THE LESSONS OF HURRICANE KATRINA
By Jeff Head
September 5, 2005
Over the last ten days I have, with the rest of America and the world, watched a horrific natural disaster and tragedy unfold. I say natural disaster because that is exactly what a hurricane is when it strikes humanity and destroys property and lives and leaves suffering in its wake, as hurricane Katrina did along the Gulf Coast last week. I say tragedy because I have sat transfixed as I have watched as governmental social programs long in place, contributed to the disaster, and as a number of unimaginable and crass mistakes made by those who could have and should have exhibited stronger leadership, failed to do so which also added significantly to the loss of life and to the human suffering.
As I considered this over this holiday weekend, I thought it imperative, if for no other reason than to get these issues off my chest, to write down the lessons I have learned as a result of this disaster and tragedy. Hopefully, there are those who will reads this and benefit from it, most notably my own children and grandchildren and their descendants.
So, here are the lessons, I pray they reverberate within the hearts and minds of those who read them, so that more and more people can avoid some of the circumstances which have led to what will probably be recorded as the worst natural disaster and tragedy in American history.
LESSON NUMBER ONE: When clear warnings of an imminent natural disaster are issued, heed them When the weather service or other agencies, private or public, tasked with making such warnings issue them, take the warnings seriously and move well out of the path of danger. Do not wait for governmental officials to issue a so-called "mandatory" evacuation. Use your own initiative and resource, whatever they may be, to move yourself and your loved ones out of danger. Irrespective of how many false alarms have been raised in the past, irrespective of how well your or neighbor's structures have survived in the past, act for yourself and move yourself and loved ones out of the path of the oncoming danger. Your very life and those of your loved ones could well depend on it...and to err on the side of caution is a good thing in such circumstances.
If people (and particularly my own children, grandchildren and descendants) understand and apply these lessons, they will be in a much better position to preserve the life and liberty of themselves and their loved ones. Having done so, they will also therefore be in a position to help, aid, and provide relief to their fellow citizens in the crisis, as opposed to simply becoming another victim unable to help anyone, even themselves.
The specter of those who decided to stay, and who were partying in the path of this storm on live news coverage up to the time the storm began to come on shore, will remain etched in our memory for the rest of our lives. Such foolishness punctuates the need to remember and act upon this first lesson. It is a lesson wholly within each of our power.
LESSON NUMBER TWO: Be prepared. Start now, in whatever sustained way you can. Any preparation is better than none, decent preparation is better than just a little. Realize we live in a world where natural disaster, economic fallouts, upheaval, strife and war exist and can strike us with little warning, leaving our entire lives and livelihoods completely altered in the space of a few days. We should do what we each can, within our respective circumstances, to have food and water supplies set aside to sustain ourselves and loved ones for a period of several months if possible. If possible, have your own well on your property with a manual pump. Also, if possible, have your own septic system.
We should also all strive to have a 96-hour kit set aside for ourselves and each of our immediate families should we have to leave our homes in response to lesson number one above. Such a 96-hour kit should contain all of the following:
LESSON NUMBER THREE: The welfare state of any nation is a destroyer of human compassion and civilization. It teaches people to be (mistakenly) wholly reliant on government and indolent and therefore lacking in the necessary moral clarity when faced with a crisis. Far too many caught up in that life style either turn into a mob seeking only what they feel at the moment is good for themselves, even to the destruction of those around them, or, they are left without the means to effectively apply lessons one and two, leaving them defenseless and at the mercy of the danger itself, of incompetent officials, or at the mercy of the mobs that follow on the heels of such disasters in sections of cities that are largely populated by those dependent on such programs. Avoid such programs and such areas like the plague...because that is exactly what they turn into in such dire circumstances as we have witnessed over the last ten days, particularly in New Orleans.
- Water (Including purification tablets)
- Food (Including high energy and vitamins)
- A good First Aid kit (including necessary medications)
- Temporary shelter
- Two or three changes of Clothing, including underwear and socks
- Spending cash, several hundred dollars, or whatever is possible
- Reading material (The Holy Scriptures, a couple of Classics)
- Communications (Transistor radio-AM or XM, scanner, 2-ways, SW)
- Flashlight and batteries (for light and/or other devices like radios)
Who will ever forget the sight of so many woman, with their children, no men responsible for these families within sight, as they waded through brackish, polluted waters in search of safety? The social programs that were manipulated and changed in the 1960s under Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" have come home to roost and had their thin veneer dashed by these circumstances, revealing the ugly, festering sores just beneath the surface.
One example, in the 60s, a longer term program that provided governmental relief for children of widows who had been legitimately married, but whose husband had died, was altered to allow any illegitimate children to be included. It wasn't long before more and more desperate woman found that by having four or five children out of wedlock, they could sustain themselves on governmental programs. Men, normally raised to understand that one of their primary roles was to provide for children, found that that role could be supplanted by the government...and so a horrific seed was sown that has resulted in the destruction of the traditional family in a growing segment of American society. It impacted particularly the black family to begin with, but has since spread throughout society...and this is just one example of a myriad of such programs that have had the effect of creating huge segments of society dependent on government for their livelihood, and beholden to politicians whose careers are made by promising more and more of the same. The result is that individuals, families, and entire communities become corrupted...and the outcome is horrific when pitted against circumstances such as Katrina where the foundational building blocks of society such as hard work, strong families, commitment, individualism, creativity and moral strength are indispensable.
LESSON NUMBER FOUR: Large inner cities are breeding grounds for the welfare state. The resulting drugs, indolence, gangs, and other traits make these areas a dangerous place to be at almost any time, but especially during any crisis. Avoid them like the plague, at the mortal threat to your very life.
The sight of utter lawlessness, looting, murder, rape and pillaging in the wake of hurricane Katrina has horrified and shocked us all. Much of it is a result of the seeds sown in lesson number three above.
LESSON NUMBER FIVE: Local, liberal politicians are not prepared or equipped to provide help to citizens in a major natural disaster. After their initial (late) warnings, their decisions and indecision resulting from their ideology (which ideology produced the welfare state in the first place), are more apt to significantly worsen the crisis than to provide relief...and this includes planning in advance of such a crisis.
While I am sure there are many civic leaders who will remain unsung heroes in this (such as the numerous initial Coast Guard rescue flights and those who made and coordinated them), I was struck by two examples of this lesson in this particular crisis.
One was the Mayor of New Orleans, at a late date (within 12-18 hours of the storm actually striking), calling for a "mandatory" evacuation. In essence, he told everyone who could get out on their own to do so...and then proceeded to gather large segments of the poor and welfare dependent, at ground zero in the direct path of the storm with little or no food, water or relief for them. The horrific reality was that the mayor could have gotten those people out of there, even at that late date. He had hundreds of school buses that were slated, in normal circumstances, to carry many more children all over New Orleans the next day...and yet they were not utilized but left in their parking lots to weather the storm Instead, he gathered tens of thousands of the most at risk citizens at the Superdome and the Convention Center, or left them in hospitals and rest homes, which later lost all power and water, and were surrounded by flood waters. Left in those circumstances, horrors unparalleled occurred. The pictures of those busses, covered in water the next day, stands at a punctuation and a witness to this lesson number five.
Another example was the governor of Louisiana. When it became apparent how terrible the decision had been to leave the people in the Superdome, she flew there with part of her staff to see for herself how bad the circumstances were. In a later news briefing she described a man holding a small baby who was seriously ill and how that child and many others like it were left in the Superdome and in need of immediate assistance. I could not help but ask myself while she was talking, "Governor, how did you get out?", and, "If you could get out, that sick child could have gotten out". Indeed, the helicopter or whatever transportation the governor used could have been utilized to carry many sick children out of those circumstances. A strong, moral and inspiring leader would have kept themselves and staff at the Superdome, with their security people, and then used their transportation to take out all of the most seriously ill to the safety of the State Capitol from where she later gave the news conference, I was appalled that such a leader could not be found amongst the highest officials of the city or the state. Perhaps there were...but not in the instances I cite here. In addition, the Governor had it within her power, from the beginning to send the Louisiana National Guard into New Orleans as early as Monday to stop the looting. That she did not, and days later complained about the President not reacting fast enough was a classic example of a lack of leadership lashing out at other leadership to fix blame in my opinion. It not only was a disservice to those citizens in New Orleans, it may well have been fatal for a good number of them.
LESSON NUMBER SIX: Federal government programs cannot logistically react quickly enough to provide the level of assistance necessary in the first 72-96 hours. While they may eventually get the needed relief to the survivors (particularly in the hands of a moral, conservative leader), that relief may come too late if good planning and preparation on the part of the people themselves and local leaders is not already in place. In order to ensure the maximum chance for survival, see lessons one and two above and make sure you abide them...better for you and yours to err on the side of caution, than to be caught in such a circumstance.
LESSON NUMBER SEVEN: Moral and spiritual preparedness is equally important to all of the above. John Adams said the following:
"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."- John Adams, Oct. 11, 1798
Our fundamental, foundational, moral beliefs...meaning the Judeao-Christian values upon which this nation was established, and please understand, on the societal level it matters most that those values are shared by us as opposed to which denominatios have the most members...are what enables us to aptly and with wisdom and compassion apply whatever preparations we make. No amount of planning and preparedness will suffice in the absence of solid, foundational moral values built upon truths like:
Thou shalt not steal, Thos shalt not kill, Thos shalt not covet, Thou shalt not commit adultry, Love others as yourself, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, etc."
In the end, this is fundamental and essential to our success in planning at the individual level, the local level, the state level, and the national level. For leaders to espouse such beliefs is fine...but espousing them for political purposes can never supplant having applyied them in their daily lives and thus experiencing their necessity and utility in that regard so that in a crisis applying them comes naturally and immediately.
Finally, on a final note: These are lessons we as a society simply MUST learn and apply quickly. The lessons of the impact this disaster and tragedy has had on our society is not something that is being felt, noticed, and learned from here alone. Our enemies are also watching. It is imperative that we learn the lessons and apply them before any such enemies can take advantage of them..