyewitness report of people without food or water at the convention center. He simply told them to get to staging areas (again, Marie Antoinette).

I understand that catastrophes are beyond our control. However, to me, Katrina has exposed to the clear view of anyone who cares to look a fact of life in today’s America that is at least unpleasant and at most immoral: the life of a poor person (in particular, a poor person of color) doesn’t matter as much as the life of a middle-class person. As disturbing as all the Katrina stories have been, this is the most disturbing of all.

Bill said...

Whit - The more I read, and watch, the more I'm learning about actions and inactions... It's looking to me like we'll see the aftermath of Katrina change the way we prepare for, and react to storms in the future. As for the other states, I'm wondering that too... as we're not hearing about it... I'm thinking things are going a bit smoother there, but maybe not.

Nanina - It made sense to *me*... I was referring to the 'Mother Earth' concept, but did not mean to infer that we shouldn't be concerned about, or care for, those at home first! I've just always respected the beliefs and teaching of the Native Americans. That's probably because they're more in line with my personal philosophies, regardless, I think there's a lot to be learned in the way they're structured.

CA - Not much to dispute in what you've said. The poor, not only in this country, but everywhere, suffer the worst in any catastrophe. They're least able to care for themselves, make alternative arrangements and so on.

That said, the wealth, or color, of a survivor doesn't matter much to rescue workers. If you notice we all look pretty much the same when wet and covered in mud.

Another fact of life, that no one likes to mention, is that the poor will always be disenfranchised, and, there will always be someone at the poor end of the spectrum.

I've been at both ends of the spectrum, poor enough that I had to worry about my next meal, wealthy enough that I didn't have much to worry about at all. You are definitely among the 'forgotten' at the bottom end.

Katrina may have exposed that, but she won't change it.

There will always be the really rich, and the really poor, with the rest of us existing somewhere in the middle. The best we can hope to do, is our part to ease the suffering of those we can, to expect that someone else, or the government, will do it, in my mind is pointless.

-------------

There's a ton of 'good' coming out of all this y'all... and a ton of wrong as well...

I heard some facts yesterday, that indicate there were some real problems, up and down the chain of command... I'm working up a post on that for later today.

Thanks again for the wonderful insight, candor and rational 'talk' on such an emotionally charged issue.

Y'all really are the best!

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Excellent post, and I totally agree.

Ben O. said...

Nice post - it is so easy to sit somewhere and watch tv and lay blame. I agree that this exceeded any possible planning.

Could we have been more prepared? Obviously we could have.
Is there anyone to blame for us not being?
No

Now pick up some food and start distributing it.

Thanks - Ben O.

Bill said...

Brenda - Thanks.. always nice to see you here.

Ben - Well there ya have it! I've been thinking we should blame the original settlers of the area for not doing a much more complete topographical survey before they unpacked the horses. That way they would have known they should have hauled in a small mountain and brought the whole area above sea level *before* they started setting up their tent.

Trevor Record said...

People want something to blame, that's for sure. Bush is an easy target.

I think one of the biggest problems was that people in New Orleans weren't aware of just how serious the situation was. Most people in North America has never experienced any natural disaster, especially of Katrina proportion.

Bill said...

Trevor - You're right, North America has rarely, in the last few hundred years anyway, seen this sort of event.

We humans tend to believe, and rely on, what we 'see' and experience. If it hasn't happened, we tend to think it can't.

Thanks for stopping by.