Feeble Knees

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A Guess in a Party Dress

Liz at Messy Christian is wondering how it happened that things got so bad in New Orleans. Was it bad governance or human nature, she asks.

Thinking on her post reminded me of something I read recently in this post in Iraq War correspondent/observer Michael Yon's blog.

Mr. Yon was writing about how even in war the unexpected can happen. The quote that struck me from Mr. Yon's blog was this:

But once the shooting starts, a plan is just a guess in a party dress.

At the time I read this, it reminded me of certain work situations I'd been in where the best laid plans would be shot to heck when something unexpected and unforeseen happened. I remembered a few specific situations in my own professional career where despite careful planning, a project blew up, got bogged down or failed completely - not because we didn't plan, but because we didn't plan for the unexpected.

Now I am remembering this quote again and it seems much more relevant to the situation in New Orleans. There were plans for provisioning and evacuating people from the flooded city. But once the shooting started...

In a comment over at Messy Christian I mentioned that Mr. F and I were talking and comparing the response of the New York City police and fire department's response on 9/11 to the reports we've seen and heard about some Louisiana police participating in or allowing the looting of electronic goods, weapons, ammunition, and even (believe it or not, as I read in one account) fishing gear.

I expect that comment to generate some heat. So be it.

But the local police are the first line of defense in any situation, they are the authorities on the ground, and much of what happens depends on their skills, professionalism and commitment to serve, protect, and uphold the law.

As we spoke about it this morning Mr. F reminded me of the D-Day invasion - of how Eisenhower and all his staff laid out the plans, but in the end it was the men and the sergeants on the ground who carried the burden of executing on the plan. Once the landing occurred and the shooting started, it was in the hands of the individuals on the ground, and there wasn't very much direct control in the hands of the generals and majors. (Any history or military buffs out there care to back me up or take issue with this assessment?)

The mayors and the governors and the cabinet staffs and the FEMA managers are all off in their bunkers somewhere - they were not in direct control of what was happening on the streets of New Orleans or Biloxi or Mobile. That is not to say they weren't responsible for orchestrating relief and rescue efforts - absolutely they were and are. And I'd be extraordinarily surprised if there isn't a congressional inquiry in the coming months into an apparent breakdown in communication and chain of command during the events that followed Katrina's landfall.

But we need to look at the individual actions of the individuals on the ground. We need to look at the individuals who looted guns and ammunition, at the thugs who carjacked ambulances, shot at rescue helicopters, policemen who broke the law and looted themselves, men who took bus seats away from elderly, sick, pregnant women and children.

There will be no shortage of people to blame, if that's what we want to do. There is plenty of blame to go around. But blame doesn't get the relief supplies in faster or the evacuees out quicker. It doesn't rebuild the homes and lives that were lost. It doesn't bring the dead back to life.

The people affected by the storm and the botched rescue and relief operations do deserve answers, and responsible parties must be held accountable at every level - from citizens on the street, to law enforcement to the highest office of the land, the presidency. We cannot control the weather, we cannot foresee when or where the next natural disaster will occur. So it is imperative that we do all we can to determine how to ensure that the best most effective and efficient plans are in place to handle any eventuality.

But we must also remember that plans are just plans, developed by imperfect human minds and based on guesses, estimates, hopes.

Is there a moral in all this?

Probably too many to count.

One that immediately springs to mind is this:

Plan hard. Pray harder.
<< Home

TrackBack URL for this post: http://haloscan.com/tb/feebleknees/112576118632981485