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02 September 2005

Dropped Balls in the Delta

It seems many balls were dropped in plans for a major hurricane in New Orleans, but it seems the biggest was in the understanding of how many people would remain after the order to evacuate was given. Bureaucratic planners, such as FEMA, seem to never really take into account the nature of the populace it's dealing with. FEMA apparently viewed this threat like flash floods in Lichtenstein, imagining that when ordered to evacuate, the good citizens would drop everything and begin the process to evacuate.
Now, as someone who is by nature very disorganized, a poor planner and given to procrastination, I think I have some insight into what was going on in these people's minds. I'm pretty sure that there were lots of poor people who got it together and found a way out of the city right away. But that requires forethought and the ability to do some basic planning - making some phone calls, looking up bus schedules, watching/reading weather forecasts to understand the time-frame, and an understanding of what makes New Orleans so vulnerable wouldn't hurt. One of the fundamental reasons that people are poor is that they lack such basic skills. When word got out that the Superdome would be a shelter of last resort, people didn't process the meaning of the last 3 words - they just heard "shelter" and said "I'm There!", imagining that would solve their problems.
The FEMA people, on the other hand, no doubt imagined that only the very sick and elderly would stay behind - not healthy men and women with healthy kids who could have walked 25 miles west out of the city in the time they spent standing in line at the Superdome. Failing to understand the nature of the populace - that not everyone is equally capable of hightailing it out of the city in a controlled manner - meant that plans were not in place for directing people out of the city. The buses that are now finally taking people out of the city should have been running before the hurricane. How many people might not be able to fully grasp the whole evacuation thing? A rough measure of the cognitive skills of the population based on published test results, such as SAT's, NAEP scores, could probably be a pretty good guide in the future.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How many people might not be able to fully grasp the whole evacuation thing? A rough measur of the cognitive skills of the population based on published test results, such as SAT's, NAEP scores, could probably be a pretty good guide in the future."

So true, yet the outrage of taking such factual information into preparedness would be blasted on all sides.

September 02, 2005 10:52 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Well they could probably use the poverty rate as a proxy - and if your a government planner you've got to understand that large numbers of poor folk just aren't going to behave the way you and your friends will behave - any assumption of what you might consider rational behavior is not going to apply. They needed to have buses around the clock starting on Saturday going through all the poor neighborhoods collecting people to bring them out to higher ground somewhere - anywhere.

September 02, 2005 7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spending time in NOLA myself, this article describes what I thought.

September 02, 2005 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ziel, I find the focus of your latest cynical comment way off target. Where were these people to go to? As if the buses were running on schedule (to higher-leveled parts of the city?) and as if making phone calls would make a difference.
No, the victims´ fault was in trusting a government that doesn´t have the "forethough and the ability to do some basic planning" in preventing the destruction of an entire city. I would check the test scores of those who voted for the current administration.

September 03, 2005 6:00 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Jimbo, my comments were cynical but you take them as a personal attack against the victims, and they are not. I'm merely pointing out that there is a huge number of people in New Orleans who were not able to get themselves out of a dangerous situation - and government needs to be able to see this and act on it, which is why I said the buses needed to be there before the hurricane struck not after. Government officials seems to think you just tell people to get out and that's it. The people who really dropped the ball here are the mayor and governor - they know this town and this state and would have taken very little money to use fleets of school buses running round the clock to evacuate the city.

September 03, 2005 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay Ziel. It just doesn´t inspire alot of confidence in the leadership when the governor is weeping on the shoulder of Bush as he says he´s flying out in a minute but won´t forget what he saw.

By the way, where´s Harlem on all of this?

September 03, 2005 1:24 PM  
Blogger Glaivester said...

No, the victims´ fault was in trusting a government...

Which in itself suggests that they were at the left end of the ol' bell curve.

September 28, 2005 11:17 PM  

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