Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hurricane Katrina - Part 1: The Initial Response

A year ago Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast. This was a catastrophic natural disaster that left the place in pieces. But more catastrophic, the response by government on all levels after the initial storm. The scenes from New Orleans did not look like they were from America during that crisis, they looked like they were from a third world country. People stranded without food, water, or dignity. People left to rot in the Superdome and Convention Center. And not to mention all the looting and other violence that took place. Some of the suffering was perhaps unavoidable, but a vast part of it was the fault of a slow, batched, response one year ago. So what went wrong? What should have been done to avoid this?

First of all, the mandatory evacuation that left thousands of people behind. The evacuation was ordered 19 hours before land fall, way too late. There was enough warning that this storm would be catastrophic. New Orleans is off course particularly vulnerable, a good portion of the city being under sea level, and so they always should have played it safe and ordered an evacuation earlier than other locations would. The governor of Louisiana and Mayor Ray Nagin share responsibility for the failure to order and evacuation sooner.

Then there is of course the fact that people were left behind. Now perhaps there were people who chose to ignore the evacuation, but many people were just too poor to leave. So there should have been a way to get people out who couldn't afford to drive or fly. But instead of evacuating everyone, the Superdome was set up as a shelter of last resort. This shelter of last resort was not prepared, there was not enough food and water, and perhaps most lacking, information which is free for those inside. There were some 500 school buses that could have been used to evacuate that were left to be flooded by the storm. 500 buses times let's say 40 people per bus would have been 20,000 people that could have been evacuated. I believe the crowd at the Superdome grew to around 25,000 people, so a large amount of them could have been evacuated before the storm. Mayor Ray Nagin definitely is responsible for this massive failure.

Then there is of course the slow response after the storm was over. I'll cut them a little slack for Monday, when it appeared we had dodged a bullet in New Orleans, but starting Tuesday when the water came in it still took 3 days to get food and water in and 4 days to start getting people out. Where were the air drops of water, food (in the form of MREs - Meals Ready to Eat), and medicine. Why didn't they drop in boxes of camping water filters, there certainly was plenty of water in New Orleans that could have been purified. Those people stranded at the Superdome and Convention Center had none of the essentials, and were living in absolutely squalid conditions that should not have been tolerated by our leaders. Our government ought to be absolutely ashamed of their slow response. I thought they ought to have cancelled schools and sent buses down there to get those people out of there if that is what it would take to get buses fast. You might not have been able to get everyone to a place with a cot immediately, but any place with running water, electricity, and food would have been infinitesimally better then the conditions down there. And how was it the media was able to get around the New Orleans, but not our military?

Another major problem was the director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown. I remember watching an interview between NBC's Brian Williams and Michael Brown. On day four Brown said that the Federal government just found out about the people at the convention center. If he had just turned on the CNN or MSNBC during those days he would have known. Our government should know this information before a regular citizen does, and certainly not after. (Of course President Bush is famous for having to have a DVD made to show him all this, so the same would apply to him as well.) Brown and the rest of the Federal government just seemed unaware of the magnitude of this disaster. (e.g. There was an e-mail where Brown was complaining about finding a restaurant to eat in Baton Rouge to a FEMA person in New Orleans, who replied that must be hard unlike having too eat MREs for the past several days.) Brown had worked for the International Arabian Horse Association before FEMA. President Bush bears responsibility for Brown's failings as a leader for having appointed Brown who's resume didn't fit the job in the first place. The also Senate bears responsibility for confirming someone who wasn't qualified for the job. They should have said no. That's just a fact of leadership, you delegate authority, but you still are responsible to some degree. Politicians out there, if you're going to appoint people as political favors instead of based on merit, appoint them as ambassadors to out of the way countries that we don't even know exist until we invade them.

Since 9/11 we were suppose to be prepared for disasters, and Hurricane Katrina showed us we are not. It also exposed many other problems that need to be addressed. Later I will address the long term response and long term lead up to this disaster, as well as what we need to do to be ready for future disasters. (Note that I focused on New Orleans, but of course the whole Gulf coast was devastated, in some spots even worse.)


Blogger Rocket Surgeon, Phd said...

I, for one, must put the blame on the state and local level...

The Federal Govt requires them to establish the course they must follow

Sat Sep 16, 08:15:00 AM EDT  

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