Katrina Chaos

FEMA was unprepared.  The engineers in New Orleans, despite insisting at some point this wasn’t as bad as their worst fears, were unprepared.  Even Fats Domino was unprepared.  The governors of
Louisiana and Mississippi were unprepared even to fight for order, and
have already thrown up their hands and claimed salvage impossible,
repair “in the hands of a higher power.” 

But this wasn’t unexpected
It has been talked about and thought about, for decades, by people at
every level from city district planners to various branches of the
federal government and the military.  Louisiana isn’t the only
region of the US that talks about “The Big One
and when it will come, but they have one of the better reasons to
expect it to happen soon; everyone knew the chances a disaster were
only increasing year by year.  We have advanced hurricane tracking
systems that allowed us to start worrying about Katrina long
before landfall.   But what was the response?  Is there
some way to see how forces, experts, and materials were mobilized in
the run up to the past week?

I know more about catastrophes in Texas than in Louisiana, so a few
comments from across the border:  the extensive flooding in
Southeast Texas a few summers back was no wake-up call, either; and
improvement plans made then have yet to be implemented in Houston (to
pick a nearby and wealthier city).  Anything readily survived can
be readily forgotten.

Why are good contingency plans so scarce?  Why are people so
shy about demanding them?  In Houston, I remember, people had
known for ten years before the last flood that measures promised after
the preceding flood hadn’t been implemented… but there was only
occasional grumbling. 

And most importantly, why are there so few community-based disaster
groups who know what to do and how in such situations?  This
disaster proved again that waiting for national or global organizations
to come and help often takes too long.  The health  and
looting problems have worsened rapidly (currently, active Marines have
been called in and the governor’s orders include “shoot looters on
sight”).  People let in the area feel stranded, don’t know what to
do, and are in many regions making the situation worse. 

This was a MINOR natural disaster, for all the destruction it caused —  it was trackable, predictable, and came in a familiar form.
Yet hundreds of communities proved themselves incapable of coping with
it.   Just imagine the results of a real cataclysm.

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