Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Imagine if you would all of Great Britton… totally destroyed.

I’m listening to the radio on the way into work yesterday morning and heard an estimate of the area of total devastation from Katrina; the guy put it at approximately the same number of square miles as the entire country of Great Britton. That’s right the entire country!

A country comparable in size that while damaged, wasn’t totally destroyed, despite the persistent aerial bombing efforts of the Nazi’s during WWII.

A place similar in size leveled in a matter of hours by Katrina, that, in and of itself is a stunning reminder of the power of nature.

Going back to the ‘blame game’ that’s been circulating, (and once again, you my readers, were able to discuss the issue calmly and rationally!! Kudos to you!!) it seems there are a couple of issues that ‘stick out’ as potential items for improvement.

The mayor of New Orleans didn’t call for a mandatory evacuation soon enough. In retrospect, certainly true enough. However, if he had called for it, say a day sooner, and the storm had missed New Orleans (as so many have) can you imagine the crap he’d be dealing with as a result? Seems in this country acting too soon, is nearly as bad as not acting soon enough.

The governor of Louisiana called out the National Guard and got them on stand by ahead of the storm. Somehow though, the specific order(s) that would have enabled them to act as a police force, take control of civilian equipment like buses, and in general do much except ‘stand by’ were never given. I’m guessing she’d never ‘called out the guard’ before, and no one told her she had to grant them ‘rights’ to do things. I know I would have assumed that calling them out would be sufficient… seems it’s not.

The white house offered to ‘take over’ the rescue and recovery efforts in Louisiana on the 2nd day after the storm. The governor said she needed 24hrs to decide what the state wanted to do. At the end of that time, the answer was “No”, we’ll handle it ourselves. I’m not quite sure what the reasoning was there… I know I would have taken all the top level help I could get!

Another item; it seems FEMA has been under a bit of fire this week for not ‘rescuing’ folks. For the record, FEMA is not a ‘responder’ agency (that’s what police, EMT, Fire and National Guard folks do). Their (FEMA’s) job is to get the stuff there. Food, water, medicine, doctors, nurses and portable medical facilities and those types of things, not, to be out performing rescue and recovery. From all reports, they got the stuff there, and quite quickly.

Last item… and this one I really don’t understand. Seems this mobile hospital, complete with doctors, equipment etc… was not allowed to set up shop in Louisiana, as the state officials could not decide on ‘what services’ they should be allowed to offer (for who knows what reasons)… Mississippi however, said, “Hey we’ll take it!!” So it’s up and running there now.

The scope of this tragedy is ‘off the hook’. Until now, we here in the US have, for the most part, been spared this type of event. It was something that happened in some 3rd world country, on the “other side” of the planet, not here.

Well, now it’s happened here. Like terrorism, while it went on elsewhere and not in our ‘back yard’ we felt safe, insulated, protected.

This time it’s an area of the US, as large (or larger), than some entire countries, that has been leveled, washed, or blown, away.

If you want to get a sense of the size of the damaged area, go here.

Someone said to me yesterday, in discussing the “who did/didn’t do what fast enough” issue that seems to continue to grow and be the primary ‘water cooler’ topic around this tragic event… “If we can do it abroad, we should be able to do it at home”.

Let’s examine that for a moment, and use the tsunami (it was her example, not mine) as a yardstick against which we can measure our ‘homeland’ response.

You can see a timeline here, and what you’ll see, is that supplies began arriving a couple of days after the event, but even 5 days later on January 1st, were just beginning to reach areas where they were needed. On January 6th, (10 days later) world leaders met to determine how to get aid to people as the logistics of getting to the people was still an issue.

You can also go here and get a look at the Red Cross’ view of the timeline. Another, from Singapore’s view point can be found here.

Even 30 and 60 days later there were still ongoing problems. I’m not saying it’s right, just that it’s an issue (response to major catastrophic damage) that no one seems to have ‘just right’. I hope that on the back side of all of this, we take a much bigger step towards “just right”.

The bottom line in all of this is that, organizing and properly providing relief efforts, takes time, and a massive effort of coordination. Its one thing to help a small town hit by a tornado, it’s an altogether different matter when that kind of destruction involves the same type of destruction multiplied 1000’s of times over.

We all want everyone saved, and yesterday, myself included. However, the sad fact in all of this is that not everyone can, or will be saved. Part of the tough choices that are made in triage situations is how to save the ‘the most’ people. In making that decision, it’s an almost certainty the folks in charge will have to let some folks die.

It happens on the battlefield, in burning buildings and at accident scenes around the world everyday. No one likes having to make these difficult choices, and no, it’s not ‘fair’ that they have to be made, but it’s a critical component to every emergency response. First, don't get the workers hurt or killed, do what's required to save the most people, that's the deal.

Unfortunately, life is not fair. It’s hard, cold and unforgiving. Fortunately, for the most part we here in the US are insulated from that fact as a result of our culture, affluence and lifestyle. We’re not (well the vast majority of us anyway) struggling to find the next meal, or to find a warm, dry place to sleep… we’re much further up Maslow’s hierarchy than that.

This kind of catastrophe, serves to remind us that the lives we lead are very fragile, and we simply do not like facing that reality. So we ‘rail against the light’, finding; people to blame, reasons for the occurrence, all in an attempt to understand how it could happen. Underneath it all is our fear, that if we fail to understand it, we too could be a victim and not simply a bystander.

Our society does the same with many things. We try to blame the victim of a crime… they shouldn’t have been where ever they were, doing what ever they were doing, they put themselves in harms way… when in reality, it was the perpetrator’s “fault”, they after all chose to commit a crime against the victim.

Some will even explain that the perpetrator wasn’t really at fault, that society had failed that person somehow… when, in fact, that person simply chose a life of crime. Many studies show that it’s not, inevitable, that criminals come from high crime areas. Some live side by side, in the same building, one person chooses crime, another picks a different path.

In affluent neighborhoods, where there is ample opportunity and no one would “need” to choose a life of crime, some still do. It’s a choice.

Sometimes, and more often than not, the realities of the universe we live in are not what we want them to be. Nature is just nature, it’s our challenge to learn to live with her.

Our not wanting things to be...
The way they are
Will not change...
The way they are.

All in all, it seems to me that there should be some sort of “response study” done when this is all behind us. I’m certain there will be some lessons in here on what to do and not to do, both before and after a storm of this magnitude.

I for one am glad the Army Core of Engineers have repaired the levy, are bringing the pumps back on line and already the water is dropping. It may be weeks before it’s all pumped out, but we’re headed in the right direction.

Evacuees began arriving in North Carolina yesterday, they’re being processed in shelters in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro with Winston-Salem already hosting about a 100 or so people who managed to get here on their own.

Every story I hear about folks opening up their hearts to the folks from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana reminds me of why we live in the greatest country in the world!

We may not be perfect, but when the chips are down, we step up like no where else I know!


Beth said...

I have to say, this is the first good post I've read on the subject from a look at "all sides" and such. It seems a majority of people are making this too black and white.

Firehawk said...


There could have been no good and complete answer to a disaster of this magnitude. You're right to point out that overzealous preparation for something as chancy as a meteorological event could have bad consequences. I don't doubt that everyone in the situation did as well as they knew how when the time came. We can all wish that their "know how" had been better, and perhaps that review of the whole event can shed some light on the process and its weak links.

I imagine, like politicians and political hacks will do, people on either side of the aisle will try to make hay with the events of this disaster. That's a fault of the system. For me, nothing has changed in my overall viwepoint of politics. I can't imagine this swaying anyone, really. If you despised the president before, you still do. If you thought he was great, that's probably remained the same, too.

The primary thing we've learned is this:(to roughly quote JFK) "We all live on this world, and we are all mortal..."

Just because we have more resources than other countries, that doesn't stop the planet from carrying on with her functions. If we get in the way, she doesn't care. This will take a long time to heal. We can heal it, though. There is still some strength left in the hearts of men.

Whit said...

Bill -- wow. A level head is a rarity on this subject, and I think you have risen to the top in my book. I am going to share your observations and points with my colleagues, as we are in the throws of discussing all the different viewpoints. You have provided quite a launch pad to delve into the specifics.

Thank you -- once again -- for your thoughtful and measured post.

Bill said...

GK - Thanks, that was my intent... What winds me up is all the 'one sided' rants... it's very rare that anything is all 'one sided'. I agree with you, there are far too many shades of gray in here to be grabbling for 'absolutes'.

Firehawk - I know this isn't going to change my views on politicians, or politics... don't like either, never have... but, that's the world we live in, like it or not!! :)

"There is still some strength left in the hearts of men."

I'd add there is still *great* strength left... it just takes an event like this to show us how much strength there truly is!!

Whit - Thanks, feel free to share this with anyone you would like to... I'd be very interested in hearing about your discussion.. and how it goes!


One of the reasons the discussion here has been so good, is the quality of you folks, my visitors...

Your input and feedback is every bit as important to me as the words I've written, it's rare that y'all don't make me think, or teach me something along the way!!

Inquisitor said...

It's not the cost of action that we have to focus on but the cost of inaction.

This is not only with regards to Katrina but to the action and inaction that eventually gave birth to 'terrorism' and the idea of 'terrorism'.

Bill said...

Inquisitor - If I understand you, you're saying that 'terrorism', is the result of the actions, or inactions, of anyone other than the terrorists?

I'm sorry, but I totally disagree with you on this. There have been all kinds of reasons, for 1000's of years, for terrorism. None of which are justifiable in my mind.

Inquisitor said...

Depending on your definition of 'terrorism', you might be right. If it means killing people, i'm with you.

Everything has a cause. Unless, you're a creationist and believe that the Terrorist creates her/himself. Not logical, i'm sure you'll agree.

Bill said...

Inquisitor - I define terrorism as:

"The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons."

Terrorist's *do* create themselves, it's a choice, a decision.

No one is 'born' a terrorist, any more than I was born a programmer, or a car thief was born a car thief. We are all ultimately responsible for the choices and decisions we make in the course of our lives.

I know I've lived a better life than many people in the world, and for that I'm thankful. However, when I was flat broke, living on the streets, I never chose crime, or terrorism, as a solution to my problems. I could have, it certainly looked like a viable option at times, I decided not to.

Everyone creates themselves.

For me to buy into your analogy, it would mean that everyone who see's anyone living a better life than they are, would be 'induced' into crime/terrorism as a result.

That simply doesn't happen... if it were true, all the rest of us would be ganging up on Bill Gates and all the rich oil barrons of the middle-east.

jenbeauty said...

So good to see such positive attitudes towards the situation. I visit a site that has become heated recently.

I am attempting to stay away until things cool down. Informed opinions I can take. Judgmental, racist and ignorance based on personal opinion I cannot tolerate.

Bill said...

Jen - I'm with you... I almost didn't even make the original post as the last thing I want is some 'rant' that's baseless, and everyone ends up upset about.

I've spent far too much time on the planet, with far too many folks from all walks of life to believe that any stereotype is true, regardless of who's purporting it to be fact on that particular day! :)

I'm glad you stopped in, you always have something constructive to say!

No_Newz said...

It is beyond hard to fathom. And it so sucks that this kind of catastrophic damage has to hit to wake this country up. (raises guilty hand) I'm not into blame and try to avoid reading about the heaps of it that are going around. I just hope the survivors can put their lives back together very soon.
Lois Lane

Bill said...

Lois - It's human nature to put the horrible possibilities out of our minute to minute thoughts. We'd be caught in a never-ending fear cycle otherwise! (So I can raise my hand as well)

We hire folks to make plans, and execute them, when and if these types of things happen.

I think, when all is said and done, the water gone, the residents returning, and the process has been reviewed, we'll find there were some mistakes made, no doubt.

The reality is, there are mistakes made in virtually every single emergency response, every day. After every fire, ambulance call, those folks get together, talk over what happened and attempt to work out a plan to avoid the same mistake the next time.

Nina said...

Bill, I do love our country and all the people in it. When help is needed people are there. Things like this force us to count our own blessings, and that is never a bad thing.

Bill said...

Nanina - You know, counting our blessings is something we should all do, everyday.

I find that it is all too easy to get caught up in the "what's wrong" thought process, and to forget to be thankful for what we do have.

I know this for a fact, if I focus on the positive aspects of my life, I'm a far happier man!

Thank you for reminding me to thank my wife... for being my wife!

Night Flier said...

Bill, I'll let ya know what I find in some of my up coming posts as I am going to be on the "front lines" volunteering for the Red Cross Shelters here in the Nashville area as we are getting as many as 18,000 people airlifted here. Many have already arrived!

I also heard that Great Brittian was the same size as the affected area in MS and LA. Hard to believe. Amazing. Great Post! :)

Bill said...

Vixen - I signed up with the folks here, but I heard today their getting 3,000 calls a day from folks offering time, money, houses etc... so I doubt I'll get the call.

Please do let me know what you see and hear from these folks....

Also.. Kudos to you for being there in this time of need!

seeingdouble said...

I think this was a well thought out post, with an intelligent point of view. I've linked to it in my latest post, I think everyone should read it.

Bill said...

seeingdouble - I'm glad you liked it, and thanks for the link! As the events surrounding this catastrophe are revealed, we're finding out that many, many things went right, and wrong.

My hope is that when all is said and done, we'll have better overall response abilities all up and down the chain.