Thursday, September 22, 2005

Busses and blame...

"Do the math" says Ralph Reiland of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "The busses alone tell the story."

He, an associate professor of economics, does the math in this article:

804 busses, 60 people per bus = 48,240 people per trip, so three trips to evacuate all of New Orleans. Proof positive that mayor Ray Nagin screwed up.

A professor of economics.

Listen: there's a reason that you can point to this and say that Ray Nagin, and Governor Blanco and others, screwed up. But this?

804 busses require 804 drivers. An evacuation requires security, and that probably means more than the entire 1500 police in New Orleans. 804 busses need 804 tanks of fuel, probably 2-3 times over at a minimum. But let's just say that the mayor of New Orleans can find these resources within the 48 hours (absolute, super-generous maximum - he probably had 20-25) he had between recognizing that an evacuation was needed and Katrina hitting.

Let's assume traffic and other problems miraculously resolve themselves.

Here's the question: where do you put 48,240 people (per trip!) that is out of the hurricane's path, or that holds 48,240 people and is hurricane proof? Where is there going to be food, water, and restroom facilities for all those people? Where is there going to be security for that many people? I mean, crowd enough stressed out people together, and there is going to be trouble, that's human nature.

No. People complaining about the busses most certainly have not done "the math". They've done some arithmetic, but math requires knowing what space you're in, and recognizing when you're talking theory, and when you're talking real world.

No, Ray Nagin and Governor Blanco and probably hundreds of other mayors and 49 other governors and the fifty disaster agencies for the states, and the Department of Homeland Security, they all screwed up... but it wasn't the busses. It was the failure to consider the possibility of needing to move that many people that quickly, and figuring out the logistics of what could be done.

Without a safe place to put those people, the busses were useless.

I've said it before: there's a lot of blame to go around for a lot of screwups. "Not using the busses" isn't going to count, until someone can point to already established shelters for even one trip's worth of evacuees.

There are some folks trying to use this to excuse the federal response. "Sure, the feds had a hard time, because someone else had already screwed everything up." Well, the feds are the ones who'd have to coordinate evacuations of 100,000 people who can't evacuate on their own. Such a massive undertaking is going to have to end up crossing state lines, and require action beyond the state level (to say nothing of the cost and resources involved), and you can't do it in a crisis; it needs to be pre-planned, or it just won't happen.

So, yes, Nagin and Blanco both deserve some blame for not forseeing this; they should be able to point to requests for emergency shelter and support.

But the feds aren't off the hook here, either. The need to evacuate a city is an obvious part of homeland security that will require intervention at the federal level.

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