Friday, September 02, 2005

The horse's mouth

Babble on.

If you're interested in the perspective of a man who knows something of planning for incidents like Katrina, then you should read what John Donovan has to say:

My thoughts on the subject are informed by the fact that I spent two years as one of those guys in the Army whose job it was to do the generic plans for incident responses (from a DoD perspective, and *ALWAYS* subordinate to FEMA - they're the Big Dog), designing and executing training events to rehearse the plans, and, now and then, implement them, though during that time there was no event ever approaching the magnitude of what's happening in Louisiana right now.


John's points regarding the logistics of quick response, his experience with FEMA, and the complicated National Guard issues are typically insightful. Unfortunately, he doesn't flesh out why he's so fiercely critical of both the Louisiana Governor and the President of the United States. So for what it's worth - coming from a guy with no expertise in this area - here's why I agree with The Armorer.

To some degree, a breakdown of the social fabric is expected in situations like this, and is inevitable. Even if the storm damage hadn't been so severe, when you take most of the population out of a city, you can't expect what's left to function normally. But for the lawlessness to escalate, as it has, those taking advantage of the situation must not expect order to return at any point soon. In other words, the less people believe the law will return, the more likely they are to fall into lawlessness themselves or to become emboldened in their anarchy.

This is where the politicians, by getting out in front of cameras and microphones and laying out exactly what's happening and thereby calming fears, can mitigate the inherent tendency towards chaos. And John's right: the politicians whose job it is to do that simply haven't perfomed as they should have.

As far as the relief efforts themselves are concerned, I wonder how much better they really could have done? There's a practical limit to the amount of suffering you can prevent in situations like this - there will always be some. It will be interesting to see what the professional after-action assessment of those with the expertise to know will be in the end, and what lessons will be learned. Which of those lessons are acted upon, and which are ignored will also be instructive.

Of course, as John says, don't expect much serious reflection or analysis from our all-blame-and-crying-all-the-time media. Too bad. They can do more to shape the public's expectations and preparedness with one prime-time or front-page piece than the whole blogosphere can with a week of non-stop posting.

Babble off.

Update: From the comments, where John has informatively weighed in once again, comes a line that should be tatooed on each and every journalist's and pundit's forehead - including the blogging ones:

And Wonderdog - After Action Reviews are conducted After Action. I've actually got that t-shirt. This is more an IPR, in-progress review or 'hot wash' - which will feed into the AAR.


What has actually happened (right and wrong), who to credit and to blame, and what could have been done better (including managing unrealistic expectations, and investing in infrastructure beyond the scope of disaster relief) won't be clear for awhile.

But if you hate George W. Bush, don't let that stop you from jumping the gun. Any port in a storm, and all that.

12 Comments:

At 2:52 PM, Blogger wonderdog said...

Sorry, but I smell some partisan hackery there.

Sure, it takes 3 - 5 days to get things moving from a standstill. But it doesn't take 3 - 5 days to deploy people who are on 24 hours notice to move.

The real question here is why they weren't on 24 hours notice to move, given that this was one of the nightmare scenarios for disaster planning and we saw it coming days out.

Jonah misrepresents this as standing to every time a tropical storm manifests itself. No; I'm talking about standing to when the disaster scenario looms. That is, when you have a cat 5 hurricane headed for New Orleans.

We saw this coming two days out. But the appropriate readiness wasn't there. Someone needs to answer for that.

 
At 3:12 PM, Blogger MustControlFistOfDeath said...

Right wonderdog. Blame, accusations, recriminations, that's what's really needed now. That will be so helpful.

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger wonderdog said...

That's right. We shouldn't ever do after-actions, because it's just a blame game. Trying to learn from your mistakes is the worst mistake of all.

 
At 3:18 PM, Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Dog, you have no idea about John's politics. He calls them like he sees them, period.

I'm fed up with your constant vitriol. Go troll somewhere else, you're PNG here.

 
At 3:21 PM, Blogger Chris Taylor said...

The evacuation order was not issued until approx 1000hrs CDT Sunday, 20hrs before the storm came ashore Monday morning at approx 0615 CDT. (Text of the evacuation order, video via a link in this CNN story.) In the broadest sense, meteorologists and politicians may have been aware of the hurricane's path, but the city's top man did not give the word until it was nearly too late.

Obviously a lot of people left before the mandatory evac order was given, but even so, is 20hrs sufficient time to evacuate a city of New Orleans' size? Looks like the answer is no.

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger deaner said...

"Sorry, but I smell some partisan hackery there."

Huh? In order, he slammed the (Democratic) Governor for not doing her job (you want to argue that she did her job, go ahead - but I think that's a very tough arguemnt to make) and the (Republican) President for not doing a better job of communication. That sounds pretty even-handed to me.

Dean

 
At 10:08 PM, Blogger chip said...

"In other words, the less people believe the law will return, the more likely they are to fall into lawlessness themselves or to become emboldened in their anarchy.

This is where the politicians, by getting out in front of cameras and microphones and laying out exactly what's happening and thereby calming fears, can mitigate the inherent tendency towards chaos."

This strikes me as awfully naive. The people who are raping and murdering with abandon in New Orleans are not going to be persuaded otherwise by a speech on TV. New Orleans has been a crime infested dump for years now, largely thanks to those useless politicians you now want to save the day.

And I disagree with the suggestion that people in general will resort to such barbarity within days of a disaster. They didn't in London after a bombing raid, they don't in many small towns across Canada without a police post.

It's not ''people'' who are doing this, but a particular manifestation of urban culture that is prone to self-absorption and violence even on the best of days.

 
At 11:07 AM, Blogger wonderdog said...

Dean, you're right. "Partisan" wasn't the right word. Rather, what I smelled was a desire to excuse the relief effort.

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger Shamrocks! said...

Damian:

It's not expected that people will behave like animals during a crisis. What's the excuse for killing your rescuers? And did the people of Sri Lanka or Thailand respond like the people of New Orleans? Of course not.

Here's the Japanese response to the January 17, 1995 Kobe earthquake that killed over 10,000 people - and the federal government was slow to respond:

Human Behavioral Responses

In general, citizens were pro-social in their behavior following the earthquake. They were observed engaging in a variety of voluntary helping actions in the hours after the earthquake, including participating in search and rescue activities, fire fighting, and establishing neighborhood shelters. Courtesy and politeness were observed in terms of queuing for water, phone service, and other necessities, and in retrieving goods from partially or totally collapsed structures.


The behaviour of flood survivors is unique, not the norm.

 
At 10:07 PM, Blogger John of Argghhh! said...

1. It's John, not Jonah. Petty of me, I know.

2. Partisan hackery - well, we ended up agreeing with excusing the rescue effort. I'm not excusing anything. The city of NOLA government failed. Period. The State didn't do a lot better, but was as bad. More what I was doing was explaining it. Just because you don't like the fact that moving stuff thousands of miles (in some cases) takes time, doesn't make it any less true.

3. The President and Governor. Their job was to lead. Be forceful, yes, be "seen" to be doing something. Providing an example. Not for the people in NOLA who don't have any access to the information - but to the rest of us, and the world. To put a Public Face on what all the professionals and volunteers are doing behind the scenes.

4. Responses to events like this come in waves. 1st wave - local officials. Federal and most state planning *assumes* local officials (of whatever flipping political stripe) will be able to fulfill their basic duties. That didn't happen here, period.

Second wave - state emergency management and the Federal DFO (Disaster Field Office) advance teams (multi-disciplinary damage/recovery assessment teams). Which are (and were) pre-staged - and went in immediately.

Third (and subsequent) waves - the major muscle movements... which, aside from the National Guard, consist almost exclusively of volunteers. It sounds like Wonderdog wants them stood up all the time, every time a big storm is brewing. They are. The local Red Cross here in Leavenworth, Kansas was getting it's stuff together the day before. The Kansas and Missouri National Guard were reviewing what assets were available and putting out pre-mob orders. Don't forget, absent the Guard, the bulk of the response is by volunteers. But they don't leave their local areas until they are called forward... meaning that there is room for them to operate.

The National Guard - absent federalizing them, the use of state troops cross-border is the subject of mutual assistance pacts and direct coordination between the states. Wonderdog seems to think that all the Guards, all the time, should be stood and ready when any (fill-in-his-severity-level) storm starts heading for shore.

That will require a lot of law changes... and a vast pot of money. It is the province of the political classes to make those decisions. Perhaps some of those changes *will* be made as a result of this event.

I hope Wonderdog isn't suggesting that the response should be pre-positioned in the area... if that happens, they simply become part of the disaster, not assistance to it. Hurricane path prediction not yet being an exact science, much stuff is stored regionally and *is* pulled out in readiness outside the max widths of the projected storm paths.

The response teams can't just come in and jump on local infrastructure, either - that's what's broken... so there has to be places for them to eat, sleep, and poop. Don't have that - and the responders become casualties.

I would note that no one is talking much about Alabama and Mississippi - even though they were hard hit as well, the response is working pretty well there... because the First Responders in those areas were up to the task.

The federal response is moving as it was planned, based on the assumptions made during the planning.

And one major assumption in one place proved false. That NOLA would be able to do their job. They didn't. Not just from the severity of the event, but from apparently from structural problems attributable to decades of poor governance, regardless of who was in power. And the the state failed in their oversight role. And while Mayor Nagin has had good moments and bad moments in this - the what, two years he's had in office? - weren't enough time to deflect all that inertia.

The national lesson to take out of this is really pretty simple - we can build this huge, purpose-built, vastly expensive, very seldom used superfast response capability (but unless we basically have multiple Super-Teams we're *still* going to have the tyranny of distance problem) which I obviously don't think is practical, would provide a much faster response, much less really be more effective - or, we can concentrate on making sure cities - the first responders - recognize a basic fact: The rich and middle class will generally take care of themselves in an evacuation situation, and the local government needs to focus on the people on the margins - the poor, the ill, the people who don't have access to transportation.

And if you live in a below-sea-level bowl, how about a little redundancy? *That* could have some federal aspects to it, certainly. But getting back to partisan hackery, Bill Clinton didn't make anyone build any new levees, either.

And Wonderdog - After Action Reviews are conducted After Action. I've actually got that t-shirt. This is more an IPR, in-progress review or 'hot wash' - which will feed into the AAR.


Sorry to take over your blog, Damian.

 
At 10:52 PM, Blogger John of Argghhh! said...

Hey! I just realized you called me a horse!

For a taste of what the Mayor and City of New Orleans was supposed to have done, according to his own city's plan, go visit SWWBO and follow the links.

How 'bout them busses?

And Wonderdog is right - this is *exactly* what should be done here, while the iron is hot. Get the data - and disseminate it - so that other cities can have their acts together, should something aim it's way at them.

 
At 8:23 AM, Blogger Lagwolf said...

For the mayor of NOLA to accuse the Bush administration of racism & classism has he has to the BBC is absolutely despicable. His idiotic remarks to all kinds of media will damn him when more people realise that he as mayor did not even stick to the civil defence plan in NOLA.

 

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