Friday, September 30, 2005

The loss of New Orleans - another view

This article by Jonathan Rauch looks at the pre-Katrina flood control and levee system decisions made by the local, state, and federal govt from a risk vs. reward perspective. Interesting stuff.

Rauch presents a dollars and cents vs probability argument that is well-reasoned and clear. However, he comes around to say that, even with the most conservative estimates of strict, tangible, monetary costs, there’s a valid argument to be made that SOMETHING should have been done. Once you factor in the intangible costs of the destruction of New Orleans (disruption, lives uprooted, and esp, lives lost), it becomes a no-brainer.

Some of you have been subjected to my emails filled with hot sports opinions regarding the failures of the local and state govts to do something, anything, to avert the catastrophe that occurred during and immediately after Katrina. Forget for a moment that the “catastrophe” turns out to be not as bad as it seemed at the time. Instead, let’s recall that this was not the worst-case scenario. Katrina weakened before landfall, and missed New Orleans by a significant margin (NO was on the western, weaker side of the storm). It could have been a lot, a whole lot, worse. And yet, the locals appear to have been caught unprepared:

  • The evacuation was not announced until the Sunday before the storm hit, even though many were calling for it earlier, most notably 23-year-old law student Brendan Loy, but also including many professional weather people and emergency managers.

  • There was no plan in place to help evacuate the estimated 15% of the population that had no access to private transportation.

  • There was no plan in place to make the “shelter of last resort” (the Superdome) a provisioned, sustainable place of refuge for the thousands of people who ultimately came there.

  • There were no hardened communication resources available for first responders and emergency personnel. As soon as the power went out (which everyone knew would happen), communications died and the police force ceased to exist as a viable law-enforcement entity.

I could go on and on.

Does the Bush Administration share some of the blame for the ensuing chaos? Yep. Absolutely.

  • I’ve said many times before that DHS is the worst failure of big govt in the history of big govt.

  • FEMA has become a shell of it’s former self, in part because of it’s new reporting relationship with DHS and in part because of apparent Bush cronyism.

  • Many of the resources that might have helped with post-Katrina recovery are otherwise employed in Iraq.

Again, the list goes on and on.

Regardless (and I’ve said this before too), none of this absolves the city and state govts of their responsibility to look out for their constituents. A responsibility which appears to have been ignored for years.

So, how does all this get resolved? That’s the question, isn’t it? Everything is so politicized now that it’s hard to accomplish much in the way of examining facts and recommening solutions. I fear that, because the body count is significantly lower than Mayor Nagin’s original, off-the-map predictions, we’ll resolve it with the time-honored American method of throwing a bunch of money at it. If so, we will have wasted an opportunity to face some hard truths, most significantly, the truth that the federal govt is not and should not be everyone’s babysitter.

I really meant to stay away from this topic, as it just boils my britches. It’s also old news. But it just doesn’t seem to go away.

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