Commentaries on Katrina event

Originally published at Notes from the bunker…. You can comment here or there.

The events of 9/11 probably gave the preparedness community more to talk about, model, plan against, and discuss than any other even since the earthquakes in California about ten years ago. The hurricane Katrina event is going to be the model for alot of preparedness minded individuals for a long time to come. 9/11 was, essentially, a very very localized disaster. In terms of utter destruction and chaos, it was limited to several blocks of NYC. The repercussions, obviously, went further, but in terms of rubble-and-carnage it was limited to a pretty small area. A person on foot could (and many, many did) get out of the danger area in a few hours of walking. Hurricane Katrina, on the other hand, is the full-scale citywide event that we very seldom ever see. Since events in the US of this magnitude are so rare, its going to be the discussion model in disaster planning for a very long time until something 'better' (i.e. bigger) comes along. I mention this because I, like alot of other people, are getting a little 'saturated' with hurricane coverage and stories. The fact remains though, if youre into preparedness youre going to hear about this event for a very long time. Count on it.

Theres a lot of things here I'd like to attribute with links but, honestly, there are so many and the huge influx of stories of this hurricane are bumping links around at the various outlets. A story that was 'page 1' a few days ago is bumped to an archive to make way for the twenty new stories and my links become 404.

  • Local government
    • Mayor – This guy was obviously way unprepared for his leadership role. Im sure he thought that his sole duties as mayor were to oversee Mardi Gras festivities. He's fast to ask 'where the hell' the feds are and why they dont 'get off their asses' and do something. Great rhetoric if youre trying to rally your consituency to overlook the fact that you, being mayor, had all sorts of powers, including city disaster planning, that obviously were never utilized. Impotency is an ugly word, but this guy stood there flaccid. Any disaster planning, done officially, is going to be a problem since you need half a dozen signatures, state/gov funding, etc, etc, just to stock a couple thousand gallons of fuel for your police department. This guys career should be toast…if it isnt, then the people (whats left of them) in New Orleans (whats left of it) deserve what they get: a mayor with a welfare mentality and a 'the buck does not stop here' attitude.
    • City/County OEM  – I havent heard very much about city/county Office Of Emergency Management or whatever they call it down there. Id be very interested in learning more about them. I will not be surprised when they say that all records about evacuation plans and programs were, conveniently, lost or destroyed.
    • Police – I could go on at length about these guys. They were basically a better trained class of looters. I can sum it up in one sentence: They were not there to help you and they should be watched more carefully than the looters.
    • Firefighters – Interestingly, Im hearing almost nothing, good or bad, about these guys. Im going to guess that in this case no news is good news. Maybe Im wrong but it sounds like the firefighters held their shit together better than the cops.
  • Federal Government
    • FEMA – These guys have always been the 'Men In Black' for those of us in the 'preparedness community'. Given a broad range of powers they could be pretty unpredictable. They apparently got absorbed, along with many other agencies, into the DHS. Im guessing, I dont know, that this means they take their orders from DHS.
    • DHS  – These guys were so wrapped up in strip searching grandmothers at airports no one thought to read that their mandate included natural disasters. The blame game is probably well into the first quarter on this one.
    • Nat'l Guard  – Again, these guys were not your friends. They forcibly kept people in the horrible conditions of the superdome. I would have taken my chance wading through chest high water than stay in that circle of hell. Its tough not to Monday morning quarterback this, but I think these guys shoulda been used to secure the airport (which remained usable), set up a distribution point and start flying in planes of fuel, vehicles, water filtrations and field hospitals.

Superdome refugees – This is going to be the nightmare example, symbolizing everything that went wrong in this disaster. Im going to make a prediction here: the stuff youve heard about going on in there is nothing compared to the stories tha will come to light over the next few weeks. I guarantee you they are keeping a huge amount of it out of the press. They , and by they look at the above list, know they majorly bobbled this and the last thing they want is people knowing how bad. Things like this can never be kept secret..but they can be delayed until the blame game is well underway. You the next couple of weeks theres going to be horrific stories that will make you want to sleep with one eye open and a Rottweiler at your feet. Guaranteed.

Demographics – Everyone is falling all over themselves not to say what many people are saying in private – “What did you expect from those people?” Put a huge group of poor, black, 'welfare'-type people together and youre going to have this sort of thing happen. Is there a racial angle in this disaster? Theres certainly an economic one…quite succinctly, the not-poor had the means to leave and most did. Those who remained were mostly the poor or otherwise incapable of transporting themselves. It wasnt racism as much as it was economics…if you had the money to leave, you left. So who is left in the city? The poor (and some handicapped/elderly). Are blacks represented in large disproportions amongst the poor? Yes, any sociologist will tell you that. Ergo, if the make up of the people remaining is overwhelmingly poor, theyre probably also going to be overwhelmingly black. Plus, New Orleans, according to statistics was %67 black to begin with? I think any group in their position would have been just as prone to violence. Its certainly convenient, though, to bring up racial angles in order to deflect criticism from where it should go (see first list). Does anyone really think that as this hurricane was going on there was a buncha guys sitting at a table at the White House saying “Fema? National Guard? For what? Its just a buncha niggers down there. Fuck 'em.” Government repsonse was screwd up because it was a government response.

Mismanagement/Chain of command issues – There are plenty of reports of convoys of supplies and donatins being stopped by (National Guard/DHS/Fema/Police/etc) from entering New Orleans and told that they arent authorized to go into the city. Thats right, WalMart can send twenty trucks of food and diapers and those trucks get turned back. Why? Dozens of reasons. One agency wants to control everything, the roadblocks are just following orders, 'we cant guarantee your safety', all efforts must be coordinated through [insert agency], etc. This makes a little sense but not enough to me. If you've got a dozen truck drivers willing to drop their loads at the Superdome for those poor bastards there then grab a couple trucks of NG and go. Too many chiefs and not enough indians running around. Every agency thinks it has jurisdiction to tell the others what to do.

Looters – This isnt worth mentioning except in regard to two aspects:

  1. Looting for essentials is still looting. It is a far more excusable form of looting, but its still looting. Its the difference between 'All right, take it and go but dont let me see your face here again' and a round of buckshot. (And if you believe, as some have posited, that its okay to steal laptops and iPods because youre going to use them to trade for essentials, then youre an idiot.)
  2. Police/Guardsmen who loot should be shot as looters and then be hung from lamposts as abusers of authority.

Refugees – Nothing sucks worse than being a refugee except possibly being the janitor for the washrooms at a refugee camp. Theres suddnely going to be masses of unemployed people desperate for any job they can find. Expect this to lead to some ugly situations as even the 'jobs Americans dont want' that were normally the mainstay of trespassing criminals illegal 'immigrants' suddenly become desirable. Also expect very strained municpal budgets and public tempers as housing and care of these refugees becomes the responsibility of local governments with delayed support/funding from the feds. This will bring about more problems from local 'government aid' users who feel the newcomers are getting a better deal than they are.I think that when the government starts awarding contracts for rebuilding New Orleans (yes, theyre going to rebuild) they should require a certain percentage of refugees be employed. This gets them into worker housing, gets them a paycheck, and hopefully gives them some focus, direction and skills. Sort of like the WPA..except with a legitimate need for building projects.

Shortages/Economic fallout – Im no expert but it might not be a bad idea to lay off the luxuries for a while and see how things shake out. Businesses in New Orleans are obviously in a lot of trouble. Until theyre rebuilt (and if theyre rebuilt) theres no tax base, no employment, no industry, nothing. For all intents and purposes, New Orleans has become Somalia.

Politics – No one in politics is coming out of this on top. The best they can hope for is to be ignored or thought of as unnecessary for the crisis. President? Screwed. Governor of Louisiana? Screwed. Mayor of New Orleans? So very screwed. Police chief of New Orleans? So screwed under that his career will never see sunlight again. The guy in charge of the Antarctic research stations? Probably okay but he's playing it safe and not taking any calls.

Next up: Lessons and re-affirmations from hurrican Katrina. Youre watching ZNN.