Monday, September 05, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

I've said nothing so far about Hurricane Katrina. I am simply stunned that the infrastucture of one of America's great cities has collapsed. The winds and the sea have done what bin Laden could not do.

The response on the part of our leaders seems to be underwhelming. FEMA in particular seems to be hung up on bureaucracy when people are dying. Although I share his Christian faith, I have never been a fan of George W. Bush, and I've seen nothing in the past few days that inspires confidence in his administration. I can't help remembering that he responded well to the four hurricanes in his brother's home state of Florida, which was a swing state in the upcoming election. Am I being cynical in thinking that the response would have been better if there were presidential votes at stake?

Rather than being a tragedy that unites us as Americans, like 9/11, this is a tragedy that accentuates the differences between rich and poor, black and white. There is no outisde enemy who did this to us, there is no one to whom we can sing, "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way."

I do not know if this will shake faith in God, or strengthen it. If we have been sustaining our faith in God by believing that whatever is wrong in the rest of the world, it can't happen here, then our faith has been a faith worth shaking.

This column, by George Will, is worth reading.


Blue Devil Knight said...

This has been a horrible week for the United States' residents. I am hopeful (foolishly) that this will draw attention to the obvious economic disparities that exist in the country. Liberals like me have been focused almost solely on Iraq. The huge and growing underclass has shamefully become quite invisible in our moral map.

Good article by Will. This whole catastrophe has had a lot of people mentioning Hobbes. It is interesting how people behave when the usual regulatory structures are removed. I wonder if there was less looting in Indonesia after the Tsunami because people tend to live in smaller, more self-contained and self-governing villages.

I wouldn't be surprised if there was a whole literature in anthropology on the effects of natural variables on social order. Someone probably did her thesis on it in 1980 and everyone thought she was crazy studying such an abstruse topic...

Now we'll see if the spamblocker works... :)

Blue Devil Knight said...

natural variables on social order.

I meant natural disasters, not natural variables :) Though I guess one is a subset of the other.

Jason Pratt said...

Victor wrote: {{There is no outisde enemy who did this to us, there is no one to whom we can sing, "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way."}}

I'm a bit surprised that the looters and snipers haven't come under such rhetorical fire (even though they'd be gone by the time the ass-kicking arrived).

As far as I can recall, FEMA never has had such a huge situation to try to manage before, so it really has no experience in doing so--and we're seeing the results of that. (One could expect that experience in a number of smaller problems would aggregate into experience handling larger problems, but one would be wrong. {s}) This isn't like multiple hurricanes hitting Florida, or even terrorists bringing down a couple of skyscrapers (as bad as those were).

This, for all practical purposes, is having _three_ large American cities important to our national infrastructure, completely soft-nuked.

Except without the dramatic population loss, which is actually making the situation harder to get a grip on in some ways. (Live people need more Emergency Management, Federal and otherwise, than dead ones.)

And while it would be nice (at the moment) for Bush to just take charge and make things happen faster, that isn't how our system works in real life. (Even if he did help unsnarl some red tape in Florida, instead of only being rhetorically present so to speak--which I'm dubious about--this situation is several orders of magnitude worse.)

I suspect if he could, and did, we'd soon hear complaints about how he has amassed dangerous amounts of power thereby, taking advantage of the tragedy for his own purposes, etc. Bush is basically at the point where anything he does, or doesn't do, will be held against him.

(I think that's largely his own fault, too.)

PS: yay blogger, love the new anti-spam! {G!}

Jarrod Cochran said...

As a firefighter who works closely with FEMA I must say that I have been extremely disappointed with their response.
The Federal Government has nuetered FEMA by shoving it under the Dept. of Homeland Security. Now, they must wait to receive orders instead of going in and getting the job done. The new FEMA director is not much to write home about either.
I've heard the argument that FEMA has never prepared for a disaster like this. I must point out that last year, FEMA and members of different fire departments around the nation participated in a training exercise/scenario that involved New Orleans and the surrounding cities/counties being under water due to floods from a huricane. They were as prepared as anyone could possibly be. There's no excuse for showing up 5 days after the fact! I would be fired from my job if I responded to a house fire 5 days after it started.
Let's not skirt around the issue to protect our favorite president. He and his wife have been increasingly insensitive - and un-Christ-like - towards those who have suffered from Katrina. Bush stating that he's looking forward to Trent Lott's house being rebuilt so he can sit on the porch while he's surrounded by devastation and people needing help is callous and ignorant of the real issues at hand. But then again, that's a typical day in the life of our president.

Jarrod Cochran said...

I meant the callous comments by the president and his mother; not his wife. Sorry for the error.

Jason Pratt said...

{{Let's not skirt around the issue to protect our favorite president.}}

Well, he's far from being _my_ favorite President. (Frankly, I think he should have been impeached long ago.)

Consequently, I have a specially specific Christian duty to be as fair to him as possible. {s} (Same is true about my opinion of Clinton, too; whom I think had better management skills--and whom I thought, and still think, also deserved to be impeached.)

That being said--yeah, bad idea to put FEMA under DHS. The two departments only overlap in cases of un-natural federal-level disasters (like 9/11).

On the other hand, I'm curious what kind of exercise they did last year that could have feasibly given them _experience_ in dealing with the reality of something this big. Did it involve several hundred thousand real people, for instance, in a hundred thousand real and disparate situations relative to the simulated disaster, spread across 90,000 real square miles? Real people in real space and time, complicate an exercise enormously... {s}

At the risk of drawing an inappropriate parallel {grimacing in Bush's general direction}, it's like the difference between going to a real strategic-level war for the very first time, and having bureaucratic exercises in preparation for going to a real war. The exercise may easily be far from useless, but it isn't real experience in something of that scale.

In any case, I definitely agree: we weren't prepared. I don't know that we _could_ have ever been prepared without the real _experience_, though. In a backhanded way, we might be lucky: the relevant authorities now are getting experience in something that could be duplicated not too far down the road (i.e. hitting a port with a real soft-nuke, or with a poisoning of the water supply.)

Jarrod Cochran said...

Jason, I agree with you. We all have a duty as Christians to give people - including Mr. Bush - the benefit of the doubt in all things. However, when we see how he has handled this thing, we cannot overlook the massive errors. We've been told over and over that a Dept. of Homeland Security will make us safer and our Federal Government will have the ability to respond without delay in national crises. We've seen this department fail in their response to this crisis in New Orleans. Was it against a nuclear threat? No. Was it against bio-terrorism? No. It was against WATER! It was against a hurricane whose damage was predicted and shared with the President and the Dept. of Homeland Security several days before it hit land and these leaders dropped the ball! How well will be able to respond when we have no prior notice of a disaster (be it a natural disaster or an act of terrorism)?

The question is do we chock this whole thing up to experience; say "My bad" to the families of those who have died, blame a few people in lower, expendable positions, and shoot a little higher towards the mark next time? This is the typical response from the White House for the past several years. I think those who have perished and those who have lost everything deserve more than that. They deserve compitency from our leaders! And I'm afraid we just cannot get that from those who are in charge right now.

In July of 2004 FEMA performed scenarios of a mythical hurricane named "Pam" hitting New Orleans and the surrounding cities, destroying levees, and having massive civilians trapped in a river of disease.
While I agree that nothing can ever prepare you for the real thing, these guys are very professional - I've had the pleasure of training with them in the past - and they know what they are doing. There's no doubt in my mind of the level compitency within the actual emergency workers in FEMA.

Several of my friends in FEMA have shared with me their anger at the apparent "cluelessness" their bosses had in this situation. I'm not the only firefighter or emergency worker to have serious doubts over Brown, FEMA's new Director. This man has never been in the emergency services business until he "landed" this job by being a Bush-buddy. I understand wanting to hire your pals and putting them in high positions, but place them in positions where their skills can come in handy. You don't hire the owner of a logging company to be in charge of a wildland preserve.

America will eventually recover from this and my prayer is that we learn from it. I'm just not sure if our leaders - FEMA, Dept. of Homeland Security, White House, etc. - will utilize the hard lessons that have been taught in this disaster.