Inside the Fence

Of hurricanes, lessons (hopefully) learned, and an industry’s reaction ...

As the nation continues to react to the catastrophe that was Hurricane Katrina, it will be helpful if we keep our eye on a key element of the evacuation breakdown: communications. Be it 9/11, the D.C. snipers, or Katrina, a common shortcoming was communication between local, state, and federal officials. The Bush-bashers and the general media prefer to blame it all on the feds, but that’s not the way our system works. We need to have a handle on local communications and planning first, and then tie it into state and federal programs. Make a poster and add the headline “Planning, Communications” — just add a photo of New Orleans.

One consensus of opinion now emerging in the aftermath is that FEMA needs to be a separate agency outside of the purview of DHS. Says Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Robert B. Flowers, who now heads up the government contract division for consulting firm HNTB, “DHS, when you look at it structurally, has so much responsibility; FEMA, to manage emergencies, has to be prepared and ready to go, and needs to be directly responsible to the White House, without a separate department level.”

Roy Williams, director of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, offers this advice: “Looking forward, you have to be realistic and say, you might be a shelter, so how would you change things to provide the best resource to the community?

“As an example, in our terminal building there is no space that truly has no glass. You could design a public space, very pleasant and well lit, but that did not have any glass penetrations to the outside.”

Interestingly, as one considers the relief efforts from Katrina, it is the airports that stand out as being positive contributors, ones not blasted for their ineffectiveness.

Comments Williams, “I would like to brag. Generally, airports pride themselves on being able to handle special events, be it snowstorms, air shows, visiting dignitaries. In most respects, airports set a very high standard for anticipating the unusual and training for it.” That standard was seen at his airport, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and Houston.

Meanwhile, Williams credits the assistance of airports in Savannah, Pensacola, and Houston for sending relief, particularly personnel.

Says Gen. Flowers, “In all the deployments I’ve done — Somalia, Bosnia, and others — one of the first things you seek out are airfields. They’re natural places for people and responders to migrate to.”

Thanks for reading.