Hogan's Alley

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Local Planning Failures in New Orleans

Glenn Reynolds has an excellent list of the lessons learned to date in New Orleans. Hopefully, following a protracted series of recriminations, a blue ribbon panel will flesh out his list and craft recomendations to assure this doesn't happen again.

I was an administrator for local government in the area of the Indian Point Nuclear Plant. The local county, city and towns have developed extensive plans, rehearsed and updated regularly, to evacuate the area in case of a problem at the plant. These plans specifically deal with evacuation routes, buses being mobilized for those without transport, pre-set routes and bus stops. Children and the sick and elderly are given special attention in these plans. Relocation sites, health, food, water, shelter, all are accounted for.

Arguably, a failure of a nuclear plant is unlikely. It is certainly not the absolutely predictable tragedy we have now witnessed in New Orleans. It is also probable that any plan will not be carried out as neatly as envisioned in the abstract. But in New Orleans the local government apparently had a plan and then ignored it, no doubt in part because the city was abandoned by many of the first responders, who were probably seeing first to the safety of themselves and their families, also an absolutely predictable event in cities where, for political reasons, employees must live within city limits.

The size of any response required by state and Federal entities, once an emergency has occured, is directly proportional to the competence of the planning and the actual evacuation. Resolution of this in future will require public assessment of local planning, especially in New Orleans and Los Angeles (the next most likely site of a tragedy). It is crucial that this assessment be done in a way that will achieve the trust of the public in their objectivity. They must be politics free.