Saturday, September 10, 2005

Disaster Response - The Basics


As various chattering make-up jobs on television and radio express their opinion of the job done to help the victims of Katrina, it is sadly obvious that meny don't understand how things are meant to work. Many TV anchors do not understand even the basic points, so I will mention it briefly here.

Disasters, in terms of relief, have five stages:

[] Preparation and planning

[] Pre-positioning

[] First responders and evacuation

[] Survival aid

[] Restoration and rebuilding

The first stage is critical. Every group which means to help must plan for what they will do, in advance. The people staffed, their assignment and authority, the tools and supplies provided, all need to planned ahead of time. In the case of Katrina, the basic levels of planning were at the LOCAL, STATE, and FEDERAL level. All three levels had to work to be effective.

As for pre-positioning, in the case of Hurricane Katrina, the authorities understood that the weather would reduce mobility as soon as the storm hit, so supplies and personnel had to put in place ahead of the storm, during the critical window between alert of the storm and its initial impact.

The first responders have two main duties; get people away from danger, and perform life-saving tasks. This falls again on three levels - the LOCAl authorities, who have the most people on-scene at the start and who know the terrain and conditions best; the STATE authorities, who have better equipment and supplies; and the FEDERAL authorities, who have specialized equipment for critical situations, but who must be told by local and state authorities what is needed, and where.

Survival aid is set up at aid stations, and the critical issue here is coordination between the on-scene authorities and the groups bringing aid.

And finally, federal aid in disasters after the initial rescues is generally focused on financial and administrative aid, which is much different from the short-term material needs, which are generally addressed by the on-scene local and state authorities.

People will have different views of how each group did its job, but these simple categories help illustrate what went right, what went wrong, and why.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Should Louisiana Re-District?


Reader Jimmy Nix had an intriguing question:

“It would appear that there are many elected officials that no longer represent many voters in Louisiana. It seems likely that those voters will stay in whatever state they spend the next several months or years. Should Louisiana look at redistricting next year? The political and demographic makeup of Louisiana has truly changed overnight.”

Speaking for myself, I’d say ‘no’ in the immediate future. In the first place, because so many of the victims are in flux right now, and there’s no telling where a lot of folks will end up settling down. Also, with so many Louisianans coming to Texas, can you imagine the games certain Democrats would play with trying to get Texas redistricted, as well?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Blame Game, Again


If you can’t say something nice about someone, well the Washington Post may want you to do their polling.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken last Friday illustrates the point vividly. Just 17 percent of Democrats said they approved of the way Bush was handling the Katrina crisis while 74 percent of Republicans said they approved. About two in three Republicans rated the federal government's response as good or excellent, while two in three Democrats rated it not so good or poor.”

What a shock, huh?

btw, notice the poll came out six days ago, long before Blanco and Nagin started letting slip the facts of the matter...

Lookie Here

Anybody who likes to look up stuff has to love the Meta-Search. But these days it can get tiresome, trying to find relevant commentary on a topic. Well, have I got some words for you:


These and several others are vying to be, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, the “Google of Blogs”.

Technology is my friend.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

An Insensitive Thought


OK, I will say in advance this is not a sensitive thing to say right now, but it's rolling around in my head and I have to post it to get it off my mind:

New Orleans had a lot of mediums and fortune tellers and psychics. Wouldn't you think, if they knew their business, they'd have been the first people out of town?

I guess, like Mayor Nagin, they just had other things on their mind that weekend.

Just The Facts


Readers may recall that I tried to put some perspective on Katrina with a timeline. A much better timeline, built on verifiable links, can be found here.

Rick Moran has done an outstanding job, and his evidence is absolutely compelling.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Rage of Fools


I’m tired, I admit it. The week past, with all the images of personal grief and loss has worn me out, and the finger-pointing by so many people, however predictable, has soured the flow of stories about giving and heroism I have heard from so many places. Thank God I live in Houston, where the evidence of kindness and hope is so profound, or I’d be screaming right now.

Which brings me to those catcalling malcontents. It occurs to me that they are, as usual, both missing a chance to rebuild some credibility, and missing the target they would like to stain with their bile. What I mean is, it is becoming clear that while it is puerile to point fingers at this stage, if one insists on doing so the available evidence indicates that President Bush and the Federal response was actually far swifter and appropriate than the actions taken on the State and Local levels. The people making all the noise could be working to call their own into accountability, but instead are chasing the President on nothing more than a paranoid fantasy.

And worse for the minions of name-calling, they have not realized that they have once again chosen the target which will do them the least good. Allowing for the moment the faint possibility that they can actually pin this on President Bush somehow (the private dream, I’m sure, of everyone at the CBS network), it won’t do them any good. President Bush, you see, is not running for office again, nor is Vice-President Cheney. No one from FEMA is running for Congress, the Senate, or the White House. So the sum effect of all this noise is like the poodle barking at the living room drapes in order to convince himself of his bravery. The other common factors are the bad odor and low standards of personal hygiene.

Ignore them. Give to the charities which best suit your ideals and look for the stories of hope and promise, but just ignore these fools, as you would any stupid animal with bad manners.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day - Thanks and Respect


Today is Labor Day. Like most holidays, the way Labor Day is celebrated, has often missed the reason for the holiday. I would humbly submit that for 2005, it would be only fitting to take a moment to say thanks for the hard work of the following groups, without whose superlative efforts and dedication far more people would be far worse off, or simply dead:

The United States Coast Guard - Right about now, the Coasties deserve at least as much praise and respect as anyone else in the uniform of the United States. Thousands of people quite literally would be dead right now, except that the Coast Guard came for them.

The Doctors, Nurses, and Paramedics who stayed behind to help - Roughly 60 doctors, nurses, and paramedics from New Orleans area hospitals lost everything they had, just like everyone else, and they too want to know where their family is, but chose to stay behind to help the patients who arrived after others were evacuated. For six days now, these people have worked with little rest or food, supplies almost exhausted, for no pay beyond the knowledge that they were the difference between life and death for countless people.

The National Guard - The most food, the most road clearing, and the only way to restore order. If not for these men, the gangs would still be running New Orleans.

The Salvation Army - First on the scene, as always. Not a word of self-praise from them, as always. Well worth your donation, as always.

Hilton's Furniture and Gallery Furniture - now that clothing and food needs are being met, these guys have provided hundreds of real beds for victims to sleep in, and are collecting supplies for longer-term needs in Houston.

Countless churches, as always, have been collecting supplies, taking in people who need a place to stay, and even making plans to help victims rebuild their lives.

And of course, the American Red Cross, who is coordinating most of the relief, and helping families find each other across the nation.

If you see a representative from any of these groups, please consider taking a moment to stop and tell them you appreciate all they’ve done. And if you see anyone from a television station, please feel free to remind them that pointing fingers and spurring on spite and hatred is the last thing the Gulf Coast needs right now.

Sunday, September 04, 2005



The question now comes down to what we do next. It will take a while to get to all the people in New Orleans, the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi, and the rest of the Gulf Coast hit so hard by the Hurricane, but the process is underway. Food and water and clothing are getting to people, and the distribution lines, though still crude, are getting the job done. The next step is getting long-time medical needs addressed. Texas has done a great job of addressing the needs of students, opening public schools to all the people fleeing Louisiana, and many colleges and universities across the country are accepting transfers from students at Tulane, LaSalle, and all the other Louisiana colleges and universities. The immediate needs of more than a million people hit by the devastation are being met.

The process moves on to what happens in the next half-year or so. Most of Katrina’s victims have not been able to sit down and consider what they want to do next, but the planning has to be in place. Fortunately, a number of corporations, churches, and groups experienced in long-term disaster relief have made preparations. Essentially, the people dislocated by the destruction will need jobs, transportation, and the structure of a routine; for many people, there is great emotional comfort in having things they can count on, including responsibility and duties, which enforce the personal sense of worth and identity. You are what you do.

The states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana will rebuild. For all the destruction, the basic infrastructure of the states is in place and can be re-established. The greatest costs will be the roads, power grid, and coastal industries, like fishing and the ports. The city of New Orleans is another matter. It is well-understood that the city lies below sea level, and its position relative to Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf makes this a critical risk. Insurance companies have already expressed serious reservations about insuring any new construction or rebuilt homes and businesses in the city. Unless the federal government chooses to private special insurance, it is doubtful that businesses and homes can be rebuilt and operate in New Orleans to the scale of the city before. Even the construction of a seawall like the one protecting Galveston Texas would be insufficient for New Orleans, because of the elevation concerns.

There is also the risk of fraud. Disasters bring out the best and worst qualities in people, and this is also true in the matter of fraud. When a home is destroyed, it is sometimes difficult to confirm what personal property was lost. How much more difficult is it, to confirm the losses of an entire city? While most people would not try to manipulate the system to take money so badly needed by real victims, it’s historically true that fraud is a real element in disaster relief. Given the scale of this event, unique security measures will be necessary in addressing the needs of New Orleans’ citizens. There is, despite the best intentions of charities and generous donors, a limit to how much relief will be available.

I would not be surprised, personally, to see the victims of Katrina given two general options. Most will be encouraged to restart in the town where they have been relocated, meaning that the visitors to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and many other Texas cities will be likely to become citizens there. The option of returning to Louisiana will be there, but I expect that New Orleans will be, while rebuilt, much smaller in scale and much less centralized. The Corps of Engineers will have to examine the ground in the area, but it would be logical for new construction to be undertaken on ground with higher elevation and known to be stable, rather than trying to demolish the rubble in New Orleans, test the ground, reset everything from foundations up, and hope that the new buildings last. This has happened before, after all. In 1900, the city of Galveston Texas was a thriving center of commerce and culture. A Hurricane (no names were used for Hurricanes in 1900) estimated to be Category 4 in force, effectively destroyed the city, killing anywhere between eight and twelve thousand people (Census rolls were unclear, and many bodies had to be buried in mass graves or burned, to control the risk of disease. Like the New Orleans disaster, Galveston was isolated from contact, and so sending assistance was made impossible by the storm’s damage for a long time. In the end, the small town to Galveston’s north, Houston, was made the focus for rebuilding and relocation, and eventually became the far greater city. I could actually see the city of New Orleans out and out relocated about forty miles to the north of its old location, in a plan which would take more than ten years to happen, but which could capture the imagination and emotion of the state of Louisiana and the nation, a symbol of rebirth and a mix of old and new. The key would be the Port of New Orleans, which largely survived Katrina, and which would be the lifeblood of the newly built city, whether on the original land or in a new location with better stability.

But that’s just speculation, and will be driven by the feasibility of options yet to be confirmed. The rebuilding begins, as always, with examining and meeting long-term needs of the families. The Red Cross has begun to rejoin families, and to provide information on what has happened for victims to find out. As I mentioned above, job opportunities have been made available, and career counselors are preparing resources and building networks to help people not only find some job, but one fitted to their skills. The social assistance of churches and schools also helps the process, helping people to find a place of identity and acceptance, from which the sense of community grows.