Thoughts toward an after-action report

Some questions about what went wrong from Mike O’Hare. Why didn’t the evacuation use buses instead of cars?

Mike O’Hare poses some questions:

(1) What was it about (i) the NHC/NOAA forecasts and videos all last week, showing a Category 5 hurricane big enough to rain simultaneously on Florida, Louisiana, and the Yucatan on a bee-line path to New Orleans, and (ii) the voluminous engineering studies forecasting overtopping levees (never mind breaches) into a soup bowl where the pumps and the utilities would instantly drown, that state and federal agencies didn’t understand well enough to have a relief operation ready to roll on Monday afternoon?

How can it be that the Comfort wasn’t at sea Monday, steaming south at flank speed? That C5A’s weren’t lined up at all the inland airstrips Monday night full of tents, water, MRE’s, small boats, and the like? That every heavy-lift helicopter in the South wasn’t under contract to drop bulldozers in case the airfields on the coast needed to be cleaned up, or even scraped out anew for the C5As?

Were the officials involved desperately paralyzed by fear that they would be days late and dollars short with relief on the one hand, which would be most regrettable, or all dressed up and not needed (e.g., if the levees had held and the storm not so bad at landfall), which would have been a really terrible example of government waste? I admit I’m most curious to know if at any point last week W was sat down in front of a computer screen with NOAA’s most excellent visuals on it and told what he was looking at, and what he said about it at the time, or was told to say.

(2) The roads into a lot of the affected areas are blocked with debris or fallen into the water in pieces, and this may or may not have been predicted. It’s hard to get a relief operation in where it’s needed. However, the Navy and the Marines are especially good at bringing large ships, full of people and heavy equipment, right up to a beach and putting that stuff ashore. Actually, it’s sort of a specialty of those outfits. (They even do it with people shooting at them, which would not be a problem in this case.) There may be a good reason why this capability couldn’t be brought to bear on Gulfport, Biloxi, etc. around about Wednesday morning (I understand why the flotilla wouldn’t be sitting out in the Gulf under the storm on Sunday), with earthmoving equipment, food, medical supplies, and such instead of tanks and artillery, but I haven’t heard it and I’d like to. (PS: Beach landing resources can hardly have been tied up in any operations in Iraq.)

(3) A fair number of commentators, and not just whining liberal fault-finding malcontents, have noticed that the people left in the unbelievable conditions of New Orleans are almost entirely black and poor. When it was thought wise to tell people to leave the city, did anyone ask about plain old city and school buses for the folks who didn’t have cars? And when they did, what was the answer, and who gave it?

(4) The evacuation was much delayed by traffic, comprising entirely people four and five to a car. Cars in slow traffic get four people in about 40 feet of highway lane. Buses get forty people in about sixty feet, about seven times more efficient. Why were people allowed to evacuate in the luxury of private cars, given the enormous traffic congestion this caused, rather than being hauled out efficiently in every bus from every school district and transit agency in the region? Was it about saving more cars at the price of somewhat fewer people?

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: