Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family from Disasters

Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family from Disasters

by Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré (U.S. Army, ret), Ron Martz

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Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family from Disasters by Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré (U.S. Army, ret)

It seems as though the frequency of natural disasters occurring around the nation and the world is increasing. Every day, there are new stories about earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and forest fires ravaging some part of the globe. There's also the threat of terrorist attacks at home and abroad. More than ever before, we need to think about the unthinkable and not depend on government to protect us from harm.

Highly regarded as a hero during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Gen. Russel Honoré was the right leader at the right time. Combined with his extensive and impressive military background, his rugged upbringing in rural Louisiana gave him the experience and know-how in a hurricane-prone environment to lead the Katrina recovery effort. Survival is part personal memoir and part account of the events of Hurricane Katrina, but all in service to providing a useful guide filled with practical suggestions on how each of us can effectively respond to catastrophic events.

The potentially devastating effects of natural disasters and terrorist attacks should not be taken lightly, and General Honoré explains how our culture has moved far from a mind-set to protect our communities from the harm that nature and our fellow humans can do. But we can learn from our experience and history and change our culture into one of preparedness -- as long as we have the will.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439101810
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 05/05/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

General Honore was born in Lousiana on a farm north of Baton Rouge during a Hurricane. His  family understood the importance of preparedness in a time before technology could warn us about upcoming storms. He has served in a variety of planning and response operations, including Hurricane Floyd in 1999, Lilly and Isadore in 2002, Isabel in 2003, and Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne in 2004. He has also planned and supported U.S. military response abroad countries such as Venezuela and Mozambique.

Read an Excerpt


The Patience of the Poor

The slate-gray Navy SH-60 Seahawk helicopter came in fast and low over New Orleans. Rushing beneath me were rivers of dark, stagnant water that three days earlier had been the streets and alleys of this vibrant city. In some areas only the roofs of houses were visible above the waterline. Elevated portions of Interstate 10 rose out of the murky water like the bleached spine of some elongated humpbacked sea serpent. People who had been chased from their homes by the floodwaters were scrambling to reach the highest levels of the highway overpasses in search of islands of dry concrete. It was shortly after 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, August 31, and what could be seen from the air was not good. But much worse was waiting just a few minutes away at the Louisiana Superdome.

As the helicopter approached the business district of downtown New Orleans and the hulking round mound of concrete and glass that is the Superdome, thousands of people packed together and looking up at the helicopter from the upper plaza level outside the building that bills itself as "Louisiana's Most Recognizable Landmark" came into view. Just a few feet below the crowd, at street level, were the rising waters flowing into the city from nearby Lake Pontchartrain.

My initial reaction to the scene was to mutter to myself, "Oh, my God!" This was my first view of the situation here. All my knowledge to this point had come from reports written by my staff. Their words failed to describe adequately the magnitude of the disaster that Katrina inflicted on New Orleans. But, in their defense, no one could have done justice in words to what was unfolding that morning.

Some of the thousands of people standing outside the Superdome had come there over the weekend when New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered the first-ever mandatory evacuation of the city after it appeared Katrina was going to score a direct hit. Many of them were poor and African-American, their only means of transportation the buses and streetcars of the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. They had no way to escape the storm's fury, no way to get out of the city ahead of the hurricane. And those on welfare had little money to buy their way out of town because it was the end of the month and the subsistence checks would not arrive for another few days. The Superdome, which can seat more than 72,000 football fans for New Orleans Saints games and the Sugar Bowl, was converted into a temporary shelter and became their refuge of last resort.

By Monday morning that refuge was a double-edged nightmare. Sunday night and early Monday morning, as about 9,000 city residents and tourists and more than five hundred Louisiana National Guard soldiers huddled inside, Katrina's winds began peeling away the rubber membrane that covers the roof. Holes opened and torrents of hurricanedriven rainwater poured in. People moved quickly to find dry spots. Some of those who came early to the Superdome were encouraged by city officials to bring food, water, and sleeping bags so they could ride out the storm with some amenities since few would be available at the stadium. But when the storm violated the roof and knocked out power throughout the city, the lights went out and the toilets stopped working. This refuge of last resort quickly became a foul-smelling, water-soaked place of suffering instead of a safe haven.

Then, when the levees failed on Monday morning flooding much of the city, the homes of many inside the Superdome became uninhabitable and those people had nowhere else to go. Many came believing they would simply ride out Katrina in the safety of the Dome and go home the next morning. Katrina had other ideas. She not only took their refuge, she took their homes and all their possessions. As the waters rose throughout the city, thousands more were chased from their homes and came looking for shelter and help. But these latest arrivals were chased from their homes on short notice and had not prepared to evacuate. They came with only what they wore and what they could carry. They were unprepared for the disaster that had descended on New Orleans.

The numbers of evacuees grew throughout Monday and Tuesday from the original 9,000 to more than 15,000. Some estimates ran as high as 20,000. Despite gate checks at every entrance for those early arrivals, in which National Guard soldiers searched for weapons and alcohol among those allowed into the Dome, there was no accurate head count, although most estimates had the total at around 16,000-17,000. By Monday morning, when the crowd inside began moving outside to get away from the fouled toilets and dark, water-soaked interior, the new arrivals whose homes had been inundated by the levee breaks were crowding onto the already jammed plaza.

By Wednesday morning people were standing elbow to elbow and hip to hip. They were surrounded by water with no place to go and no way to get there. They were trapped, with the fouled inside of the Dome to their back and the National Guard and floodwaters all around them. They had no working toilets. Their food and water were dwindling. Their only hope was in the government that had encouraged them to come here. But what we were all about to discover was that Katrina was so massive and so destructive that even the federal, state, and local agencies that might have come quickly to the aid of these poor souls were terribly overmatched and had themselves become victims of the storm.

At about 1,500 feet the helicopter made two quick turns around the Superdome before dropping into a steep dive for a small, concrete landing pad on the northwest corner of the upper parking lot near Poydras Street. The clatter of the Seahawk's rotor blades echoed and reverberated off the nearby buildings and water. It seemed abnormally loud, like a helicopter on steroids. Despite the noise, I could hear in my headset calls from the pilots of other helicopters talking to one another about people they had seen standing on their roofs, trapped by the water, waiting to be rescued. The pilot threw the helicopter onto the landing pad with a solid thump and I quickly deplaned and headed for a small white security trailer to meet with Mayor Ray Nagin and officials from FEMA and the Louisiana National Guard to get their assessment of the situation.

A wall of humidity hit me as soon as I was clear of the helicopter's rotor wash and I broke out in a sweat. This was summer in Louisiana, just as I remembered it as a child growing up on the farm. The overpowering stench of brackish water and human waste was thick in the air. It was a collective smell of noxious odors that reminded me of the smell of a full garbage can when the lid is lifted on a hot summer morning.

Just a few yards to my left were the masses of people. They looked at the helicopter and at my uniform hopefully, expectantly, pleading with their eyes to be rescued. Many of the faces were faces of color, like mine. Except for the grace of God, I might have been among them. These were the people I had grown up with. Now they were looking for help. They had that look of people who were trapped and had lost their freedom of movement. They wanted in the worst way to get out but knew there was nothing they could do but wait. They looked at the helicopter as if to say, "Maybe that's our ride out. Maybe they'll take us with them." But they stood quietly behind the flimsy metal barricades, with only a few National Guard soldiers between them and the helicopter, and they waited with a patience that only the poor know.

Turning to walk up the few steps to the security trailer, I looked over a low concrete retaining wall to the street below. A young African-American woman was wading slowly but deliberately through waist-deep water along West Stadium Drive near Cypress Street pushing a grocery cart with a child standing in it. They were searching for an entrance ramp to the Superdome, searching for shelter and rescue.

Already in the trailer were Nagin; Major General Bennie Landreneau, The Adjutant General (TAG) of the Louisiana National Guard, whom I had known for many years; Scott Wells, FEMA's Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) for Katrina (and later Hurricane Rita); and Wells's deputy, Philip Parr. In addition, members of Landreneau's staff and mine crowded into the trailer along with Coast Guardsmen handling the FM radios and coordinating helicopter search-and-rescue missions throughout the city. Those radios were the only communications systems working in New Orleans at that time except for satellite telephones, because the storm had knocked out virtually all cell phone towers and downed electrical and telephone lines in much of southern Louisiana.

It was stifling in the trailer. The single toilet was fouled and unusable. Only one small generator was working. But the Coasties had somehow managed to scrounge up a coffee pot and hooked it up to the generator and had fresh coffee brewing. It was one of the few obvious signs of initiative, but it was a good sign.

Nagin looked like a man under a great deal of stress, which was understandable. He was tired, edgy, and in need of a shave. It had not been a good few days for him or the city of New Orleans. But he was the senior elected official on the ground and nominally would be my boss, or one of them, for the duration of this mission. It was not my intent to give him the impression that JTF-Katrina was the cavalry riding in to rescue him or that we were coming here to take charge. JTF-Katrina was in a support role and would do what it could to assist him, other elected officials, and the FEMA representatives while working in coordination with Landreneau's Louisiana National Guard soldiers.

For the first thirty minutes I simply sat and listened as Nagin, Wells, Parr, and Landreneau talked about their concerns and their needs and how they thought the numerous problems confronting them should be addressed. The mayor's focus was on getting people out of the Superdome. "We need to start some flow," he said more than once. "We need to start moving people any way we can." He talked about the horrific conditions inside the Superdome and how people could not go back inside because of the filth, water, and lack of electricity. More and more people were coming to the Superdome every hour seeking help as the flooding got worse throughout the city. Though I didn't know it at that moment, an equal number of people were heading to the sprawling Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which stretched for blocks along the Mississippi River just a short distance away. The mayor's focus in that first meeting was almost entirely on evacuating the Superdome. It was unclear whether there was any solid information about the crowd at the convention center.

Landreneau's concern was to maintain the flow of National Guard troops into the city to assist with security because reports were starting to come in about looting. He also stressed the importance of getting additional food and water to the people at the Superdome. The Coast Guard, which was taking the lead on the search-and-rescue mission, and Landreneau's Louisiana National Guard forces seemed to understand their roles in this disaster and were working with all the speed they could muster and what few resources were available to them at that time.

At one point the discussion turned to using helicopters to start evacuating people from the Superdome. But the helicopters, which eventually would number more than three hundred, were heavily involved in search and rescue, plucking people off rooftops and taking them to the nearest dry ground. In my mind diverting the helicopters from that mission in order to start moving people out of the Superdome was not a wise use of limited resources. The people at the Superdome had dry feet and were in no danger of drowning. Those who were injured or ill, or who needed medications left behind when they evacuated their homes, could be evacuated by helicopter to where they could get medical aid. Other than that, the people on the rooftops were the priority.

The helicopter idea was one of just many thrown out and batted around in that meeting. It was the kind of thing that happens whenever a group of people is trying to solve a complex problem; people bring up all sorts of ideas about how to do things and out of that they figure out what will really work and what won't. But some months later, Parr gave a statement to congressional investigators that he had worked out a plan with a National Guard official, who was never identified, to evacuate people from the Superdome using helicopters. Parr said that they could have cleared out the 16,000-17,000 people within thirty hours and that I came in and nixed the plan, resulting in a delay in the evacuation of at least twenty-four hours.

Parr's comments during the meeting about helicopter evacuation were not something that resonated with me. It seemed more like a bright-ass idea than a plan. But he later confused his bright-ass idea for a plan and told Congress about it. We all get those kinds of ideas. The city had already ordered the buses from FEMA and Parr had been a part of that. But to later say I delayed evacuation by twenty-four hours is unconscionable. Nobody wanted those people at the Superdome to stay in those conditions any longer than was necessary, least of all me, because I, more than anyone else in that room, except for Nagin, identified with those people.

Parr simply did not know what he was talking about when it came to helicopters. The numbers just did not work out. In that weather, with that kind of humidity, using medium-lift helicopters like UH-1 Hueys and Army Black Hawks and Navy Seahawks, we might have been able to move ten to twelve people at a time from the Superdome. Then, once we got them out of there, the question was where we would take them. The nearest likely spot was Baton Rouge, seventy-five miles and thirty minutes away. Then there was the thirty minutes back, refueling, crew changes, loading and unloading, and occasional maintenance. The math was not there. When my staff later heard about Parr's testimony before Congress we called bullshit on it all the way to the bank.

As the meeting went on, it began to descend into the blame game. Nagin, Wells, and Parr went back and forth about who was responsible for what and who should have done what and when. Nagin said FEMA was responsible for the buses but the buses were not there. Parr said the buses were en route but he did not know how many or when they would arrive. Finally, I stood up and said firmly, "Okay guys, let's get off our asses and do something." We left the trailer with the situation unresolved but I knew that we had to start building capacity in order to take care of all the issues that confronted us.

I flew immediately from the Superdome to the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship sitting about eighty miles offshore, to check it out as a possible site for my forward headquarters. The ship had been in the Gulf of Mexico before Katrina and rode out the storm at sea. It was ordered to stay in the area to assist if it was needed. I had a staff back in Atlanta and a smaller headquarters at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, but was looking for something that would give me more command and control for the operations in New Orleans. After about a ninety-minute visit it became clear that the Bataan did not suit my needs and I returned to the Superdome to meet with National Guard officials and police about additional security.

For the second time that day I was met by those same haunting stares and that same look of expectancy from the people massed outside the building. Their eyes seemed to follow me and the more I looked back at them the more I wanted to get them out of there quickly and safely.

There was a brief discussion with National Guard officials about the possibility of using high-water trucks to evacuate people. But the trucks had the same problems as the helicopters; too few people could be evacuated on each run and there was no place close to New Orleans to take them. The hotels and motels that had survived Katrina were full. Baton Rouge was overflowing. Putting people on charter buses and taking them to the Houston Astrodome, a solution worked out by FEMA, was the quickest, safest, and most logical way to go at that point. But I made it clear to the National Guard that the people should be able to walk directly from the Superdome onto the buses without getting their feet wet. A plan eventually was worked out so the evacuees would walk through the Hyatt Regency hotel next door and onto the buses waiting on Loyola Avenue to take them to Houston.

Late that afternoon I flew to Baton Rouge to meet with Governor Kathleen Blanco at the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to get her assessment of the situation and hear what priorities she thought needed addressing. She was the senior elected official in the state, so JTF-Katrina was working for her as well as Nagin. I could not unilaterally start making decisions about how we would be employed because of the restrictions on the use of active-duty military troops within the continental United States under the Posse Comitatus Act. Essentially, active-duty troops are able to assist and provide support to civil authorities in times of disaster to save lives. But they cannot do law enforcement and are not in charge of anything except themselves. Under the provisions of the Stafford Act, federal officials, civilian and military, have to be invited by a state's governor to come into his or her jurisdiction to perform specified missions unless it involves saving lives that are in imminent danger. Law enforcement is not one of those missions for active-duty military forces.

Blanco was a pleasant, amiable woman but it was clear that, like Nagin, she was under a great deal of stress and also was a victim of the storm. Victims tend to act and speak like victims and that becomes quite apparent to those who are not victims. Still, Blanco seemed well aware of the immediate needs and priorities. They were to save lives, evacuate people from the Superdome, provide assistance to those in need of it, and tend to the dead, in that order. Brigadier General Mark Graham from Fifth Army in San Antonio, Texas, was with me and it became his job to stay in Baton Rouge and ensure the evacuation plan worked smoothly from that end. He also was responsible for helping track the buses to the Houston Astrodome.

What I did not realize at the time, and what Blanco did not mention in that meeting, was that she was quite disappointed that I had not brought a large number of troops to handle what appeared to her, based on what she was seeing on television, to be a situation in New Orleans where civil authority was breaking down and the city was on the verge of chaos from looters, arsonists, and roving gunmen. It was an impression that many people were beginning to develop as a result of media coverage of Katrina's aftermath. But as will be recounted in detail later in the book, much of that was overhyped and unsubstantiated rumor breathlessly passed on to the world by news media more intent on feeding the insatiable 24/7 news cycle monster than on verifying potentially explosive information.

Had Blanco asked me in that meeting why I had not brought in more troops, a complaint she later repeatedly made to members of Congress and numerous others, I would have told her it was simply a matter of priority and capacity. The priorities were to save lives and evacuate people. We needed helicopters, boats, and buses to do that. Additional troops would merely have taken up space, food, water, and transportation assets. Even if we had been able to get them into the city, there was no place to house them. And there was little for them to do in those first few days since they were prohibited from doing law enforcement.

From the outside the situation may have appeared maddeningly dysfunctional, and at times it seemed that way from the inside. But FEMA was working the evacuation issue with the buses, and the Louisiana National Guard was working with the overextended New Orleans Police Department to provide more security in and around the city. Things were beginning to work, but we were in the process of building capacity and because of the magnitude of the problems dropped in our laps by Katrina, the responses were moving slowly.

There is a National Response Framework for situations such as hurricanes and floods. There is no National Preparedness Plan for disasters. A disaster breaks everything, including the response plan, just as Katrina did. But even a good response plan is just what it says it is: a response. It is not a preparedness plan. The response plan does not provide for the prepositioning of key assets, military or civilian, in areas that are prone to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, or any number of other natural disasters. FEMA did not have two hundred buses sitting around waiting for the next hurricane. It has to contract for those buses and those buses have to be driven in. Governors in hurricane-prone states chafe at the idea of federal troops being sent in prior to a storm. They see it as an insult to their first responders and National Guard forces. Until we as a nation develop a sense that preparedness means actual preparation, not just thinking about it, there will come a time when other communities find themselves in the same situation as New Orleans did after Hurricane Katrina.

Shortly after 7 p.m. my staff and I flew back to New Orleans to talk to the mayor, police, fire, and National Guard officials about the evacuation plan that had been developed. Nagin had to sign off on it, as did the police, before it could be implemented. Louisiana National Guard officials had expressed concerns in my meeting with them earlier that day about security. They felt we needed a significant number of police to help control the crowd at the critical point where evacuees would pass out of the Superdome plaza, through the Hyatt Regency, and onto the buses on Loyola Avenue in front of the hotel. They wanted police to be used, rather than uniformed National Guard soldiers, because if there was any trouble the police could quickly intervene.

I hopped into a Humvee for the short drive to the police department and before we had gone very far the water was up to my butt in the low-slung vehicle. We plowed through the water slowly, watching as people continued to wade through the flood in search of high ground or the refuge of last resort at the Superdome. Once we got to police headquarters we learned the mayor was not there. His house had been flooded and he had been given a room at the Hyatt Regency, even though the hotel had shut down and most of the staff had gone home. But the hotel was close to both the Superdome and City Hall and from there Nagin could easily monitor situations as they developed, even though there were no working communications systems except for military radios and satellite telephones.

We linked up with police superintendent P. Edwin "Eddie" Compass III; his top deputy, Steven Nicholas; Fire Department superintendent Charles Parent; and the New Orleans homeland security chief, Terry Ebbert. Ebbert is a retired Marine Corps colonel and Vietnam veteran who had been awarded the Navy Cross, the nation's second-highest military decoration for valor in combat. He was a good man to have around in a time of crisis. Ebbert was not given to wild statements and overexaggerations as were Compass and Nicholas. Both resigned only a few months after Katrina.

The discussion centered on the evacuation plan and the need for security as the crowd passed through the Hyatt Regency and onto the buses. The National Guard believed the presence of local police would help preserve order and prevent people from rushing the buses and trampling others ahead of them. There was also concern that people might try to inflict some damage on the hotel or surrounding businesses. We reached agreement relatively quickly on the details of the plan and we returned to the Superdome, butt-wet again, to meet with the mayor, tell him what had been decided, and see if he approved of it.

In order to get to the Hyatt Regency I had to walk through the crowd. By now it had grown into a sea of humanity pressed together uncomfortably close in the stifling heat and humidity. Some people were standing in their own filth, unable to move. Only a few small, flimsy metal barricades, each manned by two National Guard soldiers, held them back. Darkness was coming on quickly and some of the National Guard soldiers wanted to put together an armed escort to help me get through the crowd.

"All I want is somebody who can walk through here and show me the way. I don't want any weapons drawn," I told them.

I picked two soldiers, had them sling their weapons, and we moved into the crowd, walking slowly. "I don't want you pushing people out of the way," I told the two. It was so crowded people could not lie down or sit down. These guardsmen knew what they were doing and it was my sense as well that we needed to be as respectful as possible. We offered a polite "Excuse me" and "Pardon us" as we passed through the crowd. How else are you going to act when you're in the middle of 16,000 or 17,000 people, many of whom have just lost their homes and most of their belongings and are about to be shipped out to parts unknown? They hadn't done anything wrong. They had just survived a horrific event. They were waiting for the system to help them but the system was responding slowly.

That walk of just a few hundred yards from one side of the Superdome plaza to the other was amazing. Once again the look of helplessness and despair was obvious in the eyes of many. Their pain was not only physical, it was emotional. The storm had basically broken their morale. Their frustration filled the plaza. I know if I had been among them I would have been the first to be angry. I get upset when I have to wait at the grocery store for the cashier to change the tape in the register. Still others gave me a look that said, "Hey, I'm still alive."

These were mostly poor people, people who were used to having nothing but patience. Their tolerance for these horrible conditions and their calmness while waiting for help were amazing. There was never a harsh word for us, never a sense that we were going to be attacked.

"Hey, brah," one man called out in the vernacular of the street. "Are you going to get us out of here?"

"Yep," I replied, "we're going to get you out."

Walking through the crowd I realized these people were in an information vacuum. They had no real idea of what had happened, what was happening, or what was about to happen. They needed information as much as they needed help, but they had neither. People in Chicago and New York knew more about what was going on in New Orleans than they did. The media were beaming this story around the world, but not one bit of that information was being delivered here, to the people who needed it most.

In any national-level natural disaster such as Katrina or major man-created disaster such as a terrorist attack or mass shooting, there is usually an unspoken, implicit contract between the news media and the individuals and agencies that deal with the response and recovery. The media use these individuals and agencies to get access so they can report their stories and get them out to the general public. The media in turn are used by those who respond and assist in the recovery to get out information that is vital for the public at large and for those most affected.

But for the first few days after Katrina hit, the information flow was all one way. The media had the equipment and the technology to get the information from a storm- and flood-ravaged New Orleans to the world. But it did nothing to provide information to the people most in need of it, those at the Superdome and later at the convention center.

There are those within the media who would argue that that is not their role. But I would argue that it is their responsibility as good citizens. They had the technology and the necessary equipment to bring in loudspeakers or wide-screen televisions so the people trapped at the Superdome could have had some sense of what was going on. Even some radio broadcasts or quickly printed leaflets would have helped immensely. None of this would have gotten the buses there any faster. Nor would it have gotten people the toilets they needed. But it would have provided a sense that a great number of people were working furiously on behalf of those who were trapped. The media are fond of saying it is their role to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. They did a lot of the former but absolutely none of the latter for the survivors in the first few post-Katrina days.

That sense of wanting some news, any news, was evident during my walk through the crowd that night. Many asked what was going on and how quickly they would be getting out of there. One man, who apparently had some military experience, saw the three silver stars on my black beret and remarked to someone else, "That's a three-star general. Something's going to happen now."

When people saw my name tag with HONORE´ stitched in bold, black thread on the green background they recognized it as a Louisiana name with a long and distinguished heritage. Some would ask if I knew this Honoré or that Honoré that they knew. Usually I did not, but simply having that Louisiana name meant something to them. It seemed to provide a sense of hope that things would get better.

When we got to the hotel only two guards were at the door. The crowd was not pushing at them or trying to break through. These people had come through an incredible shock and were not rioting and were not on the verge of panic. They had been put in a helpless, almost hopeless situation. Still, they waited with that patience that is so much a part of the culture of the poor.

After meeting briefly with the mayor and explaining what would happen the next morning when the buses started arriving, he agreed to the plan and we returned to the Superdome. I talked again with National Guard officials to make sure we were all on the same page, then shortly before 10:30 got back into the helicopter for the return flight to Camp Shelby and a few hours of sleep.

As the helicopter sliced through the thick night air, the ground below us eerily dark because of the lack of electricity in much of southern Louisiana and Mississippi, I ran through the events of the day in my head. It was clear that no one, least of all the people most affected, had been prepared for the wrath of Katrina. The storm had overwhelmed the ability of both the system and the people to deal with it. Whatever any government agency or individual had put in place to cope with storms such as Katrina had simply been overmatched. Some families had prepared, but their preparations usually had not been sufficient to deal with this storm. The governments of Louisiana and New Orleans had talked about the worst-case scenario but prepared for the best-case scenario. The people had thought about the worst-case scenario, but few had actually prepared for it.

In order to change that, in order to mitigate the effects of storms like Katrina or other disasters, there would have to be a cultural shift in how governments, businesses, the education system, and individuals prepared for them. Preparation would have to become as important as response. It was something that had been bred into me growing up on a subsistence farm in central Louisiana. Disaster was always one storm, one bad crop, one untimely death away. But how well we survived that disaster was in direct relation to how we prepared for it. In my family, disaster preparedness, even if we didn't call it that, was the key to survival in rural Louisiana.


Lessons Learned for Building a Culture of Preparedness

1. Remember lessons from the Superdome: shelters must be able to keep people alive in the worst-case scenario.

2. Be aware of a thirty-foot tidal surge coming ashore with the eye of a hurricane.

3. When a hurricane hits at the end of the month, the poor, elderly, and disabled people who depend on government checks will not have the money to evacuate.

4. Don't stage response equipment inside an area prone to tidal surges or floods.

5. The federal government, led by FEMA, needs to stage supplies, buses, and IBBs (itty-bitty boats) on the flanks of the projected storm landfall area.

6. When evacuating a city, government personnel should evacuate last. All bus drivers and public service personnel should remain behind to help with evacuation of disabled, poor, and the ill.

7. During an evacuation, no car should leave with an empty seat...take a neighbor, a friend, an employee.

8. First responders need satellite based communication in the event cell towers are down.

9. Police stations, hospitals, and fire stations should have generators large enough to provide power for the entire building.

10. Generators should be on upper floors of buildings and not at ground level or in basements.

11. The U.S. Navy should have standing orders to follow hurricanes ashore with Wasp-class amphibious assault ships that have helicopters and Marines onboard.

12. State and local governments need to work with in-state businesses for help with evacuation and response. Colleges in high-risk areas should offer a Red Cross First Aid and Disaster Response Course. The students would earn college credit and be trained to keep people alive during a disaster.

Copyright © 2009 by General Russel Honoré

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