Maybe the fact that I worked in emergency management for a number of years, and agonized over the government ineptitude during Katrina, has heightened my awareness of just how good the comprehensive emergency management plan (CEMP) was in Florida. If Florida’s plan were in place for international disaster response, I think you’d see a totally different scenario unfolding in Haiti.
As it is, we see more of the same government ineptitude wrapped in bureaucratic red tape stifling the relief and recovery efforts in the devastated island nation. Why, after nearly a week, are we still seeing reporters on cable news ask where the help is? Did our government learn nothing from their missteps in Katrina?
I see aid and supplies piling up on an airport tarmac. I hear of assessment teams and logistical problems. I hear a litany of excuses why international aid organizations cannot mobilize and set up distribution points. What I don’t see or hear are any lessons learned from past disasters being applied in this chaotic situation.
The problem with a natural disaster of this magnitude, essentially disabling a national government, is that you cannot operate under standard operating procedures (SOP) or canned executive orders (EO). When there are no first responders on the ground, functioning hospitals or national guard/security, it is time to throw those government manuals out the window and improvise on the fly.
Case in point, if a private citizen receiving a call for help can drive a truck across the border to the Dominican Republic, load up with supplies and transport them back to an orphanage in Port-Au-Prince, then why can’t relief organizations or the military transport those same supplies a few miles from the airport to a downtown square? It boggles the mind. And the only possible answers are a lack of government leadership, poor command and control structure and too much red tape.
I’m actually in agreement with Anderson Cooper of CNN who essentially said tonight screw assessment and logistics, just get the aid to the people who so desperately need it! Assessment is something you do in the first three days of a typical disaster, so that needs can be identified and prioritized. The situation in Haiti is anything but typical. Thousands of lives hang in the balance, and so many will be lost needlessly, not because of a natural disaster, but because of a bureaucratic one. That’s unacceptable!
I thought the head of USAID was telling the national media last week that he was in charge. If that is the case, then he needs to take charge and borrow a page out of Florida’s CEMP. Otherwise, I would expect his future departure to resemble that of FEMA’s Director after Katrina. This is a larger scale disaster in both a natural and a bureaucratic sense, in my opinion.