Catastrophic Disaster

Posted By Brie Austin In Category: Opinion , Thoughts From News

During the almost four hours that I watched the Senate hearings involving Mr. Brown on C-Span, I waited for the senators to ask questions that never seemed to materialize. Time and time again Mr. Brown, the former FEMA director, insisted that we had to remember that, “this was a catastrophic disaster!” as though none of us were aware of that, or as though FEMA was just an accounting firm suddenly thrust into managing an emergency and everyone was being to critical of him. Isn’t emergency management the point of FEMA? Personally, I don’t have experience in emergency management; my point of view comes from my eighteen years in the logistics/transportation field.

Don’t get me wrong; it certainly was something like entertainment to watch Senator Taylor hammer home the point that Mr. Brown did a terrible job, only to then listen to Mr. Brown whine about being berated for not being Rudy. It would have been humorous if it (the hurricane) weren’t so tragic. But I don’t want to know why the buses didn’t arrive on time; I did want to know why they were the only option planned for in the first place. After all, it was already known (that the levies couldn’t withstand anything over a cat 3), and all the info was that it would be that or higher, and therefore the city would likely be under water. Wouldn’t reasonable planning have recognized a need for a contingency plan?

The senators asked about the contents of trucks and the answer was simply that FEMA didn’t know the contents within many of the trucks, or where the many of trucks ever were. My little company in 1995 relocated four warehouses that contained 12,000 different types of items, that were transported within 250 trucks, using nothing more than a simple transport computer program, cell phones, and spotters. How could we have known where every SKU, pallet, trailer, and truck was throughout the 64-hour move within minutes of a request, and FEMA not even know what was in a given trucks, let alone where they were? Of course FEMA had to deal with a hurricane, but FEMA’s problems began long before the storm arrived.

Mr. Brown in his lame defense has cowardly blamed the locals because they wouldn’t listen to him, which sounded more like a child whining rather than a leader charged with the responsibility to “manage” an emergency. At every turn Mr. Brown responded to senator’s questions [as to why things weren’t done] with a thundering, “that’s just what we did!” It was too little too late Mr. Brown. Winners cross the goal line despite broken plays, missed blocks, or any other[ unexpected obstructions. But, in his case failure didn’t loose the game it lost lives. For FEMA to have moved the equipment and resources to within striking distance, only to fail at delivering them to where and when it they were needed is equivalent to rearranging the deck chairs on a ship that is sinking: it looks good, but doesn’t accomplish anything.

President Bush for his part has again shown his bad sense of judgment in hiring Mr. Brown in the first place, and then hailing what a great job he was doing during the crisis. But we’re stuck with this president for a while longer, so he needs to recognize that if FEMA is going to exist at all, it has to be able to coordinate – in a meaningful way – all the resources required to get the job done. I would submit that any small to moderate sized logistics firm could have performed better than FEMA during Katrina — in both planning and execution — and FEMA should look into contracting private fleets (that are not cronies of the administration) to provide supply line services in the future. Logistics management is best handled by those who have been in the trenches and can think on their feet; not the intellectuals that merely study logistics theory. If FEMA is at all like many clueless logistics departments of major corporations that I have worked with in the past, they could cut their budget by 10% and increase operational efficiency by utilizing the right contractors.

The loss of life in New Orleans and the Gulf states could have been avoided. We as Americans should expect and demand better. After watching C-span it became apparent to me that Kartrina was a bad hurricane and that is was FEMA that was the catastrophic disaster.


About Brie Austin

Co-author of I'd Do It Again, he is a columnist/reporter for a variety of magazines in the areas of music, lifestyle, nightlife, travel and business. He also writes business documents and creates copy for websites.

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