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07 February 2008

Institutional...Stupidity?

2005 - FEMA, The Federal Emergency Management Agency, part of the Department of Homeland of Security developed, paid for, printed and distributed thousands upon thousands of multi page Awareness and Disaster Evacuation Guides that were delivered, free, to the citizens of greater New Orleans. You see, they knew it was coming. And they knew that New Orleans was a sitting duck. The guide, with maps, telephone numbers and free services included also told the citizens how to safely get out, where to get a free ride, where not to go, why not to stay and other surprisingly relevant and useful facts.

For its part, the local government departed - big time - from the federal government's guidance and did nothing to reinforce that message until less than 1 day before landfall. At that time, the local government gave a half-hearted mandatory evacuation, but also included places called "refuges of last resort", like the Superdome. 'Oh yeah', they said, 'bring your own food and water since the Dome was never intended to be a shelter in the first place.' Duh. Then they had just a few hours to find the keys to go open up the Superdome in time to start sheltering all the people that did not heed any other substantive and informed evacuation warnings.

There were at least 60,000 people of them and over 1000 of them needlessly paid with their lives. The rest were forcibly displaced while the world watched.

2007 - Wildfire evacuation warnings were spread throughout the affected regions all up and down the west coast. Many left their homes before the fire reached them and saved themselves in the process. Some did not and perished after being engulfed in flames. Flames that systematically and predictably marched their way to them ... and they did little to get out of the way. San Diego officials also deployed a reverse 911 system that repeatedly called everyone in the affected areas with consistent alerts and demands to evacuate. Hello? Can you hear me now?

2008 - Disaster warnings spread throughout the Southeast for three (3) days prior as the destructive storm cells developed. Over 1000 warnings were issued. Take cover in a suitable shelter they were told. Yet, one aftermath story told of a victim who was fatally wounded while sitting - to begin with anyway - in his mobile home, which was not even strapped to the ground. How old do you have to be to understand what 3 days notice, 1000 warnings and a fabricated house with a long history of becoming a projectile mean before you un-ass your mobile home and find a real, suitable shelter?

"But Daddio, maybe they were really taken by surprise?"

Oh really? Virtually every region affected had an early warning system in place - and it was used. And the stories - and my point - were not about the unsuspecting victims, but about folks who were duly warned but still chose to do nothing about it. As a result, their families are mourning them today. Was that re-run, chicken pot-pie or whatever that kept them on the sofa really worth it? Huh?

And so I am calling them out. Perhaps the media and others should stop glorifying their dying acts as heroic and start calling attention to the folly of their choice instead. That way, perhaps future victims might actually start absorbing some of that precious institutional knowledge and break the cycle of stupidity.

As bi-peds, we have put men on the moon, made phones that talk without wires and made pizza that gets a crust when cooked in a microwave. As a society - as an institution - we have learned that mean people suck, good health is, well, good and that steroids will get you banned from nearly every sport ever played.

So why can't we - as an institution - learn that the Hurricane Katrina victims died from the same results of poor judgment as many of the victims in the Southern California wildfires and many of the victims in Tuesday's Southeastern Tornadoes?


[If you know someone who tends to like re-runs and pot-pie more than safety, then please click the email icon below to forward this post to them. Or, subscribe to the Feed at the right, and forward the feed to them. They need all the help they can get.]

10 comments:

Tismee2 said...

You got a bee in yer bonnet Michael?

I have to agree - us Brits are re-knowned for our stuff upper lip and digging our heels in. But then we don't tend to have hurricanes, forest fires and tornadoes to worry about. We worry about leaves on train lines and a couple of inches of snow.

Talking of which, last week 28 schools either closed or arranged to close at lunchtime because the weather men said there was a risk of heavy snowfall that afternoon! I think there was about an inch and it melted an hour after it landed! So you see we do take heed of warnings sometimes....!

Michael M. said...

Yep...a bit of a burr in my boot I suppose.

And yes indeed, there is such a thing as hypersafe (which is inherantly unsafe too). I think a bit of proportional thinking goes a long way though!

Snow days can fun...until the make up day in the summer... :(

Deb in OPKS said...

Ok, I'm going to agree with you only halfway on this. At least on the Katrina thing. From my understanding, the hurricane itself was not the major cause of the devistation but the levees breaking. Levees that were not up to code. And I don't have all the facts on the tornados, so I'll reserve judgment, but maybe they didn't have anywhere to go. Maybe. Again, I haven't read a lot about it. Anyway, that's my uneducated opinion, for what it's worth.

Dana said...

I chalk this up to Darwin and let it play out the way it should. Cold? Well, some might think so, but I'm all about personal responsibility.

When you CHOOSE to live in a city built below sea level that is prone to hurricanes, you better know what to do.

Michael M. said...

Deb: thanks for chiming in! The levee's breaking certainly changed the scene, but my point was and is about people that knowingly, intentionally and recklessly ignored an evacuation order.

Admittedly, I subscribe in the school of thought of 'letting professionals do what professionals do', so if a hurricane pro says un-ass my house or drown, then I will likely do it. :)

Michael M. said...

Dana: A lot of folks there put their trust in the wrong people. If their local so-called-leaders didn't tell them to go, then 'the heck with all those other expert types'.

Your are right though, the cost of chossing to live in a floodplain is to know what the penalty's are if you ignore the experts and fail to take prudent precautions.

Tammy said...

Very well said!

The Exception said...

Personal responsibility is one part of the story. There is more to it in that there were people there that did not have the means to leave as easily as this post leads one to believe. There were mistakes on all levels in New Orleans - Plans were in place but not followed etc.

I agree though - we have to be responsible for ourselves and recognize the risks involved, take note of warnings, and then take responsibility for our actions.

I am guessing that you have your food, water, flashlights, etc safely packed in a storage unit in your car so that you can safely and quickly evacuate in accordance with DHS advice? (Don't forget the duct tape and plastic for the windows! ;) )

L.A. Mama said...

Hello Daddio,
I have lived in tornado alley and now live in wildfire alley out here in L.A. You stated that there were wildfire warnings...yes we have them every year. All that means is that it hasn't rained and it is going to be windy. These warnings can last for weeks. A downed power line (due to strong winds) was the sole reason for the Malibu fire and arson caused the fire in Irvine.

Now many people think that the wildfires only affected the people who live in the areas of the fire. Not true. We lived 25 miles from one fire and 6 miles from another fire. I did not allow my children outside for a week and a half. Keeping them inside didn't keep them safe.
My 2 year old had a severe asthma attack because of the poor air quality that seeped into our home through our ventilation system.

So as you might guess, it really irritates me when people can sit back and watch their TV's and pretend to know what it is like in a completely different part of the country...and to think that they have all the answers and all of the information to make an informed opinion without actually experiencing the disaster themselves.

Remember. Don't believe everything you read or hear. There is always more to the story.

Michael M. said...

Exception & La Mama: Yep, there's always more to the story. Thanks for your comments!