Relax, breathe deeply, pause

Jack wrote this in August, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. The main post is followed by two additional entries or comments that he made afterwards.

I’ve posted this on one of the threads, but it needs to be said more than once, a lot more often than once:

Disasters bring out the best and the worst in people, in Americans.  It’s going to do that during this one.

For a while yet everything that can be done is being done in the disaster area by the people who are trained to do it, hired to do it, have volunteered to do it.  We all want to help somehow.  There’s nothing at the moment we can do except give our hopes and best wishes to the people who are there, either as victims or trying to do their jobs.

For the moment providing shelter, food, water, medication and waste disposal facilities for both victims and disaster workers is going to be the primary goal.  An infrastructure exists and is moving into place as inexorably as the hurricane moved in from the gulf.  It will take time, but it’s happening and will continue to happen.

Giving money ‘for hurricane victims’ for the moment is a bit like giving money to the schools by buying lottery tickets.  Some tiny percentage of it will reach victims, while most will be sucked up into the administrative structures of the organizations making their bread and butter off human misery.

There’s not a shortage of money for dealing with the initial phases of this disaster.  The US taxpayer has payed dearly for a long time and will pay a lot more now to handle this disaster and the aftermath.  The funds are there, and they’ll be replenished by taxpayers, supplemented by taxpayers.

We all want to help, but at the moment there’s nothing we can do with the exception of offering shelter, those of us near enough, to refugees in our own homes.  That would be a boon and a blessing.  But we’ll find not many Americans once they consider it, want to help THAT badly.  Sometimes they’ll make new friends, and sometimes they’ll lose the guns and the silverware.

Once things settle a bit and the needs are actually established in a week or three there’ll be plenty of places Americans who still remember there was a disaster can provide some assistance.  If they listen carefully they’ll learn of thousands of smaller, sometimes more difficult matters spinning off this event, sometimes involving more personal sacrifice than a dollar or two thrown into the storm.  Americans who still want to help after the emotional storm of the television blitz dies and football’s got their attention will have plenty of opportunities to do so.

But this isn’t the time.

If you want to give money, it stands the best chance of getting to the actual victims if you do it through your churches, as opposed to the relief organizations.  The pipeline’s not so long and there aren’t so many salaries and offices in between your hand and the broken domiciles you thought you were aiming your money toward.

Storms begin ‘way back, the poet said.  This one did, they all do.  Those levies have been a long time  on the road to failing, the flooding didn’t happen today…. it happened during all the years we’ve all known it was going to happen and didn’t do what was needed to prevent it.

Today is the storm and the debris.  Let the debris settle a bit before you respond to the internal scream that says you need to do something for these victims.  Human charity is too rare and valuable to be squandered by drowning it in a pool of flood water.

The television crews are doing their jobs, exciting your best emotions, your sympathy, twanging your heartstrings.  Let them do it.  Savor it.  Sympathize with those victims.  Pray for them.  But don’t do anything fast, rash, to satisfy your need for instant gratification.  Hold on to that desire to help and consider long about how you can make it count.


An afterthought, also posted on a thread:

Tough gig being a human being.

In 1993, I was in New Orleans as part of a FEMA conference with all the regional State Flood Plain Administrators and Emergency Management Coordinators involving this potential storm and others like it.

We toured the levies, discussed the problems with subsidence, kicked around ideas with the LA State Coordinator about possibilities for his disaster response plan. His problems were much as I described in a blog entry a day or so before the storm came in.

A few months from now, a year or two from now and he’ll have those same problems again after the dust settles on this one. Louisiana and New Orleans will figure it will be at least a decade before this happens again, so it will be business as usual. “We’ll take care of mitigation when the possibilities get higher for the next storm. Right now we have too many other priorities for our tax dollars.”

The victims of this disaster, it’s important to remember, a couple of weeks ago would have agreed completely with that logic.

Tough gig being a human being.

More from that thread:

Four4me commented: “And the worst part is hurricanes season isn’t over and hurricanes have a habit of following the same paths sometimes.”

Says I: That ought to be cause for a lot of concern.

It would be awfully bad if another comes in behind this one to the same area. But it might actually better to have the damage concentrated, rather than have the next one (if one comes in) hit Galveston, the FL Keys, the outer banks in the Carolinas…. further scattering resources.

It would be a tough call if someone had the choice to make it, how to direct the next storm.

I expect you’re right that rebuilding will be unimaginably expensive and take a long time, if ever. But this isn’t the first storm that’s ever hit, and our history of response has always been the same. Rebuild. Do it where it was before. As much like before as possible. And repeat the errors of the past.

We’ll pour a lot of new deficit Federal dollars into getting those folks back into homes that can be flooded again. The legions of disaster assistance program workers are already packing their bags to get down there, assess the damage, hand out deficit dollars for what’s been lost, damaged, what can be rebuilt.

I’m not complaining, if this sounds as though I am. I’m not. I’m making an observation based on a number of years of experience and a lot of years of reflection.

Mitigation is the key to all this, and mitigation requires commitment by people, planners, elected officials, taxpayers, to mitigate. To think ahead of catastrophes.

It requires people to sacrifice the joy of living in floodprone, or other disaster prone areas and live in places less prone.

It requires that somewhere somehow sometime Americans take responsibility for making decisions about their own safety and well-being a long time in advance…. when they’re building their homes, starting their businesses, discussing whether they ought to have a crash kit in the closet to throw in the car when a storm’s coming in, and to head for high ground.

But we’re a long way from all that, and we won’t be any closer when the dust settles on this storm.


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