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September 02, 2005

New Orleans, Katrina, Louisiana, the Feds.

UPDATE: For those of you who may be looking for contact info in helping to find family and friends impacted by Katrina, or if you are a refugee who wants to let people know you are okay - Dawn's Early Light has a round-up of websites and phone numbers to help you pass the information along.

UPDATE 2: Chuck Simmins is tracking the giving.

To date: Cash: $161,619,257.00

Goods and Services: $12,169,000.00

Update 3: Greyhawk lists the webpages that military people affected by the Hurricane might find useful. - contact info for military families displaced by Katrina (also a great collection of news releases on the military efforts in hurricane relief) - info for Guard families impacted by the storm. - info for getting deployed Guard members in touch with their families who might be displaced by the storm - and vice versa.

Update 4: As Alan so helpfully points out:

Hey - you have 1,000 guys from Halifax, Nova Scotia heading down there. The Canadian navy is on the way.

OK - it is a small navy...we all know it is a small navy...but at least
they carry their own beer wherever they go.

And we appreciate it Alan, eh? Alan is also a fan of Russ Honore'...

This is the original post....

I actually took today off so I could do some emailing, phone-calling, web-surfing, etc, trying to build a more coherent picture (flawed as it is) of what's going on down in Louisiana.

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. But ask me about that exercise we did with Seattle that resulted in 10,000 notional dead and injured, with a concomitant breakdown in social control... my point being - we actually *do* planning (or at least did) for events of this size.

Some of the New Madrid earthquake scenarios, especially the winter ones... were visions of Apocalypse. Imagine flattening good chunks of St. Louis and Memphis - in January. And losing the bridges over the Mississipi (which means you can't barge people and equipment, either), and we don't want to even *think* about the economic impact of losing the I-70 and I-40 bridges... much less the rail bridges.

The weather makes your response focus completely different, because the shelter requirements suddenly become astounding and compelling. You're thinking tent cities in 10 degree weather become nightmares. Clothing, keeping pipes from freezing, sanitation.... I'm thinking 10,000 suddenly homeless people dumped into that weather... in the clothes they had on at the time... There's no spending the night wandering around in a daze, because you'll freeze to death before that - the looting starts 5 minutes after the shaking stops. It *has* to - because they aren't going to live through the night otherwise. But I digress. If you are going to have disasters of this magnitude, the Gulf Coast is a moderately benign place to have them, weather-wise, but I digress again.

Keeping an eye on National Review's The Corner blog, you can watch a fairly well connected group of people, who have jobs that allow/require them to keep an eye on the news, comment on what's going on.

And obviously, it doesn't look good for the people in charge. And I fault the people in charge.

John Derbyshire's arrogant ignorance kept pissing me off. Until I realized what I just said. Ignorance. Lack of knowledge. Derb isn't stupid, he's ignorant. And whose fault is that? Not his.

In order -

The Government of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, Governor. It was their job to get the ball rolling. The Federal government doesn't respond, by law, until the Governor asks them to. (If you think FEMA in their Ops Center at Weather Mountain wasn't already alerting you're wrong, but *acting* is governed by law).

The Federal Government, George W. Bush, President.

Because neither of them have got the Public Face of the Government getting out the info. Believe it or not, that, to my mind, is actually the Most Important Thing to be doing up front and early. Because the professionals will be handling the details of getting the response moving. That isn't the politicos job.

The MSM, a distant third. For being so focused on the sad and compelling stories, that they haven't been asking the right questions of the right people, and putting the heat on the public officials to give out the details.

I'll forgive the initial flounders, when something like this starts, you get huge amounts of data... most of it wrong, or at least out of context. You aren't *really* sure what's happening, and the magnitude. Yes, the Guy on the Ground does - except he really only knows what he sees... and while it's a horror in his immediate area, doesn't mean it's a horror everywhere else. Until is becomes apparent it is. But you *still* have to assimilate the data.

Crying on camera is fine - as long as it's preceded or followed by "This is what we're doing, this is how we're going about it, and this is how we're coordinating for more help." Not just being stunned. Getting.Out.The.Word. Guys like me will be getting out the Stuff.

I think the President should have called off the California gig and headed for Washington.

WTF? Donovan is saying getting talking heads out putting out info is more important than Boots on the Ground, rescuing people and delivering aid?

Yes. That's what I said.

Why? Because Controlling The Perception of The Disaster in it's early stages will help shape the form of the follow-on actions. Guys, I've worked with FEMA. They're smart people and well-organized.

BUT IT TAKES 3-5 DAYS TO GET PEOPLE IN PLACE AND FUNCTIONAL. Minimum. Not the prepositioned people in the waiting-to-be-activated DFO, Disaster Field Office... the Outside Responders.

Plus, remember - WE ALL THOUGHT THEY'D DODGED THE BULLET. For a whole day. Then the levees broke. FEMA's attention was on the area to the east, where the brunt of the storm went in.

So that's where the initial focus was. And *that* still has to be dealt with too.

So. Why don't we have tens of thousands of troops IN THERE RIGHT NOW!?!

And all the volunteer and paid relief workers?

They are on their way, they really are. And, today, they are starting to arrive. But WHY WEREN'T THEY THERE THREE DAYS AGO!?!

One. The tyranny of distance. You have to mobilize, do final pack-outs, and start driving. 500 miles a day, if you're lucky. So what? Fly! That requires aircraft, on short notice. Even if we weren't using the TRANSCOM's transport fleet to support OIF and OEF, it takes time to get crews to aircraft, aircraft to place where people need to be picked up. If you are using non-mobilized reservists/Guardsmen, they have to be mobilized - not hard, but they've got to drop what they're doing and get to the aircraft, while the ground crews have to stop what they're doing and get to the aircraft and get them ready. Then there's the problem with the local airports being flooded. So if you fly them in to Baton Rouge, say - you have to have transport to get them to New Orleans. Ships? See the Tyranny of Distance argument. The getting ships and people/supplies matched up, etc. Yet all of that is happening, and stuff is moving that way.

So what? The Army has all those troops at Fort Hood and stuff! Well, yes and no. There *is* a war on. But heavy mech forces don't wear well if you road-march them hundreds of miles - at least if you want them to be working when they get there. And they'll require fuel when they're there... which we know is a problem already. So, mech forces aren't a good choice - but to further confuse that issue, a lot of Fort Hood's gear is in transit or in theater. And mech forces don't have a lot of soft transport for troop movement. Hey, they're built for fighting wars, eh?

Okay, use light guys. They don't have that much organic transport, either.

Two. Life support. Remember, this place just got hammered. You have tens of thousands of refugees, milling around, and moving outward. This in an area which has had it's infrastructure hammered. Now you want to bring in thousands of more people. Where do they sleep? How do they get fed? Water? Toilets? Sanitation? So, in addition to having to find a way to feed clothe and house 10s of thousands of refugees on short notice in an area that is by definition under stress and possibly unable to cope - you have to *bring in* additional life support for the supporters. That takes time. And again, the tyranny of distance. FEMA keeps regional storage sites with the stuff they need - but it *still* takes time. Even more so if one of the regional storage sites is involved in the disaster. I don't know that that is the case here, I'm just pointing it out.

3. Social Control. There is an implicit assumption that local authorities will be able to maintain some level of local order. That assumption obviously wasn't valid in this case. Some of it due to the devastation, some of it due to the horror that is apparently NO politics and police. But that's kinda outside my bailiwick.

4. Add to all that, the GWOT, and the impact that's had on the Guard. There's going to be lots of room for discussion about reorganizing things in the light of dealing with this disaster, and lord knows the recriminations over that stuff have already begun! But unless you are essentially going to say that "We can never send the Guard overseas because they might possibly be needed in the US." and accept that limitation on foreign policy, that's not a useful frame for the debate. But that's a post of a different color, too.

This has rambled - but here is my bottom line as I see it this morning.

1. The response *is* massive, and it's moving about as fast as it can, in aggregate, lots of details can be quibbled. But in the main, the machinery is in motion - and it's moving about as fast as it can. And this is about as good as we can expect in many respects, I think. It's simply not possible to have everybody in the response tail stood up ready for instant deployment every time a tropical storm manifests itself.

2. The politicians have fumbled badly thus far. In the end, they will in a sense get redeemed by the people who will clean up the mess. The Professionals who are doing their job at the moment. But, to this voter, The President and the Governor have done an abysmal job in their very public duties.

That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it - until I change my mind because of new data or more reflection.

John | Permalink | Comments (41) | Defending the Homeland | Hurricane Katrina
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