Katrina, What Went Right?

Lou Dolinar over at Real Clear Politics is asking that question. Why? Because the numbers of dead are in the hundreds not the 10,000 to 25,000 many were predicting. So, how come the death toll was so low, or in other words, who was doing what needed to be done to help save lives?

Largely invisible to the media’s radar, a broad-based rescue effort by federal, state and local first responders pulled 25,000 to 50,000 people from harm’s way in floodwaters in the city. Ironically, FEMA’s role, for good or ill, was essentially non-existent, as was the Governor’s and the Mayor’s. An ad-hoc distributed network responded on its own. Big Government didn’t work. Odds and ends of little government did.

Hmmm, interesting. I wonder if the case can be made for privatizing, to some degree, this kind of thing. Privatize in the sense that a private firm is hired by the city or the state to come in and get things done. Wait, what am I saying. Politicians would still be involved and muck things up. They’d want all kinds of nonsensical conditions imposed like making sure that the people actually doing the rescuing are getting the right kind of sensitivity training prior to pulling the drowning man, woman or child to safety.

During the critical period beginning Monday, rescue helicopters were already reeling in at least 2000 people a day. These independent units comprised dozens of Coast Guard, Air Force, Air National Guard and Army choppers. Various boat-rescue operations by New Orleans first responders saved thousands more-even as the media’s attention was focused on the Superdome, snipers and scenes of looting.

Makes sense to me. The media goes with what is sensational, and which is more sensational, watching looting, snipers and the fiasco at the superdome, or watching Bob being lifted off his roof by a Navy SAR team? Of course, it sort of puts the lie to those who were claiming that nothing was being done. As I’ve noted in comments in a few places the U.S.S. Bataan was flying missions on Tuesday following the hurricane and running SAR operations on Wednesday. Not that you’ll find too much of this on the Left leaning websites.

I recomend reading the whole thing.

Via Debunkers.

FILED UNDER: Media, Natural Disasters, , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. odograph says:

    Why “companies?”

    Didn’t much of the good work just get done by “guy who showed up with boats?”

    It could be that volunteer response brigades are at least part of the answer. I remember that in post-analysis of the last San Francisco quake they said people died just because there weren’t enough police and firemen. It was left to people to try to save each other. Suggestions were 1) that police/fire should train to fan out and collect a group of citizens to assist them (one fireman, ten volunteers) or 2) that people should actually prepare to rescue their neighbors (keeping a ladder and an axe on hand).

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    Why “companies”, just looking to put the profit motive to good use, that is all. Volunteers are good too so long as they don’t end up needing to be rescued as well.

  3. pragmatist says:

    Firms drawn into contracts with government are frequently as inefficient or more so than government.
    “Privatization” does not necessarily mean subjection to market forces or other pressures on inefficiency, nor does it necessarily reward innovation. Indeed many American firms actually subjected to markets still slowly and painfully die, take GM or Delta.

    The crpny system you propose is an example of magical thinking.

    Effective tools of management can be applied at both the private and public level. FEMA was reformed in the nineties, so was the VA system. The issue is will.

    While Democrats have too little incentive to work on reform, crony capitalists of the Bush mode have none. Their goal is to prove government useless and thus bring in crony capitalism with increased expences and profits, aka Iraq.

  4. odograph says:

    This is just my gut-feel, after reading the first-hand accounts, but it sounds like as many people were picked up by citizens in boats as by the Coast Guard in helicopters.

    That’s a big lesson for me, because I tend to trust the system to send someone official. Indeed I felt a little bit of “who does that guy think he is?” when I saw the first-day story of a guy with his airboats. Later I figured it out, “that guy” was “smart.”

  5. Maryann says:

    We call up citizens for jury duty. Perhaps communities should have a call up for civic duty. Individuals can be randomly called up, appropriate screened, then sent to a course on disaster relief. Over time, a greater percentage of the population would know how to organize and provide assistance in the event of a disaster. People would learn what to expect and what can be done in the interim until regional or federal assistance arrives.

  6. RJT says:

    a broad-based rescue effort by federal, state and local first responders pulled 25,000 to 50,000 people from harm’s way in floodwaters in the city.

    actually I was just watching the news and they said only between 6 and 7 thousand where rescued.

  7. cirby says:

    Of course, there’s not much mention of the giant amounts of supplies and fuel that were used by the second-stage responders, or where much of it came from. Like the guys who showed up with a hundred boats, but filled them from Coast Guard fuel tanks (which were cross-funded by guess what government agency?).

  8. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘Largely invisible to the media’s radar’

    Which incredibly only detects things involving the media or occurring in and around expresso bars. Except when it can rip on George Bush. Mayeb their radar screen would be a little broader if they could dislodge their heads from their asses. With emotion!