Friday, September 02, 2005

What a real disaster looks like

Okay, I'm quit early today so I could check out the coverage on the Katrina catastrophe in the blogosphere and post a couple of things. (I'll probably stay up most of the night to compensate.) Here's a couple of things about the relief effort that ought to be considered when weighing why there was such a lack of visible relief activity after three days.

First off, from what I listened to in reports on the news and radio, since I haven't had time to get on the Internet, it certainly seemed to me that things were not happening very quickly even after I discounted all the crap coverage and no-nothing comments in the (mostly television) coverage. I wondered why there wasn't more initiative and adaptation. That, to me, is the hallmark of American relief efforts -- it gets done no matter what, and fast. And people pitch in. We see it all the time, and there have been many comparative notations in the Katrina coverage to the most recent big relief activities such as 9/11, the Boxing Day Tsunami and some assorted previous hurricanes -- Ivan, Andrew and Charlie.

Just a quick qualifier before I get to this first point. I am not as well versed on the relief activities for those previous hurricanes, but I'll hazard that access to the disaster areas in these instances were not impeded as much (for a host of reasons) and the thought that survival (in the sense that people could return to pick up the pieces) in the disaster area could be managed.

I think that is one critical difference between those and the Katrina situation. Here's why. This is what a disaster looks like when most of the people in the disaster area leave before the disaster strikes. Let me qualify that further -- it's what a disaster area looks like in the first days when so many people are gone. No, wait, let me hone that even more -- it's what a disaster looks like when all the people who have the aptitude, ability and desire to take the initiative and adapt, as soon as it was safe to do so, have been told to leave and, being the 'take the initiative and adapt' type people, they do so. And it is exacerbated when they are told they can't come back.

First responders, that is, the official ones, to a disaster are only a portion of the 'count those responding with your finger' responders. With apologies to all the valiant, hard-working, and conscientious relief workers now busting their butts doing what they do best, what I finally noticed missing from the television coverage was the account after account after account of the unofficial first responders doing what they do best -- helping those further down the need ladder to get up one more rung on the ladder. The vivid, heart-breaking accounts I saw on tv had the victims but the rescuer was missing from the picture. They were missing because they are scattered about miles and miles from the disaster. I'm not sure if they have come back elsewhere, but in the case on New Orleans, few, if any, have returned even the second or third day after Katrina passed north.

I can't say that it could have been any different in the case of Katrina. What I can say is that this is pretty much what a real disaster will look like when you take the unofficial first responders out of the picture. Anyone who thinks it could be any different is just fooling themselves.


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