We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

And another thing to think about when we start pointing fingers is this. The government is never equipped to handle a crisis like this. There’s too much bureaucracy – initiative-stifling bureaucracy which prevents swift, effective action. I would like to hear from government employees on this. The nature of that bureaucracy is such that you have very specific guidelines to follow for even the most minute tasks. You need approval for just about everything, and the person you need approval from usually needs approval to give you the approval.

It’s not as easy as say rounding up 4 of your co-workers and saying, “We’ve got someone at such and such an address, let’s go grab her and get her out of there.” Now add a destroyed or disabled command and control center to that bureaucracy and you’ve got a total and complete mess.

You (as a civilian) don’t need “Approved” stamped on 3 different forms before you can run into your neighbor’s house and pull them out. I hope this makes sense.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s been human error in this catastrophe. How could there not be? But what I’m saying is that I’ve come to expect poor decision making and a total lack of initiative from government. They can’t even balance a budget, at the federal, state, or local levels. I could balance my checkbook and spend within my means when I was a teenager. But I’m not gonna point fingers and get into the blame game. If you want me to blame something besides the storm herself, I blame the nature of government in the first place. It’s too big, it’s too slow, it’s too inefficient, it’s too bloated, and it’s too intiative-stifling to be effective in normal circumstances, much less in a disaster. It’s a systemic issue, more than an issue of individual people in government.

The Interdictor writing yesterday

13 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • dearieme

    “Now add a destroyed or disabled command and control center”: three levels of government, and not one of them arranged a c-&-c centre that could survive the oft-predicted flood. Pathetic.

  • …which is all true, except that we’re talking about a disaster which devastated an area the size of Great Britain. (Imagine, if you will, the task of rebuilding the entire British society — buildings, roads, everything — and you’ll get an idea of the task.

    Simply put, this is just far too big a job for private enterprise to address in the time scale necessary (please note the qualifier, it’s important).

    The fact of the matter is that New Orleans is as bad a situation as it is precisely because local government failed miserably to follow its own disaster plan. No bigger indictment exists than the picture which showed three hundred school buses mired in their parking lot — buses which could have carried off twelve thousand people in the hours before the hurricane truck. And that’s ONE parking lot: New Orleans has something like fifty or sixty such lots. Yet NOT ONE was used to evacuate the city.

    The other thing is that every single improvement made for the strengthening of the levees (which was a LOCAL responsibility, not a Federal one) was designed to withstand a Cat 3 hurricane. Katrina was Cat 4.


  • I agree Kim, there is a legitimate role for the state in all of this, but I do not think that was really the point Interdictor was making. Many of the reports I have read suggest the state actually made things worse early on, such as providing a Predator Feeding Ground in the Superbowl and actively hampering the American Red Cross when it tried to get access to some areas on its own initiative.

  • John Gray

    A couple of points:

    1) Kim: the land area affected may be the size of the UK, but the population of Louisiana and Mississippi combined is only about 8 million. The population of the UK is around 60 million, so I don’t think the comparison withstands scrutiny, because the relief effort has to reach population rather than cover every acre of land. Given the presence of a number of large population centres being affected, they would be obvious focal points for relief.

    2) Generally on the question of state vs private enterprise, I think it’s fair to say that for large scale disasters, statutory compulsion and requisitioning (followed subsequently by compensation) may be necessary. In terms of preparedness and rapid response, I wonder if both the state and private enterprise have similar issues with “wasted effort” – if you know that a hurricane is coming, of a certain size and likely destination, you can of course pre-arrange some of the relief effort (i.e. station troops and food/water/technical resources just out of harms way)- but this costs money and if it isn’t subsequently required, the effort is perceived as wasted. The lack of detailed knowledge of the future is a problem for private and public sectors! This lack of knowledge and imperfect communication makes me suspect that a natural market-driven approach would probably fail too.

  • J

    The notion that everything has to be stamped in triplicate is not entirely correct. Take the recent bus bombing in London. I work very nearby, and within minutes of the event, two nearby private buildings had been requisitioned for use as triage centers and morgues. The police on the scene obviously didn’t sit there waiting for someone it whitehall to tell them it was OK to commandeer some nearby buildings.

    On the other hand, the police almost certainly encountered only co-operation. What if the copper had said “I’m sorry, we need to use your hotel lobby for the injured” and been told “I’m afraid it’s for the use of our guests, you’ll have to look elsewhere”?

    Would the police have been able to force (literally) the hotel to let them in? Would they have had to get some warrant from the Home Secretary showing that a national emergency was officially taking place? Would that have been an important limitation of state powers, or a stupid bit of beaurocracy?

    And after the event – should the hotel be able to submit a bill to the state for loss of earnings? Or is it rather that they should have been insured for those sorts of losses?

    Of course, the recent London bombs were logistically trivial compared with Katrina, but you may recall that the Gvt here recently granted itself some fairly sweeping powers to evacuate, commandeer, and generally take over, in the rather loosely defined event of a national emergency.

  • Mea culpa — my comment above was supposed to be for another post, but I’m an idiot.

    More to Interdictor’s point: planning only goes so far. What was not foreseen was how widespread the destruction turned out to be.

    What you plan for (and I’ve done disaster planning like this before, albeit in the private sector) is to deal with the highest most-likely catastrophe, with a 10% over-prediction.

    The difference between a Cat 3 and Cat 4 is exponential — far outside the 10% “overage” — so the complete disabling of the C&C structure was not something anyone could have predicted.

    It’s like asking government what their disaster-management plan is for a meteor striking Earth. Yeah, it could happen, and it would be horrible, but I seriously doubt whether anyone has a comprehensive plan for such a catastrophe.

    Mr. Gray, your point about the population difference (as opposed to the geography) is a very valid one. Nevertheless, as the coverage has been pretty much all-New Orleans, all the time — my intent in making the comparison was to show the extent of the destruction.

    A lot of stuff has to happen over a large area, and quickly, for this not to become far worse than it already is.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Looking at the evening television news here in Britain, there is lots of footage of the current military deployment, with dozens of helicopters zooming about. Perhaps they would have been more useful had they been deployed to the region about five days ago.

    The BBC seem desperate to spin the “Bush is in deep trouble” line. He has, to put it mildly, not covered himself with glory but to be honest I find a lot of the blame game stuff now underway to be pathetic. What is Dubya supposed to do? Build the levees himself?

  • Daveon

    While the plans were never actually used in anger, the UK did have flood emergency evacuation plans for a large percentage of the population of London before the flood barrier went into action.

    They were designed to be put into action with very little notice with emergency controls to bring in the flood management teams from all over the Greater London area and with a cascading set of secondary command posts radiating out from the city.

    FOrtunately they never had to be used. But a large London surge would have looked a lot like this.

  • If you thought that the Mayor and Governor did alright in a bad situation I would recomend you read this.

  • The fact that bothers me the most is that millions of dollars were spent on bridges to nowhere in Alaska(Link), yet New Orleans faced budget cuts to reinforce its flood control systems(Link).

  • John Rippengal

    Mark Steyn has a pithy article in his superb style in today’s Telegraph – Opinion.

  • Julian Taylor

    The other thing is that every single improvement made for the strengthening of the levees (which was a LOCAL responsibility, not a Federal one) was designed to withstand a Cat 3 hurricane. Katrina was Cat 4.

    But Katrina didn’t actually HIT New Orleans though, did it? It struck a relatively mild glancing blow and then dumped its fury onto Mississippi and Alabama. What struck New Orleans was the 30′ surge at the levee.

  • syn

    What keeps the United States of America from becoming a banana republic is the Constitutional law that gives State government power over Federal government. Specifically to prevent despotism.

    Since the Governor of LA FAILED TO AUTHORIZE Federal control, the President was not authorized by the Governor to send in the Federal Military.

    Governors authorize their power to the President, not the other way around. This is what prevents the Federal Government from turing the United States of American into a third world banana republic.

    For the past five years Leftist have falsely accused the President for being a Dictator BUT, now that a disaster has occurred Leftist are demanding the President operate like a Dictator.

    The separation of State power and Federal power is what prevents the Kos-sacks from staging a coop d’tat. Thank God, Gaia and comman sense individual Americans undertand the distinction.