September 03, 2005

Slow Emergency Response

So, I was just re-reading this in "A Short History Of Nearly Everything," about the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption, and something struck me. See if you can figure out what it was:

Ninety minutes after the blast, ash began to rain down on Yakima, Washington, a community of fifty thousand people about eighty miles away. As you would expect, the ash turned day to night and got into everything, clogging motors, generators, and electrical switching equipment, choking pedestrians, blocking filtration systems, and generally bringing things to a halt. The airport shut down and highways in and out of the city were closed.

All this was happening, you will note, just downwind of a volcano tht had been rumbling menacingly for two months. Yet Yakima had no volcano emergency procedures. The city's emergency broadcast system, which was supposed to swing into action during a crises, did not go on the air because "the Sunday-morning staff did not know how to operate the equipment." For three days, Yakima was paralyzed and cut off from the world, its airport closed, its approach roads impassable.

Gosh that sounds familiar, but I just can't quite place why.

I don't know. It must be Bush's fault, somehow.

Posted by Ryan at September 3, 2005 01:16 PM | TrackBack

That's why being the president is such hard work. Because the guy in that chair occasionally has to answer for the actions (or inaction) of the government.

Of course, cutting the FEMA budget is starting to look like a questionable move. As was de-funding levee retrofits. But hey, there were tax cuts and wars to be funded.

The volcano story is somewhat similar, except you have to remember that volcanoes erupt relatively infrequently. Seriously, the most recent time St. Helens looked like it was gonna blow, you can bet your ass Yakima had plans in place. Hurricanes, on the other hand, happen pretty much every year. And there were plans in place to deal with this eventuality, they were just never acted upon.

You may be right that the administration is being unfairly criticized -- after all, they didn't cause the hurricane (global warming inaction aside, of course) -- but on the scale of tragedy, one must admit that their embarassment ranks pretty low.

I think staying on vacation for the first two days was a PR blunder.

Posted by: flamingbanjo at September 3, 2005 03:15 PM

I think Bush's vacations, in general, are PR blunders. "Hey, I'll go on vacation for a month!" So, you had a bored press sitting outside the Crawford ranch just salivating for a Cindy Sheehan to come along. I do agree that aspects of the relief effort have come up short, especially in the beginning, but I also think that the outpouring of American aid and volunteers shows the best of our nation on display.

Posted by: Ryan at September 3, 2005 05:19 PM

Ryan, I know this is not PC, but damn, when did we become a country that expects our government to take care of us?
People are acting like the government is to blame for all this, but A) why didn't they get the fuck out when they could, and don't tell me that they were too poor, they had busses, trains etc etc. I'm not talking about the aged, hospitalized or people that were physically unable to make their way to a bus or train. I'm talking about those who thought, I'll just go hang out at the dome, and then go home.
B) people were told if they were going to stay, (not recommended) to gather enough supplies for several days. Why didn't they?
Instead, they are in a horrendous situation, and pissed because the govt hasn't responded sooner. I just don't think that the govt should be held responsible for my well being, any more than I think that people should be able to sue the govt because they lost a loved one on 9/11.
I do agree that the aid and volunteers show the best of America, the looters and lawless, the worst.
I know that seems simple, but damn, this country was founded on people wanting to take care of themselves, and each other, without having to rely on a government to care of them. When you were getting the hell out of NO, why not take a neighbor with you? Why not pick up someone who was walking out? We should be dependent on ourselves and our neighbors rather than our govt.
I also know it's not that easy. I guess I'm just bugged by the people that seem to have expected their world to be fixed by someone else.

Posted by: Donna at September 4, 2005 05:51 AM

Ryan, you're not from here so you probably don't know this, but Yakima is an extremely rural area with very little of its own money. It's hard for them to have a "disaster plan" because they don't have enough infrastructure for the local government to manage. That's A.

B is, Mt. St. Helens didn't erupt during a period when the entire country had spent 4 years gearing up for terrorist attacks that would produce almost exactly this kind of damage-- if a hurricane hadn't overtaxed the levees, it's just as possible that someone could have blown them up. New Orleans is a major city. Don't tell me the DoHS didn't have a plan for dealing with this exact thing; people have been talking about something like this happening in NO for years.

And finally, C: Donna, the reason we expect the Federal Government to take care of us is that the Federal Government has put us all in a position of needing to be taken care of. Federal Income Tax basically makes it impossible for states and counties to maintain a tax base that can meet their needs; taxpayers are already giving so much to the Federal Governemnt that they are unwilling to give, say, their county government enough tax money for them to have their own disaster management office. This is true on a lot of fronts: Federal trade policies have gutted regional manufacturing and food production, which has left vast regions of the country more vulnerable to disasters like this one because they have no local resources: a narrow scope of farmed goods, a shallow stock of durrable goods, etc. When my town floods and my can openner is under 20 feet of water I need the federal government to bring me a new one becuase the nearest factory that makes them is in fucking China. The nearest place that bottles water is in South America. The nearest place that mills cloth is in North Africa. And so on.

This country may have been founded by people who wanted to take care of themselves-- but their children want $25 DVD players from Wal*Mart and that attutude has contributed to a simple inability on the part of regional governments to manage their own resources with an eye toward disaster preparedness.

Not, before anyone decides to start putting words in my mouth, that that's all that happened in NO. I'm just saying-- reliance on outside producers and distributors is a fact of life in the present economy.

Posted by: Joshua at September 4, 2005 08:38 AM

Joshua, I just meant it's like you said that Michelle said, if your neighbor's house is on fire, don't just stop at calling 911, go out and throw some water on it too.
And like you said, if you got a truck, use the damn thing, and haul someone out.
Don't wait for someone to come get your happy ass out, grab your shit and go, (enough to eat and drink for at least 3 days), and take your elderly neighbor and their little dog too. Or the single mom with kids, dog, cat and hamsters.
Don't just sit there and whine that nobody cares about you because you are poor and black and that because you are poor and black that you couldn't have taken care of yourself and gotten the hell out. Take care of yourself in spite of being poor and black like most of the people did.
And even if they had to walk out Josh, it still wouldn't have been as bad as the Eugene hike, (which has now become the bar that we all measure our own hikes by. Holy shit dude.)
Sorry we've hijacked your blog Ryan, but it's what we do.

Posted by: Donna at September 4, 2005 11:47 AM

Well, Donna, I don't know if you are poor or black or live paycheck to paycheck but here are two things for you to think about -

A) It was the end of the month, people were waiting on paychecks. Many that live paycheck to paycheck had no extra cash for 3 days worth of supplies.

B) From what I've gathered, all public transportation (buses, rental cars, planes, etc.) was shut down a day before the mayor announced the mandatory evacuation. If you don't have a car and there are no buses, no rental cars, no planes leaving the area, what are you supposed to do, how are you supposed to evacuate? Would you have walked out in 90-100 deg. temps? Or would you have gone to the Super Dome hoping you'd be temporarily safe?

Posted by: Melanie at September 4, 2005 12:21 PM

Nope, there were still busses, trains, etc leaving the city, and you don't have 3 days worth of food in your house? Running water? Gather it up, get the hell out, and take other people with you.
(I'm not talking about the elderly, infirm, very young, but the majority of the people that stayed, were young healthy adults, and chose to stay, figuring that when it was over, it would either not be as bad as predicted, or that the govt would take care of it.) And the govt should, but I personally, don't expect anyone to take care of me, but me, and if I can't, then other people, but not the government. And yes, as far as being poor, been there and done that. I just feel like we shouldn't try to find someone to blame for the predicament they are in other than themselves, (again, see above exceptions), and instead of expecting someone to take care of them, they should do what they can to help themselves, and the people around them.

Posted by: Donna at September 4, 2005 01:48 PM

Let me clarify blaming themselves, they can't blame themselves for being hit by a hurricane, but they can't blame the government either. Act of God, mother nature, whatever.
I do think that someone should be held accountable for the levees though, it didn't take much foresight to see that coming. That's what I find most unbelievable about the whole thing, the last time I was there, like a year and a half ago, they were still talking about the last hurricane, the flooding, deaths, etc. They knew it could happen again, they knew it would be devastating, and still didn't have a better plan.

Posted by: Donna at September 4, 2005 01:55 PM


Many of the residents left in New Orleans are poor, and while some people have criticized them for failing to heed mandatory evacuation orders, many residents say they were simply unable to get out for financial or medical reasons.

"People are saying that those stuck in New Orleans now are those that wanted to stay, but that's not true," said Danelle Fleming, a New Orleans-based social worker. "They wanted to leave, but they couldn't."

She said that the city's Greyhound station was closing Saturday afternoon -- even as people without cars were trying to leave.

Saturday was the 27th.

The mandatory evacuation wasn't ordered until the 28th.
"New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin declared a state of emergency Sunday and ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city. (Watch video of mayor's announcement)"

If I'm wrong please point it out.

Also, you've never been poor if at any given day you have 3 days worth of food for your whole family in your cupboard. I know you've read Joshua's posts about waiting for money at the end of the month, I don't have time to go look them up now.

Posted by: Melanie at September 4, 2005 09:12 PM

Sorry if this is hijacking, but here's a post that really hits home about being poor. If you get a chance, read the comments as well.

Posted by: Melanie at September 6, 2005 10:54 AM

And, Donna, I hope you were kidding about this: "And even if they had to walk out Josh, it still wouldn't have been as bad as the Eugene hike".

If you're a strapping male with only food for yourself, maybe not. But what about the single mom who has to carry the baby and three days worth of food for herself and her 5 year old and the baby. And what about the 5 year old? Can he walk out of there on his own? Can you walk fast enough to beat the hurricane that's travelling between 9-13 mph packing 165 mph winds?

Okay, I'll stop now.

Posted by: Melanie at September 6, 2005 11:00 AM

I do agree that aspects of the relief effort have come up short, especially in the beginning, but I also think that the outpouring of American aid and volunteers shows the best of our nation on display.
American aid and volunteers are showing what the best of our nation can do while FEMA is working to keep photographs of the dead out of the media, using highly trained search and rescue firemen to distribute FEMA fliers and patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

Aspects of the relief effort came up short? You mean the three days after the hurricane hit in which they did nothing? Are you talking about that short? Or some other short?

Ryan, FEMA botched the relief effort, they had all the time to prepare, they had the plans in place and they botched it from front to back and top to bottom. Michael Brown should be indicted on gross negligence charges. And whoever hired an incompetent man for the job should be held responsible as well.

If a principal of a school hires a kid toucher as a substitute teacher and the kid toucher touches some kids, you don't think its just the kid toucher who's at fault, do you? There's something called background checks that are important to do. The director of FEMA is a damned important job that was given to a moron with a demonstrably shitty track record running companies. So yes, you're right, it is Bush's fault in the end for hiring him.

Want to make a bet that Michael Brown is given a medal by Bush for his incompetence?

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at September 7, 2005 05:02 PM
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