Friday, September 2, 2005

Mayor Sleepy and Governor Incompetent

I really didn't want to start playing the blame game in New Orleans since there is a continuing disaster underway, and people need help. Unfortunately, in the last 24 hours of media coverage we've had to endure wild accusations from the moronic left, and unprofessional displays of ridiculous coverage such as seen on Fox News with Shepard Smith chasing a hapless New Orleans police officer, and last night on ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel berating the head of FEMA.

The real low though was reached by Mayor Ray "Sleepy" Nagin, and Governor Kathleen "Incompetent" Blanco. In the past 24 hours, these two leaders who did little or nothing to prepare their governments for a disaster that virtually everyone knew was possible had the temerity to blame the federal government for not responding fast enough. These two make me sick.

First lets take a step back. I'm not going to claim I know everything about preparing for a disaster, and recovering from it once it occurs, but I have had some experience in this area. In my past life, part of my responsibilities was to be in charge of the disaster recovery planning and action for a firm that managed hundreds of billions of dollars. I successfully led our 9/11 recovery effort, our East Coast power outage recovery, and I made sure that we were fully prepared when SARs threatened to shut down operations in the U.S. and or Canada. So I know a little bit about this stuff.

When planning for a disaster there is only one thing that you know with absolute certainty. No matter how much you plan, no matter how many possible disasters you can think of in your mind before the actual event occurs, when disaster does strike it will be in the form of something that you didn't anticipate. So instead of planning for specific events, you plan for specific contingencies such as loss of power, loss of communications, loss of key personnel, and so on. The key to disaster recovery efforts is to have a broad game plan in place, an infrastructure pre-built that will be available in a disaster, and to drill your team to react to contingencies that will inevitably arise.

One thing and one thing only has been clear in the New Orleans disaster. Mayor Sleepy and Governor Incompetent did none of this.

Not only was their planning insufficient, but these two had full knowledge of exactly what the disaster would be prior to its occurrence. This is a luxury that any emergency preparedness leader would relish. Knowledge of the specific event allows you to model everything in a way that typical emergency preparedness doesn't allow. Countless articles were written ahead of time that interviewed experts resident in New Orleans about the inadequacy of the levee system, and the likely impact of its failure. Even worse, hurricane Ivan gave these two a sneak preview of what was likely to happen in a larger hurricane event. Yet they did nothing. This is criminal negligence if I ever saw it and people are dead today as a result.

Lesson one from Ivan, or any other disaster for that matter, should have been that it takes time for help to arrive. It is a morbid equation that also tells us that the worse the disaster the longer it takes for help to get organized and in place.

My experience during the NY power outage was an excellent example of how a small event can become quite large and potentially devastating. We never planned for an outage that would roll all the way west to Ohio, and across the border to our operations in Canada. What we did plan for was what we would do if FOR ANY REASON or facilities were uninhabitable for a long period of time. Further, we drilled our people on what they would do at the beginning of a disaster while we were powering up our back-up sites. As a result, when power went down and communications were out, our team across two countries was able to act in a coordinated fashion even though many were not able to speak to each other due to land line and cell phone outages. Happily power came up the next day, and our preparations were not needed. However, had power not come up, our people were in place and ready to go because we prepared and drilled in advance.

So I must ask, what did Mayor Sleepy and Governor Incompetent have planned for their city while they waited for federal help to arrive? They knew a flood was likely. They knew exactly what the implications of a flood were for the city infrastructure and its populace. They knew that 28% of their population was living below the poverty line and unable to evacuate in the event of a hurricane. They knew that after the "near miss" of Ivan that the Superdome was uninhabitable within 48 hours.

They knew all of this, and more. Yet nothing was planned. In Chicago we have a fully reinforced 911 emergency preparedness center. It is run by disaster recovery experts, and drills are routinely run that include both the federal recovery experts and the local business community. The center itself is reinforced and will be the command center when a disaster strikes the city. Representatives from the city, state, and federal governments have been identified who will man the center. Specific business representatives have been named that will either be at the center, or be in touch with the center. Did Mayor Sleepy or Governor Incompetent put anything similar in place for New Orleans? If not, why?

New Orleans knew that a flood was possible, and that its impact would be devastating. Just thinking off the top of my head, I would have planned for this specific event by establishing a command center such as the above, and by constructing a fully reinforced warehouse that would have contained food, water, cots, blankets, medical supplies, pumps, generators, and a couple hundred thousand gallons of emergency gasoline. Oh, and I would have thought about boats. Inflatables, airboats something. Where is the infrastructure Mayor Sleepy? Where is the plan Governor Incompetent?

Mayor Sleepy and Governor Incompetent did none of this and New Orleans is a national embarrassment because of their abdication of duty. To hear these two now blame the feds for their own failings disgusts me, and it should disgust you too.

UPDATE: Will Collier at Vodka Pundit is a bit more even keeled than I am on this subject, and reaches many of the same conclusions through a different path. Its a must read. The failings of state and local government in this case are deep and profound.

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