Fat Steve's Blatherings

Monday, September 05, 2005

Not Quite Correct, or 'Noah and Jehovah, Disaster Planners'

      Update: Welcome, Clayton Cramer readers.  Look around, see how truly opinionated one guy can be!


      There've been a lot of reports about New Orleans failing to implement its own disaster plans, especially about how the didn't use the buses it had available to get people without cars out of the city.  These claims are only partially true.

  • The City of New Orleans’s official plan for getting people out of "the bowl" was to tell them 'Leave town,' but do nothing to help them leave if they didn't have cars.  That's exactly what the city did.

  • The plan for those who couldn't leave was in two parts: a) tell them 'Hitch a ride;' b) move them around in the city.  NOLA didn't do a), it did do b).

  • The city could have evacuated over 40% of those without transportation in one effort, using city buses, and everyone in three trips — but the plan for evacuating people on buses was 'Don't even try.'  And they didn't.

      So New Orleans’s emergency plan was mostly implemented.  As predicted by many, thousands died.  Objectively, letting them die was the city's policy.

At Length:

      Well, this is interesting.  Just what was New Orleans officially supposed to do in the event of a major, "fill-the-bowl" hurricane?  Nothing much, as far as I can discover.

      New Orleans had an official hurricane disaster plan.  A lot of people are citing it, but very few seem to be reading it.  I can't find a date of issue, but it did envisage evacuating people in the event of a hurricane.  Only, the evacuations were to be to local schools.  The list of "Hurricane Evacuation Shelters was:
Laurel Elementary School

Walter S. Cohen High School

Medard Nelson Elementary School

Sarah T. Reed High School

Southern University Multi Purpose Center

Southern University New Science Building

O. Perry Walker High School

Albert Wicker Elementary School

      Googling these with the words "New Orleans" added brings up an address within the City of New Orleans for all of them.  Getting people out of "the bowl" wasn't policy.

      And even more interesting is a New Orleans Times-Picayune story, dated July 24, 2005, which I found on Brad DeLong's site, after following a link from Glenn Reynolds.  This would appear to be New Orleans final plan for a hurricane disaster.  And what was it?:
      City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own.  In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation.

      In the video, made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation.  "You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," Wilkins said in an interview.  "If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area.  We can help you.  "But we don't have the transportation."

      Officials are recording the evacuation message even as recent research by the University of New Orleans indicated that as many as 60 percent of the residents of most southeast Louisiana parishes would remain in their homes in the event of a Category 3 hurricane.  Their message will be distributed on hundreds of DVDs across the city.  The DVDs' basic get-out-of-town message applies to all audiences, but the it is especially targeted to scores of churches and other groups heavily concentrated in Central City and other vulnerable, low-income neighborhoods, said the Rev. Marshall Truehill, head of Total Community Action.  "The primary message is that each person is primarily responsible for themselves, for their own family and friends," Truehill said.

      So the official New Orleans plan A for dealing with a hurricane that "flooded the bowl," as Katrina did, was to tell people "Leave."  Plan B, for those who didn't have their own transportation, was to tell them "Hitch a ride with someone."  That never got done.  Plan C, for those who hadn't made arrangements to leave, appears to have been devised by a fan of Bill Cosby's great Noah routines: "How long can you tread water?"  Or maybe he was a fan of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's novel Oath of Fealty: "Think of it as evolution in action."  That would explain why so little aid was available after the levees broke.  Or perhaps the planner saw Dirty Harry one time too many, and adopted the motto "Do you feel lucky?"  In any case, the policy was that people would be moved around inside the bowl, but NOT removed from the city.  Surviving with 80% of the city under water would be their problem.  That policy was implemented.  Thoroughly.  (Note that the story talks about category 3 hurricanes, but not categories 4 & 5.  They weren't even attempting to deal with those).

      Which brings up the question of what New Orleans could have done?  As I noted here, there were at least 569 school and transit authority buses available in New Orleans.  The Times-Picayune story linked above says there were 134,000 people who didn't have their own transportation.  Divide 134,000 by 569 and you get 235.  Since Jabbar Gibbson demonstrated that you could pack 100 people in a school bus and drive them from New Orleans to Houston, it would have taken two round trips and a one way trip to get everyone out of town.  So, contrary to the story’s claim, they did have transportation.  But the city chose not to try using it.

      It would be interesting to know when the Emergency Hurricane plan was issued, why the DVDs were never distributed, and especially why the hurricane plan didn't provide for mass evacuation from the city limits.  But it's wrong to say the plan wasn't followed.  The plan was, 'We're not doing anything, you're on your own.'  And lordy, but the city government implemented it.



  • And yet the local politicians continue to blame Bush for not doing enough... Double GRRRRR.

    By Anonymous Cindi, at 11:47 AM  

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