Words of Power #1: Truths Salvaged from Post-Katrina Debacle
"We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast. But the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. … Whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chainsawed off and we’ve got to start with some new leadership. It’s not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now."
Aaron Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish, New Orleans
"Excuse my French everybody in America, but I am pissed…After 9/11, we gave the President unprecedented powers lickety-quick to take care of New York and other places…Now, you mean to tell me that a place where most of your oil is coming through, a place that is so unique when you mention New Orleans anywhere around the world, everybody’s eyes light up -- you mean to tell me that a place where you probably have thousands of people that have died and thousands more that are dying every day, that we can’t figure out a way to authorise the resources that we need? Come on, man…I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man.... This is a national disaster…they’re thinking small, man. And this is a major, major, major deal … Don’t tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They’re not here. It’s too doggone late."
Mayor Ray C. Nagin
"Why did the Bush Administration fail to act according to the National Response Plan they created in December of 2004 to deal with an incident like Katrina? What do you do when the words on the paper don't match the action in the field? People are dying today in New Orleans because of the failure to provide immediate aid are dead in part because of the negligence of Michael Chertoff. That is a harsh judgment, but if you will take time to read the National Response Plan that was signed into effect in December of 2004 there is no other reasonable conclusion.
The current effort by the Bush Administration to blame the victims in Louisiana and Mississippi is bad enough, but they are in big trouble once Americans take the time to understand that they the Administration ignored it's own plan for dealing with a threat like Katrina. Why did they fail to implement the plan until it was too late to save lives along the Gulf Coast?"
Larry C. Johnson, former Central Intelligence Agency official
On Thursday morning, 9-01-05, I was standing in SFO, waiting for a flight, and watching a live CNN broadcast from outside of the Convention Center in New Orleans. The camera panned along a long line of exhausted, despondent Americans. They spoke directly to the nation, gesturing emphatically, and pleading for rescue, with their dead and dying neighbors sprawled out among them. The CNN reporter wondered aloud why there were no emergency personnel with megaphones, moving through the crowd, offering information or at least reassurance.
“It is Thursday,” I exclaimed to everyone within ear shot, “It is Thursday already.” It had been four days since Katrina hit land in New Orleans. Sadly, most of my fellow travelers stared off into space, with their backs to the disgrace being documented on the TV monitors.
The next day, 9-2-05, five days after Katrina’s land fall, the Los Angeles Times front page headline read: “Relief Effort Begins in New Orleans.”
Security is misunderstood. Both by those who implement it only to restrict, limit and control, and by those who resist it because they see it only as a means to restrict, limit and control. The truest synonym for security is protection. And protection flows from love. Yes, love. If you love something or someone, you feel responsibility for it, you want to nourish it, and protect it.
Security (i.e., protection), in its deepest sense, is an aspect of stewardship.
What happened to the people of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina would not have been allowed to occur if the Bush administration’s homeland security and crisis management capabilities were grounded in love and responsibility. Katrina caused the devastation, but it was human ignorance, at best, or calculated indifference, at worst, that caused the debacle. The failure of two levees caused the flooding of New Orleans, but a failure of conscience and character at the highest levels of the U.S. government caused its descent into a hell-realm of misery and fear.
The Osama Clock Tells Time in More Ways than One
It has been 1,455 days since the horror of 9/11. Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Mullah Omar are still at large. But the Osama clock (www.osamaclock.com) isn’t only a reminder that those who masterminded the slaughter of innocents on 9/11 have not yet been apprehended or terminated, it is also a means to measure progress in the effort to deliver “Homeland Security.” So how has the U.S. improved its security baseline, its risk analysis and its crisis management capabilities?
Last week, on ABC’s Good Morning America, George W. Bush said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.” That inaccurate, misleading and self-serving remark was eerily reminiscent of similarly inaccurate, misleading and self-serving remarks about terrorists flying airplanes into buildings made by Condolezza Rice in sworn testimony during the 9/11 Commission hearings. And just as the record contradicts Rice on 9/11, it contradicts Bush on New Orleans. In 2004, the Times-Picayune ran a series of articles on the danger of the levees breaking during a hurricane and on the unsuccessful fight to thwart the Bush administration budget cuts that limited the US Army Corps of Engineers work to shore them up.
Bush’s own political allies also contradict him.
“John Breaux, the former Democratic Louisiana senator and close Bush ally, rejected the president's claim that nobody anticipated the failure of the city's levees, saying he talked to Bush about it last year.” (Newsweek, 9-12-05)
Four years after 9/11, the U.S. federal government once again failed its people.
There are many questions to answer.
Why was the Red Cross blocked from entering New Orleans?
What was the true impact of deployment in Iraq on the National Guard’s ability to respond to the disaster in New Orleans?
Why was Chicago’s offer of help spurned?
“Barely able to conceal his anger at the federal emergency response to Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Richard Daley on Friday recited a laundry list of steps that Chicago is ready to take to help victims and said he was "shocked" that the city so far has been asked to provide only one tanker truck. ‘We are ready to provide considerably more help than they have requested,’ Daley said...” (Chicago Tribune, 9-3-05)
Why weren’t pallets of food and water nothing dropped from the air to those who were supposedly unreachable by ground?
On 9-3-05, Stars and Stripes reported that there was concern about creating “chaos.”
“Airdropping supplies could actually worsen the situation, said Army National Guard Lt. Kevin Cowan, with the state Office of Emergency Preparedness. ‘Just like Afghanistan, you drop food, it creates chaos,’ Cowan said.” (Stars and Stripes, 9-3-05)
Incredible. New Orleans was already in a state of chaos.
Many of the city’s police officers turned in their badges; at least two committed suicide.
With its morgue filled to overflowing, its evacuation halted because of gunfire, and 250 patients to care for, the staff of Charity Hospital had to “subsist on intravenous sugar solutions” (AP, 9-3-05)
How is it possible that Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff could engage in the following interchange with Bob Siegal of National Public Radio (NPR), on Thursday, four days into the catastrophe?
Siegal: But, Mr. Secretary, when you say that there is--we shouldn't listen to rumors, these are things coming from reporters who have not only covered many, many other hurricanes; they've covered wars and refugee camps. These aren't rumors. They're seeing thousands of people there.
Chertoff: Well, I would be--actually I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water...(NPR, 9-1-05)
What took them so long?
“This is a national disgrace,” Terry Ebbert, New Orleans’ head of emergency operations FEMA,” told the BBC, “it has been here three days, yet there is no command and control.” (BBC, 9-2-05)
Newsweek reports “a strange paralysis” at the highest echelons of power.
“Up to now, the Bush administration has not hesitated to sweep aside the opinions of lawyers on such matters as prisoners' rights. But after Katrina, a strange paralysis set in. For days, Bush's top advisers argued over legal niceties about who was in charge, according to three White House officials who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. Beginning early in the week, Justice Department lawyers presented arguments for federalizing the Guard, but Defense Department lawyers fretted about untrained 19-year-olds trying to enforce local laws, according to a senior law-enforcement official who requested anonymity citing the delicate nature of the discussions.” (Newsweek, 9-12-05)
Incredible. They have sent these “19-year-olds” to Iraq impose military occupation in hostile, alien environment, tens of thousands of miles away, i.e., Iraq, but they hesitated to send them into New Orleans?
Does Mother Nature “Hate Freedom” Too?
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Bush declared that Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. because it “hates freedom.” Like watching CNN on Thursday morning at SFO, that, too, was an unforgettable moment. Because it revealed that the President of the U.S. was either misinformed about the motives of the enemy or was intentionally misinforming the nation. Al Qaeda did not attack the U.S, because it “hates freedom,” it does not even think of the U.S. as free. Their primary aim was (and still is) to inflict economic and psychological devastation on the U.S. and force the withdrawal U.S. military forces from “Arab lands” in general and Saudi Arabia in particular.
Now, several years after 9/11, the U.S. has lost one of its major cities—not to weapons of mass destruction wielded by Middle Eastern terrorists, but to a monster hurricane that owes its ferocity and longevity to Global Warming. Well, tell me, does Mother Nature “hate freedom” too?
If a government does not understand the motivation of its enemy, it cannot protect its people, nor can a government that still refuses to acknowledge the preponderance of scientific evidence on Global Warming protect its people from the consequences. One of the priorities of GS(3) Intelligence and Words of Power is articulating the security implications of global warming and climate change, and providing recommendations on how to cope with those implications. (For more on the role of Global Warming in the formation of hurricanes, refer to GS(3) Intelligence Briefing for 8-30-05.)
Of course, there is another factor that will not be addressed adequately by most establishment politicians or by the U.S. mainstream news media, and that is the disproportionate impact of this catastrophe on the urban and rural poor of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Yes, the river of Denial is deep and wide in the U.S. It overflowed last week too.
Wrong Message, Hollow Message, No Message At All
One of the most vital elements of crisis management is communicating the right message, in both words and images, with consistency and credibility.
Here are some lessons in what not to do.
Wrong message: On Tuesday, 8-30-05, Yahoo posted a photo of George W. Bush, with a caption that read: "President Bush plays a guitar presented to him by Country Singer Mark Wills, right, backstage following his visit to Naval Base Coronado, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Bush visited the base to deliver remarks on V-J Commemoration Day. " Two days later, in a scathing editorial (“Waiting for a Leader”), the New York Times opined: “George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end…”
Hollow message: “But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast - black and white, rich and poor, young and old - deserve far better from their national government.” (Sen. Mary Landrieu, 9-3-05)
No message at all: On Thursday morning, the CNN correspondent, delivering the live eyewitness report from the streets outside of the Convention Center, wondered aloud why there were no emergency personnel with megaphones, on the scene, moving through the crowd, offering guidance or at least hope. They could have at least dropped leaflets, providing re-assurance, explanations for the delay and practical information on how to cope.
Crisis Management on the Back of a Match-Book Cover
In crisis management training sessions, I stress that your plan could be written on the back of a match book cover and prove more effective than big fat planning documents that collect dust on book shelves, IF you had real (i.e., tested and tempered) answers for just three questions:
1. Can you get the right people on the phone within 15 minutes of an event? (By the “right people,” I mean both those with the authority to make the sweeping decisions that need to be made, and those with the experience, expertise and knowledge to provide them with viable options.)
2. Do you have a process in place to communicate with and account for all your people?
3. What do you tell those you serve (e.g., clients, customers or citizens), how do you communicate with them and how do you prioritize such communications?
Communications, in general, are perhaps the single most important aspect of crisis management.
The post-Katrina debacle reveals failures to act on “lessons learned” from 9/11.
“New Orleans' emergency responders were plagued by communications trouble that raised comparisons with problems faced by the police and firefighters who responded to the 2001 attack on New York's World Trade Center. When Katrina roared ashore, it downed transmission towers needed to maintain radio and cellular telephone contact between emergency crews. Many have had to get by with walkie-talkies. ‘What were they thinking? You know a hurricane's going to knock down cell phone towers,’ said Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University. He and others said cities should have spent federal homeland-security money for satellite telephones and criticized the federal government for not assigning higher funding priorities to communities facing the greatest risks.” (Reuters, 9-2-05)
In my own private sector experience, developing hurricane response capabilities, we identified deploying satellite phones as a priority.
And yes, the plans I participated in developing were spurred by the likelihood of increased hurricane (and typhoon) activity as a result of Global Warming.
Awareness and education is very inexpensive, and if done well, it is very effective.
The aim of awareness and education programs, whether developed for corporations or governments, should be to empower people – both in the workplace and in their homes.
Wherever I go, speaking to workforces throughout the world, from Singapore to Amsterdam, from Seoul to Mexico City, from Dublin to Bogotá, I suggest that everyone goes through the exercise of asking themselves three questions about their own personal crisis management planning:
1. What would you and your loved ones do if you had to evacuate your home in 15 minutes? What would that look like? What would you take if you could drive away? What would you take if you could only take what you could carry on your backs? Keep your important papers – not everything, just the most vital ones (i.e., marriage licenses, divorce papers, green card, passports, honorable discharge, etc.) in one place. Keep your dog’s leash, and your cat’s travel box in one place. Keep a flash stick handy with a recent backup of vital computer files. It fits snugly in your pocket.
2. Conversely, what would you do if you had to stay inside your house for five days? What would that look like? Of course, you need food, water, batteries, flashlights, and radios (preferably at least one that you can hand-crank to save on batteries), but you should also think about board games to distract the mind and pass the time, as well as ways to exercise at home to keep your endorphins flowing while you are pent-up.
3. How would you and your loved ones communicate if your normal means of communications (e.g., cell phones and instant messaging) were suddenly unavailable? If could not call each other what would you do? If you could not meet at home, where would you meet? What evacuation route would you take from your home? What evacuation route would you take from work? What emergency procedures does your organization have in place? If you have school age children what are the school’s emergency procedures? Where would they children be taken? If you could not meet at home, where would you meet?
Of course, these recommendations would not have helped the poor of New Orleans, who could not flee on their own, and drowned in their attics (they needed the U.S. government to rescue them), but they could mean the difference for you and your loved ones in the next catastrophe, whether it be wrought directly by terrorists or indirectly by global warming. Remember, security is synonymous with protection. They flow from love and responsibility. They are aspects of stewardship. Who we really are is, in large part, determined by how we deal with crisis; and how we deal with crisis is, in large part, determined by how well we have prepared. The most powerful people in the world may have failed the test of love and responsibility last week, but in your own life you have the power to make certain that you will not.
Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and www.wordsofpower.net. His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc. You can reach him via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org