Katrina and self reliance

The only upside to a catastrophe like Katrina is what it can teach us. To me, living in an earthquake zone with an inevitable Big One coming in five or fifteen years, the lesson is self reliance. The most pathetic sight in the last week was the hordes of helpless people in New Orleans, suddenly deprived of their caregivers — government, utilities, transportation, medical care, police protection, even the supermarket down the block. When all that broke down under an overwhelming blow of nature, too many people had nothing to fall back on. Not even themselves, their families, friends, neighbors.

Yes, we can blame the city of New Orleans for not investing in stronger levees for a Level Five Hurricane that was sure to come. But then we must also blame California for not preparing enough for the big earthquake that is equally sure.  All the houses in flood plains are built, ultimately, on hope and denial. New York City was not prepared for 9/11, even though the same gang of cutthroats tried to blow up the Twin Towers in 1993. Four years after 9/11 the West still struggles with deep denial of terrorist strikes that are sure to keep coming. It is even now  evading the clear and present danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of unpredictable and perhaps suicidal regimes, in North Korea, Iran, and who knows where else.

States that have regular winter storms or tornados provide a good example. Because they face the same danger every year, they know exactly what to do. During Minnesota winters people stop when they see a stranded car by the road. They know what to do, and share an ethic of mutual support. 

The great lesson is self reliance. The grandparents of the lost souls  wandering  the streets of New Orleans today knew exactly what to do. Store food and clean water for three days or more, for every member of your household. Organize your neighborhood for mutual help. Place emergency supplies in your car. In massive disasters, do not expect a quick rescue.  Far too many people will be in desperate need. A real emergency will quickly overwhelm even the resources of a modern city.  Anticipate a breakdown of electricity, sanitation, fire and police protection. Know whom you can trust.

Panic and despair are the greatest enemies. If necessary, keep tranquilizers on hand to tide you and your family through moments of panic. Even cold medications will work as sedatives. Hope and self—confidence, practical thinking, and group cohesion will carry you through. Plan ways to find your friends and family in time of need, and remember that telephones, cellphones and computers may not work. Portable radios can help.

All the usual lessons apply. Plan, plan, plan. Try to break through our own barriers of denial. The web is a great resource for preparedness; but be aware that the web, too, will go down in a major crisis. Print out preparedness documents from FEMA and a dozen other websites. Prepare a safe room in your home with at least three days of supplies for everyone. Be able to defend your perimeter, and, if you can, your neighborhood, until help arrives.

Terror attacks are a known unknown, as Rummy would say. Dirty radiation bombs are easy enough to construct, but they are fairly easy to defend against. Shutting your doors and windows, wearing dust masks, filtering incoming air, staying inside for three or four days, those simple steps would save thousands of lives.  The biggest danger in a dirty bomb attack is breathing in radioactive dust. Most radiation products decay within 72 hours.

So far, America's aggressive response to 9/11 has kept us safe. Any country that sponsors terrorism against us would be courting suicide; that has probably helped to protect us. But it may not work forever, and it would be foolish to assume that it must. So be prepared, mentally and materially.

Self—reliance does not mean ignoring others. However, if all the powers of government and private enterprise are overwhelmed for several days, you cannot assume responsibilities beyond your powers. It is vital to enourage everyone in your community to be both self—reliant and ready to help each other. There was a time when this was obvious to all. In a time of disaster it is good to make it obvious again.

There is no way we can protect against all catastrophic events all the time, and our very  safety and prosperity has made us blase and self—indulgent.

Self—reliance is key. If there is one lesson Katrina can teach us, let that be the one.

The only upside to a catastrophe like Katrina is what it can teach us. To me, living in an earthquake zone with an inevitable Big One coming in five or fifteen years, the lesson is self reliance. The most pathetic sight in the last week was the hordes of helpless people in New Orleans, suddenly deprived of their caregivers — government, utilities, transportation, medical care, police protection, even the supermarket down the block. When all that broke down under an overwhelming blow of nature, too many people had nothing to fall back on. Not even themselves, their families, friends, neighbors.

Yes, we can blame the city of New Orleans for not investing in stronger levees for a Level Five Hurricane that was sure to come. But then we must also blame California for not preparing enough for the big earthquake that is equally sure.  All the houses in flood plains are built, ultimately, on hope and denial. New York City was not prepared for 9/11, even though the same gang of cutthroats tried to blow up the Twin Towers in 1993. Four years after 9/11 the West still struggles with deep denial of terrorist strikes that are sure to keep coming. It is even now  evading the clear and present danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of unpredictable and perhaps suicidal regimes, in North Korea, Iran, and who knows where else.

States that have regular winter storms or tornados provide a good example. Because they face the same danger every year, they know exactly what to do. During Minnesota winters people stop when they see a stranded car by the road. They know what to do, and share an ethic of mutual support. 

The great lesson is self reliance. The grandparents of the lost souls  wandering  the streets of New Orleans today knew exactly what to do. Store food and clean water for three days or more, for every member of your household. Organize your neighborhood for mutual help. Place emergency supplies in your car. In massive disasters, do not expect a quick rescue.  Far too many people will be in desperate need. A real emergency will quickly overwhelm even the resources of a modern city.  Anticipate a breakdown of electricity, sanitation, fire and police protection. Know whom you can trust.

Panic and despair are the greatest enemies. If necessary, keep tranquilizers on hand to tide you and your family through moments of panic. Even cold medications will work as sedatives. Hope and self—confidence, practical thinking, and group cohesion will carry you through. Plan ways to find your friends and family in time of need, and remember that telephones, cellphones and computers may not work. Portable radios can help.

All the usual lessons apply. Plan, plan, plan. Try to break through our own barriers of denial. The web is a great resource for preparedness; but be aware that the web, too, will go down in a major crisis. Print out preparedness documents from FEMA and a dozen other websites. Prepare a safe room in your home with at least three days of supplies for everyone. Be able to defend your perimeter, and, if you can, your neighborhood, until help arrives.

Terror attacks are a known unknown, as Rummy would say. Dirty radiation bombs are easy enough to construct, but they are fairly easy to defend against. Shutting your doors and windows, wearing dust masks, filtering incoming air, staying inside for three or four days, those simple steps would save thousands of lives.  The biggest danger in a dirty bomb attack is breathing in radioactive dust. Most radiation products decay within 72 hours.

So far, America's aggressive response to 9/11 has kept us safe. Any country that sponsors terrorism against us would be courting suicide; that has probably helped to protect us. But it may not work forever, and it would be foolish to assume that it must. So be prepared, mentally and materially.

Self—reliance does not mean ignoring others. However, if all the powers of government and private enterprise are overwhelmed for several days, you cannot assume responsibilities beyond your powers. It is vital to enourage everyone in your community to be both self—reliant and ready to help each other. There was a time when this was obvious to all. In a time of disaster it is good to make it obvious again.

There is no way we can protect against all catastrophic events all the time, and our very  safety and prosperity has made us blase and self—indulgent.

Self—reliance is key. If there is one lesson Katrina can teach us, let that be the one.