A Note About Hurricane Katrina

Back in early 2010 I wrote the Concept of Operations (CONOP) for the US Army’s first cultural program, the Human Terrain System, about applying what, at the time, I was referring to as socio-cultural research, analysis, and mapping to emergency response and disaster management. This was done specifically for the founding Program Manager so that he had something to work with if US Southern Command asked for assistance from the program as part of the response to the earthquake in Haiti. I was tapped to write this for several reasons, but not least of which because I had been working (among others) for him on building out the conceptual basis for what we were actually tasked with doing for the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan and thinking ahead to other types of operations where having on site, real time socio-cultural support might be helpful. Another reason I was tasked with working on this was the conceptual/scholarly work I had done prior to going to work for the Human Terrain System, which included work on emergency response and disaster management.

In late 2009 I represented the program as an invited panelist at the St. Thomas University (Miami Lakes, FL) conference on disaster management and emergency response to terrorism, other man made disasters, and natural disasters (and yes, I was on the same panel with Max Mayfield). Some of the work I had done for that presentation made its way into the CONOP, including an analysis of where, what I would now in 2016 call, cultural operations and Engagement, would have been beneficial in the response to Hurricane Katrina. Ultimately this was written up in 2011-2012 into a longer treatment for the Army’s second cultural program – the Army Culture and Foreign Language Directorate – looking at how to apply cultural operations to facilitate humanitarian assistance, emergency management, and disaster response – regardless of the nature of the emergency or disaster  – including several case examples such as the response to Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake of 2010.

Below you’ll find an excerpt from that 2011-2012 report. In Hillary R’s first post on Hurricane Matthew she referenced Amanda Ripley’s book on surviving disasters. And while Ms. Ripley wrote an excellent book and her observations about who did and did not survive are correct, what was outside of its scope, and the scope of Hillary R’s post, is that ultimately the lack of survivability of Hurricane Katrina was really about total systemic failure at all levels of the emergency management and disaster response process. And I think that’s important to understand and its equally important to remember that the loss of life in Hurricane Katrina was preventable, but failures at the municipal, state, and Federal levels ensured they would occur. I’m adjusting the language a bit – replacing socio-cultural research, analysis, and mapping with Cultural Operations and Engagement.

Disaster Management and Emergency Response: Three Phases

In the case of responding to disasters, whether natural or man-made, disaster management specialists have identified three stages of the response: emergency, rehabilitation, and restoration(9). Conducting Cultural Operations and Engagement across all three dimensions of context, dynamic, and location would be of great use in assisting and facilitating with these disaster management responses. With greater situational awareness available from the beginning of the response and management effort, it would be possible to engage in more focused and effective response leading to better outcomes for the affected populations.

In the emergency response phase the focus is on getting to the affected area, initially assess what needs to be done, and get to the work of the assistance and response as quickly as possible. It also includes a focus on life saving missions and the delivery of emergency supplies, including medical assistance. Phase two, rehabilitation, focuses on building off of the initial response and moving towards stabilization in order to facilitate long term restorations of essential services and a return to normal routine. The focus in this phase is on restoring the host nation country (or in the case of a domestic disaster the local and state authorities) to the levels of functionality that existed prior to the disaster. This is intended to get the required infrastructure back into place and running so that the host nation can begin to provide for the health and welfare needs of the population. The third stage, restoration, is concerned with capitalizing on successes from the first two stages, consolidating them, and then expanding on them by assisting the host nation and its population with building out its infrastructure, services, and facilitating disaster proofing through hardening of vulnerable sites.
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Emergency Preparations for Companion Animals

In the last thread Mel gave some great advice re our furred, feathered, and other family members:

It helps to have a kitty carrier in an easily accessible spot, and to have supplies in your emergency kit for your furry family members, as well. Single use cans of a favorite, familiar pet food (easy to carry /keep safe and fresh in case of evac), a week’s worth of any pet maintenance medicines packed in the kit, and extra bottled water with a lightweight, unbreakable, easy to pack and carry dish are essential.

The Humane Society of the U.S. has a big page of emergency/disaster prep suggestions. The very first one is “ID your pet,” and that’s exactly right. I volunteered down in New Orleans with the HSUS post-Katrina, and one of the first things I learned is that animals with IDs were highly likely to be reunited with their families, whereas animals without IDs were highly UNlikely to be so. It was heartbreaking to see animals that you just knew someone cherished and was desperately missing, but have no way of reuniting them. My dogs have always worn a collar and tag 100% of the time–even when home watching TV, because, you know, stuff happens–but since that experience I’m nuts about making sure everyone else’s dogs, cats, etc., do as well.

Loads of other great information on that page, including lists of companion animal-friendly lodgings, how to plan for helping feral cats, and advice on how to prep for when you’re stuck somewhere and can’t get back home.

Commenter Shell mentioned in the previous thread that many emergency shelters are now pet-friendly, noting how, “In the past a lot of people refused to evacuate cause they didn’t want to leave their pets behind.” Absolutely right and, as is often the case in the good ol’ U.S., there’s a shitty class aspect to this: during Katrina, wealthier people’s animal companions were often welcomed at hotels, whereas poorer people’s weren’t allowed in shelters. This was all epitomized in the famous incident where the nine-year-old boy was devastated because he couldn’t take his little dog Snowball with him on the evacuation bus. Anyhow, this all led to the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, which mandates that states receiving federal disaster aid incorporate animal companions and service animals in their disaster planning. More info, including a list of animal-friendly shelters in each state, at this link.

Again, your ideas and suggestions welcome in the thread.

Surviving Hurricanes and Other Unthinkables

This seems like a good time to recommend Amanda Ripley’s excellent book The Unthinkable, which examines why (and how) some people survive catastrophes and others don’t. She examines 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, a hotel fire, a stampede at Mecca, and the Virginia Tech mass shooting, among other incidents. It’s a fascinating book, and also hugely practical.

Katrina seems most relevant now, with Hurricane Matthew bearing down on us. Ripley reports that, although a lot of the press coverage of the victims focused on poverty: “The victims of Katrina were not disproportionately poor; they were disproportionately old. Three-quarters of the dead were over sixty, according to the Knight Ridder analysis. Half were over seventy-five.”

She then launches into a discussion of how bad most of us are at risk assessment. You know: how we dread sharks and terrorist attacks when we really should be dreading car crashes and household accidents. She also talks about the perils of arrogance (“about 90 percent of drivers think they are safer than the average driver”) and overconfidence:

When it comes to old-fashioned risks like weather, we often overestimate ourselves. Of the fifty-two people who died during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, for example, 70 percent drowned. And most of them drowned in their cars, which had become trapped in floodwaters. This is a recurring problems in hurricanes. People are overconfident about driving through water, even though they are bombarded with official warnings not to. (This tendency varies, of course, depending on the individual. One study out of the University of Pittsburgh showed that men are much more likely to try to drive through high water than women—and thus more likely to die in the process.)”


Hurricanes are especially tricky because we have to respond to them before things get ugly. We have to evacuate when the skis are clear and blue….It’s hard to image the violence to come. Without any tangible cues, denial comes easily.

In general, she reports, elderly people don’t like to evacuate: “In 1989 1979, after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, retirees and people over age seventy were least likely to evacuate—regardless of how close they were to the reactor.”

Also, elderly people are at particularly risk for over-valuing past experiences (relative to current conditions) in their decision-making. This appears to be a particular trap in highly complex and variable events like hurricanes. Ripley reports on an elderly Katrina victim who, when his kids urged him to evacuate, quite reasonably pointed out that his house had survived thirty years of hurricanes and so should also survive Katrina. But what he—and pretty much everyone else—hadn’t counted on was that decades of technohubris-fueled, under-regulated development and “starve-the-government” GOP policies had decimated the wetlands and levees that had previously protected the city from big hurricanes. And so, like so many others, he drowned.

Best to all Juicers who are in Matthew’s path. Please evacuate EARLY and check in as best you can throughout the weekend. And here’s a thread for sharing everyone’s hurricane-related experiences and suggestions and good wishes. (After Matthew has piddled out, I’ll post another thread with some of Ripley’s more general survival tips – plus my own experience with an earthquake in Japan.)

MHP to GWB: Try Going in a Library

But as a resident of post-Katrina New Orleans, the one decision point that really has me fired up is how your library represents the choices you faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. According to your exhibit the main problem you faced was how to restore law and order. The big issue that visitors are asked to resolve, is whether or not you should have invoked the Insurrection Act to control the looters. …

And you were trying to figure out whether or not to quell an insurrection? These people were Americans, Mr. President. Homeowners, taxpayers, voters. Your people and you were vacationing while they drowned. The decision you should have been making, sir, wasn’t on how to quell them. It was how to save them.

Anytime you get a letter from Dr. Harris-Perry, that says “Dear *blank*, It’s me, Melissa … ,” just pack your things and leave.

Also on #TWiB!Radio, Dr. Boyce Watkins teaches us about the “Most Racist Commercial in History” and the movement to #FreeTheTwerkTeam.

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And this morning on #amTWiB:

L. Joy forgets how to start the show, regulating 3-D printed guns, and LGBTQ folks need to wash the stain of sin before entering the Catholic Church.

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Folks wishing to engage directly with #TeamBlackness should direct their comments to the Original Post.