Last best chance

Well, it might have worked.

Reader Ken Doran writes:

It looks like preventing the Katrina flood might have taken decades of intelligent and expensive infrastructure work. The current administration was terrible on this, but probably couldn’t have saved the day even if it had been good.

However, Michael O’Hare is correct that a drastically better evacuation system could have been in place

relatively inexpensively, and would have saved untold lives.

I think that even accepting everything as it happened to the start of flooding, and even assuming FEMA/federal ineptitude, a opportunity

for life saving leadership was missed at that point. Someone in a position to invoke moral leadership, probably the governor or mayor, could have done the following:

1. Identified what access routes into the city were usable or could be made so within hours.

2. Asked — begged — anyone who controlled a bus or similar vehicle, public or private, within plausible driving distance, to get to the city and take people away.

3. Asked — begged — anyone with dry floor space in surrounding states, notably churches and schools, to make it available for refugees, and to scrounge food and medical assistance on an emergency basis.

4. Asked that all law enforcement agencies, and notably their dispatchers, be made primary information brokers as to travel routes and what resources were available locally.

5. Promise to begin sorting out the longer term consequences ASAP, but asking that it be treated as a matter of life and death meanwhile, which of course it was.

What I don’t know is if widespread Katrina damage was so severe as to make any substantial effort along these lines totally impossible. But if even one or two routes to the city could have been opened within a day or so, it could have made a huge difference. Apparently the roads were open enough for a Hyatt Hotels supply convoy to get in on Wednesday.

I think the news media would have gotten behind this and been major allies. Of course, that assumes that FEMA wouldn’t have prevented it.

Didn’t happen. Would I have thought of it, had I been in or close to those positions? Don’t know. It is entirely possible that I would have taken it for granted that FEMA and the feds generally would

be on the case within hours.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: