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'Fog facts' in both media and print

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Part 1

Although TV and, by extension, every media device that carries its content, deserves to be called out for its distortions that misinform public discourse, both TV/media and print deserve reproach for what they do not address and so starve public discourse of content that it would find actionable.

Larry Beinhart calls this overlooked class of information "fog facts":

Fog facts are things that have been reported, somewhere, sometime, but have disappeared into the mist—like the pre-9/11 hints that there were hijackers in our midst. The fog facts can still be found by enterprising reporters, but with time and news space increasingly crunched—and media priorities shifting to the trivial—they usually remain obscure, at least to the general public.

Beinhart should know as he has made a practice of employing fog facts as a central mechanism in his novels, American Hero [great snippets here] which was the basis for the film Wag the Dogand The Librarian, and now the nonfiction Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin.

Fog Facts is about "the fog surrounding the small kernels of truth. There is so much fog, the truth disappears." Beinhart believes that "the media are manipulated by a new breed of super-smart spin doctors who are exploiting the fact that the media try to report facts objectively" and that this spin which protects US politicians from damage "has seeped into every level of politics" thereby hastening Baudrillard's new reality.

Beinhart is also cynical about politics and politicians of all shades although I would position him as more liberal than conservative, especially as he cites this as the cusp of his lapse into cynicism:

[After enduring privation as an aspiring movie producer, Beinhart was tempted by] "a right-wing Republican condominium developer. Would Beinhart and his company mind producing a series of ads that had an explicit anti-gay message? Beinhart bristled - his first instinct was "of course not"- but [privation being what it was] he accepted the offer but subverted it by hiring only gay actors and a gay production crew. "I wasn't sure if it was a cynical move on my behalf or hysterical," he says.

Beinhart's politics may inform the examples that he highlights but they do not dilute his message. His 'fog facts' on Senator Bill Frist and VP Cheney should have long ago received more scrutiny. Beinhart takes journalists to task for treating non-political and political news differently. Holding up the Lake George drownings against Frist's financials, he says that:

[In] the Lake George stories, details, background and context were as natural as using a headline and a lead paragraph, yet the breaking Frist story was written as if the events occurred in ghostly isolation, disconnected from others like them, from society, and from humanity in general. [Lake George] has a certain neutrality about it. It’s real news (it’s not political scandal). So reporters and editors fearlessly get it all for us. They do not just report the events, they pull all the relevant facts (laws, history, similar events, speculations, social impact) out of the thousands of bits of information floating around-- out of the fog.

The other story is also news. In terms of what will or will not happen to us in the future, it is significantly more important. All the bits and pieces that I’ve tossed in here can be found, without too much effort. Yet, they're not there. They're still lost in the fog. If I said that that it is because it involves a very powerful man backed by a very powerful political party with lots of supporters who attack the press when they feel their leaders are attacked, most reporters and editors would say no, they would never make a decision to report based on fear or favor. Yet virtually everyone handled the story the same way.

Fog remains underreported as the circumstances have become institutionalized. It is far easier to focus on "sordid, salacious facts about celebrities" or events that do not threaten journalists and their employers instead of the critical issues of the day.

This writer sees a bit of fog in the New York Times' handling of its reporter, Judith Miller, given that the Times seems to be perpetually scooped by other journalists. In a case that could possibly indict senior administration officials, the Times has been mute to the point that the editor of Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell, has to ask:

And while we're at it: Why have the Times' seven hard-hitting weekday opinion columnists remained virtually silent, pro or con, on their colleague Judith Miller throughout this ordeal? Conflicted? Afraid to appear disloyal? Or discouraged from commenting?

Part 3

SEC Issues Subpoena To Frist, Sources Say
Records Sought On Sale of Stock
By Carrie Johnson and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post
October 13, 2005

'N.Y. Times' Scooped Again, This Time on Miller's Notes
By E&P Staff
Editor & Publisher
October 08, 2005 10:35 AM ET updated 11:00 PM

The Case of the Missing Notebook
By Greg Mitchell
Editor & Publisher
October 09, 2005 12:40 PM ET

Reporters: Lost in the 'Fog'?
By Larry Beinhart
Editor & Publisher
October 06, 2005

Clearing away the fog of spin
Sydney Morning Herald
September 8, 2005

Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
By Larry Beinhart
Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2005
ISBN:1560257679

Fog Facts : Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
Table of contents

Gordon Housworth



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The US paid much to gain little in opposing ElBaradei; it will pay more if it continues to reproach the Nobel laureate

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I've some difficulty in believing that the joint award of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize to Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had no political dimension, and that the award was not a second slap (Jimmy Carter's 2002 prize being the first) at what Hans Blix described today as US "unilateralist action." I am even more sad that administration displeasure over ElBaradei's refusal to support US charges of Iraqi WMD development and a perceived too soft approach on Iran were two of many drivers for that slap. Whatever the drivers were, it is clear that as the US star set, ElBaradei's rose, especially in the Muslim world (and if you know ElBaradei's background he is decidedly not anti-American).

By early January 2005 the US had sought support among the IAEA's Board of Governors for a vote of no-confidence in ElBaradei, even though he faced no opposition for re-election to a third term. Interestingly, the US expected the support from allies including Canada and Australia "along with possible backing from former Soviet bloc nations." Within the month the US was isolated, having to failed to convince any of the 15 countries it approached, rebuffed by the UK, Canada, Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Pakistan and South Africa.

The US approach that it was "motivated solely by a desire to see U.N. executives adopt a two-term limit" fell on deaf ears as "most allies… viewed the campaign as retaliation against someone who questioned U.S. intelligence on Iraq [and] Iran." The fact that the US reviewed "intercepts of ElBaradei's phone calls in hopes of finding material to use against him," "orchestrated leaks" that ElBaradei was attempting to hide an Iranian covert weapons program and an Iranian purchase of large quantities of beryllium (which acts as reflector during the early stages of a nuclear detonation) did not endear the US. I found it interesting that only states targeted by IAEA investigations (Pakistan, South Korea and Brazil) were in favor of replacing ElBaradei.

This is all the more distressing in that the US paid much to gain little, especially as:

Privately, Bush administration officials acknowledge that the IAEA's Iran investigation, now in its third year, has been thorough and that the agency has uncovered far more than U.S. intelligence could have learned without it.

I note one negative blog that dismissed the Nobel Committee outright as "some Norwegian association" and felt that naming ElBaradei in the company of "previous winners including Woodrow Wilson, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa" was evidence that "Apparently You Can Get An 'A' For Effort." The blog took further pride in noting Yasser Arafat was not mentioned as a winner, as if there was an attempt to hide a bad decision. [It is worth an aside on the choice of Arafat as few saw through his brilliant self image campaign that conned many in Europe and the Middle East. One, Edward Said, was virtually exiled from Palestinian circles in 1997 by referring to Arafat as "our Papa Doc." It was only until Samuels produced his superb In a Ruined Country that many could see the magnitude of the disaster that Arafat bequeathed to the region.]

Sometimes an 'A for effort' is all that one can hope for. I have had my own limited experience with the IAEA's difficulty in gaining agreement on a contentious subject. But first, readers need to know how difficult it is to move the IAEA.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is, for better or worse, a UN agency established in 1957 as a global "Atoms for Peace" for nuclear cooperation in three fields: safety and security, safeguards and verification, and science and technology. Mohamed ElBaradei is the IAEA's Director General, much like Kofi Annan is Secretary General of the UN, and presides over 138 Member States as of November 2004. An annual General Conference elects a Board of Governors composed of 35 member states that meet in Vienna five times a year.

I am astonished that it achieves as much as it does, and in a private note in 2001 said:

I have watched the IAEA long enough to draw an impression shared by others that the IAEA has been soft on proliferation enforcement, but to retain balance, that position might be a necessary function of a body such as IAEA maintaining access to the facilities it seeks to inspect. The IAEA has a hard job, I think, as many of the owners of the sites it seeks to inspect have a vested interest in it not investigating all the actions of those facilities.

Back to my own experience. The IAEA was holding a four day session, Symposium on International Safeguards: Verification and Nuclear Material Security, 29 Oct-1 Nov, 2001, and added an impromptu fifth day, 2 Nov, for COMBATING NUCLEAR TERRORISM. The lead speaker on the added day was Jerrold Post, formerly the founder and director of CIA's Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior. Post's presentation caused an uproar because he was impolitic in naming specific IAEA member states. Post's paper was suppressed, in part for those named states, and the fact that, as an attendee told me, such stonewalling was common for certain Arab member states to object to anything that they considered slander.  And this was a session that was not going to take any action as its 'resolutions' statement was "No resolutions may be submitted for consideration on any subject, no votes will be taken."

I am told that Post's briefing was "chilling" and the unofficial, unreleased copy that I received was indeed rather heady stuff for 2001. The closest public text to that unreleased copy that I have is here and a similar cleaned up version without the charts is here. (Readers can purchase a glossy copy from Peace & Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, September 2002, v. 8, no. 3, p. 187-200. Note that Post also produced a Response to various comments about his article in that same issue on p. 223-227.

[As an aside, I recommend Know Thy Enemy: Profiles of Adversary Leaders and Their Strategic Cultures edited by Schneider and Post. See Post's Precise Assessments of Rivals Vital in Asymmetric War Threat Environment, chapter 11.]

Treating with the IAEA is a miniature of treating with the UN, yet its issues of verification, security and safeguards are some of the most contentious of national interests regardless of whether you are in possession or not. I submit that the US urgently needs to blend conciliation and diplomacy with resolve where it is merited and alter its interaction with the IAEA and the UN as when we do get our way we leave droves of unnecessary enemies in our wake.

ElBaradei welcomes Nobel 'boost'
BBC News
Last Updated: Friday, 7 October 2005, 20:52 GMT 21:52 UK

Profile: Mohamed ElBaradei
BBC News
Last Updated: Friday, 7 October 2005, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK

ElBaradei, IAEA Share Nobel Peace Prize
By Fred Barbash and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writers
October 7, 2005; 10:28 AM

U.S. Alone in Seeking Ouster
15 Countries Rebuff Effort to Unseat Head of Nuclear Agency
By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post
January 22, 2005

U.S. Seeking No-Confidence Vote on ElBaradei
Global Security Newswire
January 10, 2005

Know Thy Enemy: Profiles of Adversary Leaders and Their Strategic Cultures
Barry R. Schneider, Jerrold M. Post, Editors
July 2003
(Second edition)

Differentiating the Threat of Chemical/Biological Terrorism: Motivations and Constraints
Testimony before the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations, Committee on Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
October 12, 2001
Jerrold M. Post, M.D.
The Elliott School of International Affairs
The George Washington University

Gordon Housworth



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Why does it take a comedian to position video and print news media?

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Jon Stewart is a gifted comedian but I would hope that he would not think me unkind when I say that he has transcended comedy and has become a gifted editorialist and essayist. And he does in two places, the first being what I call his 'expected' venue - on-screen in a TV environment, and the second in what I call the 'wolf in sheep's clothing' venue in which various hosts presume that he will bring comedy when in fact he can deliver a withering analysis that lays the matter bare.

Stewart recently did it again at the "Inside the Covers" panel series held by the Magazine Publishers Association.

In debating Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter on the issue of how advertisers and media buyers divide their revenues between what I call 'screens' (TV, internet, image device - anything other than print media) and print, Stewart said:

"The way news is driven today is not through print. I don't consider print media as relevant."

Carter countered that "television news consistently siphons what first appears in print" to which Stewart replied:

"I didn't say you weren't important; I said you're at the children's table."

Stewart drove home the 'immediacy of television' citing his stealth interview that dismembered Tucker Carlson on CNN's Crossfire:

"I wouldn't have walked into a newspaper or magazine (office) and gotten angry, because they're not the ones driving the discourse."

Stewart was equally piercing in his analysis of the web:

"(The internet) is just a delivery system. You can get really, really great insight, and really disturbing Asian porn."

It is startling to see the magnitude of "media ecosystem in which US nationals are immersed," an environment that Paul Saffo calls a "Cambrian explosion" of TV, radio, Web, PDAs, MP3 players, cellphones, video games, embedded devices in addition to print sources. The recent Middletown Media Studies by the Center for Media Design detail our enormous personal and professional media consumption, noting that "of the time spent using media, nearly one-third was spent consuming two or more forms at once, such as watching TV and surfing the Internet, or listening to music while playing a video game":

About 30 percent of their waking hours were found to be spent using media exclusively, while another 39 percent involved using media while also doing another activity, such as watching TV while preparing food or listening to the radio while at work. Altogether, more than two-thirds of people's waking moments involved some kind of media usage.

See The Media Day, Concurrent Media Exposure, and their collection process, the Observational Method. The presence of TV was impressive: TV and the Web, TV and email, TV and phone, TV and software, etc. TV survived the Web, as cinema survived TV, but the two forms are beginning to merge as streaming video from TV and other sources makes its way onto the internet. Print just takes a smaller slice, despite efforts by the newsprint media to show that their reach extends beyond 'copies sold.'

Returning to Stewart and his commentary, I am saddened as I look to news from whatever source to be genuinely informative rather than masquerading entertainment or willful misinformation. TV is driving the discourse as it starves the viewer for content and context. Stewart's Daily Show first passed through this weblog in October, 2004:

Stewart earned my undying respect when he passed from comedy and parody to scathing commentary during his Trojan Horse interview on CNN Crossfire (transcript here). I share with my younger generation Stewart's comment that, "We feel a frustration with the way politics are handled and the way politics are handled within the media."... 

In an environment where I now find even the interviews of Tim Russert to fail to press the point, where Fox is beyond the pale, where CNN has lost its way, where broadcast anchors admit to self-censorship in an effort to avoid commercial attack, where the only TV news that I seek out is PBS (Lehrer, Moyers, Frontline et al), I will continue to rely on primary source materials -- the stuff from which the high street press is crafted, and a broad spectrum of offshore sources to form my opinions.

And the Daily Show.

It was in that same note that I lamented my forced return to TV news:

The descent of mainstream news (cable and broadcast) has been so great that after years of largely ignoring it, I have had to return to it in order to understand our clients' state of misinformation, i.e., the degree of misinformation dictates the amount of added detail that we will have to include in our analyses in order to refute the bad before we can present the good.

Press on, Mr. Stewart, as too many others are still content with TV.

Stewart Skewers Consumer Magazine Editors, Industry at MPA Panel
By DYLAN STABLEFORD
Folio
September 29, 2005

We swim in an ocean of media
By Gregory M. Lamb
Christian Science Monitor
from the September 28, 2005 edition

NAA's New 'NADbase' Exposes True Reach of Newspapers
By Jennifer Saba
Editor & Publisher
Published: October 02, 2005 10:30 PM ET

Gordon Housworth



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A modest Jurassic Park: Simultaneous recreation of a certified bioweapon and a pandemic diagnostic tool

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Part 1

A decade's concerted effort has culminated in the reconstruction of the 1918 Spanish Flu (H1N1) pandemic flu virus:

  • Armed Forces Institute of Pathology: secured lung tissue samples from three 1918 victims, extracting and sequencing genome structures, publishing the sequences of five of the eight genes.
  • Mount Sinai School of Medicine: Using AFIP coding data, employed reverse genetics to create strings of genes called plasmids
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Inserted Sinai's plasmids into human kidney cells whereupon H1N1 reassembled itself
  • GenBank, National Institutes of Health: H1N1 genetic sequences stored in a public genetic sequence database

The outcome was the publishing of remaining three genes, completing the genetic sequence, and the production of ten vials of H1N1 virus, with more on order as research demands dictate. What is reasonably the "most effective bioweapons agent ever known" and noted for "preferentially striking the young and the healthy" is in the public domain. It seems a Faustian bargain, but I agree with D.A. Henderson that it is critical for its ability to inform our analysis of potential lethality of the current H5N1 avian flu.

What we've learned is useful: H1N1 was actually a bird flu that had leapt to human-to-human transmission without apparently mixing with a human form of flu. It is this co-infection of a human host with both avian and human flu producing a human transmissible strain that is being watched for with H5N1. It would be startling if H5N1 could make an H1N1-like leap.

It has been found that H1N1 and H5N1 share some critical genetic changes, but not all the 25 to 30 that turned H1N1 into a pandemic:

The new studies could have an immediate impact by helping scientist focus on detecting changes in the evolving H5N1 virus that might make widespread transmission among humans more likely.

We now know that H1N1 was very different from ordinary human flu viruses in that it infected cells deep in the lungs such as the cells lining air sacs that are normally impervious to flu. H1N1's similarity to H5N1 confirms current fears of current avian flu strains migrating from China and Southeast Asia through Russia and into Europe.

Crucial requirements for human adaptation are already being discovered:

In gene-swapping experiments, for example, they put the hemagglutinin gene from the 1918 virus for one from a more recent human virus. Suddenly, the reconstructed virus could no longer replicate in the lungs of mice and no longer killed the animals. It also could not attach itself to human lung cells in the lab. Yet the 1918 virus' hemagglutinin protein differs in just two critical amino acids from the protein of a typical avian flu virus.

A desired outcome would be a likely checklist of pandemic-inducing changes in H5N1 and other wildfowl flu variants.

As one who researches low tech asymmetric production of chem-bio agents, I am aware that advances in molecular biology will make it more feasible for small groups to harvest this genetic sequencing for production of a new weapons strain for which human immune systems may be unprepared. Given the threat of an H5N1 pandemic it is a daunting but necessary compromise.

Researchers Reconstruct 1918 Flu Virus
By MIKE STOBBE
The Associated Press
October 5, 2005; 3:30 PM

Deadly 1918 Epidemic Linked to Bird Flu, Scientists Say
By GINA KOLATA
New York Times
October 5, 2005

Gordon Housworth



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Shifting from "if" to a "best case scenario" of a global 7.4 million dead

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By late September 2005, estimates by WHO and others placed the death toll of an H5N1 avian flu pandemic at 150 to 200 million. Within two days, citing that WHO "can't be dragged into further scare-mongering," the organization reduced the death toll  towards the "best case scenario" of 7.4 million dead.

Not if but how many millions. How great the change from my November 2004 note, The flu season not yet underway and uncomfortable signs that 'when, not if' is shifting to 'soon, not when'.

I find it remarkable that Bush43 has publicly mooted the halting of air transport, the imposition of a regional quarantine and the use of US military assets to enforce that quarantine. That is refreshing given that broad surprise from the lay community greeted the outgoing US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, in December 2004 when he described avian flu was a "really huge bomb" that frightened him above all other threats. Only in September 2004 did the US begin ordering a promising vaccine from France's Sanofi-Aventis, but the two million doses is only a pittance of that needed and one wonders under what "emergency conditions" will decide who gets what when if it comes to that.

The virulence of H5N1 is remarkable, even as it is not well understood. The invasion of Influenza viruses typically proceed from the throat to the windpipe and then the lungs where the outcome can be either viral or bacterial pneumonia. Some H5N1 strains greatly exceed that usual worst case condition by:

  • Replication triggering in organs other than the lungs, e.g., liver, intestines and brain, creating a "whole-body infection"
  • Excessive human immune system response generating high volumes of cytokines which at normal levels aid the immune response but at high levels cause damage to the victim's own tissue

H5N1 virulence as a percentage of deaths from infection is stunning, some 51% of those known infected die. (As of 5 August, 57 of 112 known infections in four nations died: Cambodia (4 cases), Indonesia (one case), Thailand (17 cases) and Vietnam (90 cases)). During the same period H5N1 has killed "more than 150 million birds in 11 nations."

It helps to put that virulence beside previous flu pandemics. The 1918-1919 Spanish Flu (H1N1) pandemic only killed 2.6% of those infected to reach its 40 to 50 million global fatalities (500,000 in the US) - and that in an era of relatively low personal mobility. Scaling that death rate to today's global population points to a possible 200 million dead. The 1957-58 "Asian Flu" (H2N2) killed an estimated 2 million while the 1968-1969 "Hong Kong Flu" (H3N3) killed some 750,000 people. While the origin of the 1918 virus is unclear, the 1957 and 1968 viruses are thought to have resulted human and avian influenza viruses. These three pandemics "tend to infect 25 percent to 35 percent of the population" unlike the usual seasonal flu viruses that infect "between 5 percent and 20 percent" with a death rate of under 1% for an annual toll of 250,000 to 500,000 dead.

Influenza A is a simple virus constantly undergoing genetic reassortment. H5N1 is rapidly mutating:

The highly lethal H5N1 viruses isolated from last year's human cases of avian flu were genetically 99 percent identical to each other. The slightly less lethal -- but perhaps more transmissible -- virus taken from patients in northern Vietnam early this year is only 98 percent identical to last year's; more important, it isn't completely inhibited by antibodies to last year's strain. It may be on its way to becoming a new, human-adapted strain.

Such flexibility makes an H5N1 pandemic merely a "matter of probability and opportunity," especially as ducks may become a "permanent reservoir of H5N1 virus" even as it is fatal to chickens, and one of the duck virus variants was fatal to ferrets thereby jumping the bird-mammal boundary.

It now appears that a potential human to human (instead of wildfowl to human) transmission clustering is occuring in the Soreang District of South Sulawesi. Indonesian H5N1 avian flu cases are now spreading throughout the country and are appearing as clusters. In Jakarta there are now clusters of clusters. (See maps here, here and here).

These larger growing clusters define phase 5 of a pandemic and as the reports accumulate daily, it seems that Indonesia is very close to the final phase 6, which is defined by sustained transmission in humans. Some of the members of the familial clusters may have become infected by a common source, but the vast majority have a 5-10 day gap between the onset of symptoms in the index case and family members. This time gap is characteristic of human-to-human transmission.

How many, not if. I again suggest readers review Using SARS to predict H5N1 Avian Flu impacts on regional & global supply chains along with its part 2.

Part 2 of this note

Bush Weighs Strategies to Counter Possible Outbreak of Bird Flu
By BRIAN KNOWLTON
International Herald Tribune
October 4, 2005

World Health Agency Tones Down Alarm on Possible Flu Pandemic
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: October 1, 2005

Bird flu pandemic 'could kill 150m'
James Sturcke
Guardian (UK)
September 30, 2005

H5N1 Cluster in South Sulawesi Increases Pandemic Concerns
Recombinomics Commentary
September 29, 2005

H5N1 Cluster in Samerang Raises Phase 5 Concerns
Recombinomics Commentary
September 29, 2005

Avian Influenza in Asia: September 2005 Update
Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
28 Sep 2005
PDF

Richer Nations Seek Protection From Bird Flu
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
International Herald Tribune
Published: September 19, 2005

EU Concerned About Spread of Bird Flu
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: August 25, 2005
Filed at 1:09 p.m. ET

Scientists Race To Head Off Lethal Potential Of Avian Flu
By David Brown
Washington Post
August 23, 2005

U.S. and other nations brace for bird flu
By Steve Mitchell
UPI Medical Correspondent
Published July 14, 2005

Agonist.org Bulletin Board
Spotlight => Disease outbreaks => Message started by: christian on July 31, 2005, 03:32:53 pm

Gordon Housworth



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Katrina and Iraq: failure in fighting a two-front war

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Part 6

"The one thing this [Katrina] disaster has demonstrated [is] the lack of coordinated, in-depth planning and training on all levels of Government, for any/all types of emergency contingencies. 9/11 was an exception because the geographical area was small and contained, but these two hurricanes have clearly demonstrated a national response weakness ... Failure to plan, and train properly has plagued US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and now that failure has come home to roost in the United States."

Speaking of the interest of Bush43's desire for the "US military to take a more active role in disaster management and humanitarian assistance":

"There are several reasons why that will not happen easily. (1) Existing laws will not allow the police powers the military will need to be effective. (2) The military is not trained for such a mission and (3) the 'warfighter insurgency' within the US military does not want such a mission and will strongly resist it. Not one civil affairs unit was deployed for either hurricane."

The author of this as yet unreleased assessment is Stephen (Steve) E. Henthorne, a figure well known in the areas of Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC), humanitarian assistance, refugee conflict and disaster management, and development circles. (Henthorne was formerly an instructor at the United States Army Peacekeeping Institute, United States War College, Carlisle Barracks.)

I find it interesting that Henthorne, in reference to overseas US-NGO interactions, had this to say about US military and civilian aid organizations in 2003:

[A] deep rift exists between the US military and civilian aid organizations. [The] US military has little intention of coordinating post-war reconstruction activities with civilian organizations that are not prepared to be team players in helping to enhance the overall civil-military mission; preparing to the point of functioning by themselves as mini-NGOs if necessary.

[P]rojects like the Joint Regional Teamsdesigned by the United States to assist cooperation between national and international agencies in reporting on military and political reform effortsare poorly developed and unlikely to be useful in assisting cooperation and diffusing tensions in Afghanistan. It is hoped that the new provincial regional team (PRT) concept will improve overall success, but it is too early to tell… These new programs will only be successful if there are people in charge who want to make them work. [S]uch persons to be in very short supply within a military with a purely war-fighter mentality.

[The] outcome has been an increase in misperceptions on both sides about intentions, methods of employment, and capabilities; misconceptions that will only serve to have a negative impact on overall mission success.

In an earlier 2002 on military peace operations and conflict resolution, Henthorne was among a group recognizing these themes:

  • Need to clarify and agree on roles throughout mission life, [i.e.,] educating each other about roles and mandates while taking into account that these roles often change throughout the process.
  • Common acceptance and recognition that increased coordination needs to happen on the field, but the necessary resources and funding to facilitate the coordination do not yet exist. If these mechanisms are not created, people become focused on their own programs without acknowledging the increasing need for coordination.
  • Coordination decreases as the peace-building phase moves forward. The emergency phase is usually excellent from a coordination standpoint, but tends to dissipate afterward. [As the emergency recedes] people become more specialized in their roles. The holistic purpose of presence is lost.

Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) must have known what it was in for when it commissioned Henthorne for an "independent and critical review" of what went so wrong. While the report is still uncirculated, it appears that they got it:

"The US military has long planned for war on two fronts. This is as close as we have come to [that] reality since the Second World War; the results have been disastrous."

It appears that Henthorne states that Katrina relief efforts suffered near catastrophic failures due to endemic corruption at the state level, troop shortages caused by the war in Iraq, and differences between elements of the US military:

"Corruption and mismanagement within the New Orleans city government [had] diverted money earmarked for improving flood protection to other, more vote-getting, projects. Past mayors and governors gambled that the long-expected Big Killer hurricane would never happen. That bet was lost with Hurricane Katrina."

The commander of the Joint Readiness Training Centre at Fort Polk, Louisiana, "refused permission for special forces units who volunteered to join relief efforts, to do so":

"The same general did take in some families from Hurricane Katrina, but only military families living off the base," the report says. "He has done a similar thing for military families displaced by Hurricane Rita. However,

[He] declined to share water with the citizens of Leesville, who are out of water, and his civil affairs staff have to sneak off post in civilian clothes to help coordinate relief efforts… Another major factor in the delayed response to the hurricane aftermath was that the bulk of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard was deployed in Iraq."

It is sad to see such little difference between a first world and a third world environment, but Henthorne is clear-eyed and free of political correctness. He had this to say in outlining why Yugoslavia was "ripe to fill" institutional needs on both sides of the Atlantic and that bombing was "considered to offer the safest, simplest, expenditure of manpower & resources" to achieve those needs:

NATO, while celebrating its 50th Birthday, was not going through a metamorphosis, but rather a mid-life identity crisis; with organizational survival as its primary mission… The growing fear within NATO was basically how to keep the pay checks coming? How would defence budgets from member countries continued to be justified? Even the reduction, if not full closure of NATO, would mean even further cuts in military spending, an increase in unemployed personnel, and a failure of the European NATO countries to assume more of their defence costs. NATO needed a cause with which to demonstrate, and justify, a need for its continued existence.

[The] US Department of Defense needed to fight off huge defense cuts, and maintain a spending budget, in the face of a 'Peace Dividend' that had never been paid. It, as the sole remaining 'Super Power,' needed to justify its need to maintain what military infrastructure it had in place, in order to maintain its leadership role in a very changing world, and to insure that the Armed Forces of the United States could perform its proper mission: Provide a well-trained, well-equipped, well-led, motivated fighting force to defend US vital interests. The US wants to decrease its costs within NATO, but if NATO crumbles the U.S. will pay more, if that's possible, rather than less, in European defense costs.

[The] decision to take military action against Yugoslavia boiled down to be purely personal, and punitive, on the part of General Wesley Clark and Secretary of State Madeline Albright. During the Dayton Accords both Clark & Albright took great pains to paint themselves as the ones who tamed the tiger Milosevic; that he was their 'boy,' and that they had him under control. When Milosevic returned home and demonstrated that they didn't control him, it was very embarrassing for both Clark & Albright.

In April 2003 when many in authority, Rumsfeld included, were making light of the plight of Iraqi civilians suffering lawlessness and looting, and looking towards a speedy turnover, Henthorne fretted that US "troops might yield to pressure to hand over power prematurely." He drew the differences between Iraq and Germany and Japan, noting that rebuilding the latter two states after WWII took a long-term commitment of years to build what was to become a functioning independent base.

It would appear that Henthorne is a good person to write an after action report (AAR). One wonders how the UK's Independent obtained the report ahead of the US press. Doubtless, more information awaits.

Iraq war delayed Katrina relief effort, inquiry finds
By Kim Sengupta
The Independent (UK)
Published: 03 October 2005

Critics say troops are doing too little to stop looting
By Douglas Holt and Michael Kilian
Chicago Tribune
European edition, Sunday, April 13, 2003
Stars and Stripes

The Regionalization of Conflict and Intervention
International Peace Academy
5-9 May 2003

Strengthening Coexistence: A Civil-Military Dialogue
Meeting Report
The Coexistence Initiative & The Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations
New York, NY
January 14, 2003

Military Peace Operations and the Conflict Resolution/Peacebuilding Field
Roundtable
The Coexistence Initiative
New York, NY
July 25, 2002

War in Europe: NATO's 1999 War Against Serbia over Kosovo
FRONTLINE
February, 2000
Discussion

Gordon Housworth



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A modern Charge of the Light Brigade: Karen Hughes' brief to invert Islam's opinion of the US

  #

Hurricane Katrina accompanied Karen Hughes to the Middle East, adding yet another layer of dismissive opinion of any US action. The inept US response to the storm was seen in the European and Arab press to have humbled the US and shown it to be a less powerful nation than many had thought. (It is my opinion that we will see secondary effects in actions of various anti-US factions that are emboldened by a perceived weakness, i.e., perception is reality. I further believe that Katrina submerged the earlier US effort to curry pan-Muslim favor in its response to humanitarian relief after the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.)

Hughes has been given the most impossible of briefs, a modern Charge of the Light Brigade as it were, and it is to her credit that she commenced it. (Note that I said 'commenced' rather than 'undertook' as this is a generational effort against which US strategic interests are in direct opposition and requires a continuity of intent, action and positive reinforcement for which the US has little prior history.)

I must also suppose that US diplomatic and subordinated military policy will not square General John Abizaid's recent testimony to the effect that the US must change how it is "organized to make it more effective at building democracy abroad":

"It is important [that] we recognize the global threat that al-Qaida presents to the United States and to the civilized nations of the world. We are not yet organized to the extent that we need to be to fight this enemy, with coordinated and synchronized international and inter-agency action. We have time to do that, but we need to seize the moment and do it now."

That this testimony was only one among many comments between military and senate members is, to me, all the more sad that the US will not, possibly can not, make the changes to square the gap into which Hughes fell.

Only Hughes' position as a longtime Bush43 political counselor gained her the access and deference she received, i.e., she was treated as Bush's emissary and not as an Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. I liked that the tour was advertised as a "listening tour" instead of more instruction that fell on increasingly alienated ears, but I was extremely disappointed in her responses in the face of the criticisms that she received even from handpicked audiences supposedly assumed to be modestly pro-American. In other words, if someone has come to listen, then they should be sufficiently briefed so that they can listen intelligently, take the medicine without flinching, and not cause further missteps.

Anyone not living in a bubble should have know that the US still receives no credit for any shred of a pro-Palestinian policy, is still seen as hypocritical in its pro-democracy protestations in comparison to its actions, and is roundly condemned for it current 'occupation' of Iraq (which I admit might have been better had we been able to improve the economic and security lot of the ordinary Iraqi). I would be very interested in seeing the briefing documents that Hughes received as well as the after action reports of her three-country visit so as to have a sense of the delta between administration opinion and public fact. My fear is that the gap remains very high.

I leave it to the diligent reader to follow the links below that describe the increasingly bumpy reception Hughes received in three linchpin countries to US strategic, economic and political interests, Egypt (also here), Saudi Arabia (also here) and Turkey (also here).

My interest is more in defining my dream team solution for Hughes' task:

  • Move her office to Dubai: While her title says Public Diplomacy, it is really Islamic diplomacy. Recognize it and make a stroke that would lift eyebrows. Dubai is also one of the best protected and most affluent of Middle East states. If someone else is paying your rent, it is good duty.
  • Appoint her co-chair for the office: Appoint Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed as her co-chair. Actually I would prefer to have al-Rashed in the role, but Hughes is needed to make the "last mile" delivery to the White House. Al Rashed also resides in Dubai.

Al Rashed is a remarkable individual, the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat and now general manager of Al-Arabiya television. I find it instructive to follow what he writes and have cited him twice in this weblog. (See Overcoming a Muslim cultural view that can describe Saddam's capture as "The hero fell yesterday" and Putting aside militant ire, can Muslim moderates merely survive their conservatives?) Al Rashed's opinion piece in Asharq Al-Awsat is the best of all the reporting on Hughes that I have read. My dream team is that Al Rashed develops the message and Hughes delivers it and gains a semblance of compliance and cooperation.

Using Egypt whose citizens dislike us more than do Palestinians who have more reason, Rashed digs in -- and remember that he is head of the neutral, even pro-Western al Arabiya, not al Jazerra:

Even if the current US administration turned into to the world’s largest cleaning company, it would still be unable to clean its reputation and improve its image in the Arab world. The mission is nearly impossible. I say this in light of the visit by Karen Hughes, the presidential adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs at the US State Department, or in clearer terms, George W. Bush’s cleaner in the Arab region.

As a superpower, the United States has enough enemies and conflicts to keep it up at night. The minority, which believes that in politics no country can be totally good or wholly corrupt, finds itself unable to change reality…

Egypt suffers from a common problem whereby no one wants to be seen in public with Washington . The latter resembles a woman of ill-repute whom everyone wants to court but only in secret.

How can Karen Hughes change her country’s reputation, especially in Egypt, the country which the US administration has repeatedly backed and sponsored?

On the financial level, not much can be done, as Washington is unable to pay more than it already has. Politically, additional pressure [beyond that] already exerted, and which has achieved important results [would] be impossible.

It might be that Hughes believes she will meet journalists and reveal to then what they do not know about her country, its policies, and its president. She might say he was the first to recognize a Palestinian state, strongly encourage democracy and push governments to grant opposition parties more freedom. Bush also insisted local Arab market reform.

The diplomat is deluding herself if she thinks anyone will believe her or show interest in the good deeds she will enumerate. All those she will meet are sure to repeat one word, "Occupation, occupation, occupation". Her planned meetings will end as they started. Hughes will face an important decision: repair the US’s reputation, which is nearly impossible, or modify the country’s policies, also almost unfeasible. The price to pay will be a Palestinian state, a fundamentalist Iraq, and the ignoring of the region for the next twenty years.

Contrast that gulf with Abizaid's detailing of al Qaeda's long-term goals for a resurgent caliphate across the Muslim world - and remember that al Qaeda can and does operate with consistency of goals and efficiency of operations that transcend administrations. The US has no real understanding of the value and the urgency of Hughes' brief.

U.S. military questioned on Iraq
By Brian Knowlton
International Herald Tribune
SEPTEMBER 30, 2005

Abizaid Details al Qaeda's Long-Term Goals
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 29, 2005

Vastness of Karen Hughes's Task Looms Larger
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
September 29, 2005; 3:39 PM

Judge Orders Release of Abu Ghraib Photos
By LARRY NEUMEISTER
The Associated Press
September 29, 2005; 2:24 PM

Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
Asharq Al-Awsat
28/09/2005

Turkish Women Blast Karen Hughes With Iraq War Criticism
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
September 28, 2005

U.S. Envoy's Message Falls Flat Again, This Time in Turkey
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
New York Times
September 28, 2005

Saudi Women Have Message for U.S. Envoy
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
New York Times
September 28, 2005

Hughes Raises Driving Ban With Saudis
More Political Freedom For Women Also Urged
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
September 28, 2005

Reforms in Time, Bush Envoy Is Told
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
New York Times
September 27, 2005

The Karen Hughes Cleaning Service
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
Asharq Al-Awsat
26/09/2005

A Bush Envoy, Visiting Egypt, Defends U.S. Policies in Iraq
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
New York Times
September 26, 2005

Hughes Reaches Out Warily in Cairo
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
September 26, 2005

The East in the West
By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
New York Times
September 25, 2005

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Where trickledown preparedness does not work

  #

Part 5

Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters (CARD) is an emergency preparedness and disaster response resource for nonprofits and community agencies serving special needs individuals and their dependents. Unlike FEMA and large federal disaster response operations, CARD deals with very personal, very specific preparedness at the personal, community-based and infrastructure level for special needs individuals. Almost all their clientele is a 'first victim' and many are overlooked and are left behind as part of the soft underbelly of large federal disaster recovery.

Very few of the CARD and their community-based organization (CBO) clients are included in large federal disaster simulations, yet Katrina and Rita show us how demanding are their needs and the level of resources required to remove, stabilize and provide intensive care. Failing to encompass them in planning and execution drains away many first responders, even placing them in physical danger.

The traditional FEMA disaster response model designed for the general public is short-term, employs "one-size-fits-all" mass-care, is externally supported and focuses on emergency, disaster-caused needs. In contrast, the CARD disaster response model is long-term, employs specialized care, is internally supported and focuses on ongoing needs.

CARD rose from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake that preempted the World Series. When Federal, Red Cross and traditional response organizations were deficient in addressing the short-term and long-term needs of a diverse population, the Bay Area United Way mobilized community based organizations to serve a special needs clientele. CARD inherited and continues that vision.

It is worthwhile to scan the spectrum of CARD/CBO clients. As the Boomer generation continues to age, we can only expect their number to grow and thus the level of assets needed to protect them in an emergency will grow accordingly:

  • Physically Disabled (from minor disabilities causing restriction of some motions or activities, to totally disabled requiring full-time attendant care for feeding, toileting, and personal care)
  • Mentally Disabled (from minor disabilities where independence and ability to function in most circumstances is retained, to no ability to safely survive independently, attend to personal care, etc.)
  • Blind (range of visual challenges and impairments - low vision, night blindness, color blindness, depth perception challenges, situational loss of sight, etc.)
  • Deaf (late-deafened, hearing impaired, hard-of-hearing and the range of hearing challenges and impairments such as situational loss of hearing, limited-range hearing, etc.)
  • Medically Dependent / Fragile (dependent on life-sustaining medications such as with HIV/AIDS and diabetes, or are dependent on medications to control conditions and maintain quality of life such as pain medications, seizure control medications etc.)
  • Medically Compromised (multiple chemical sensitivities or weakened immune systems, and those who cannot be in (or use) public accommodations for a variety of reasons)
  • Seniors (frail elderly, aged, elder citizens, older persons and the range of people whose needs are often determined by their age and age-related considerations)
  • Clients of the Criminal Justice System (ex-convicts, parolees, people under house arrest, registered sex offenders, child molesters, etc.)
  • Limited English or non-English speaking (monolingual individuals as well as those with limited ability to speak, read, write or fully understand English)
  • Homeless or Shelter Dependent (those marginally or temporarily housed or in shelters for abused women and children)
    Culturally Isolated (people with little or no interaction or involvement outside of their immediate community. This is the broad meaning of the words ‘culture’ and ‘community’, including religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, etc.)
  • Chemically Dependent (substance abusers and others who would experience withdrawal or other symptoms due to lack of access, such as methadone users)
  • Children (babies, infants, unattended minors, runaways and latchkey kids -- anyone below the age of majority)
  • Geographically Isolated (no access to services or information, limited access to escape routes, geography overwhelmingly determines lifestyles, habits, behaviors or options)
  • Poor (extremely low income, without resources, without political voice, limited access to services and limited ability to address their own needs)
  • Single Parents (lone guardians, others with formal or informal childcare responsibilities – especially those with no other support systems)
  • Persons Distrusting of Authorities (those without documentation, political dissidents, and others who will not avail themselves of government, American Red Cross or other traditional service providers due to a variety of reasons)
  • Animal Owners (owners of pets, companion animals or livestock - includes those who will make life and death decisions based on their animals, such as refusing to evacuate or go to a shelter if it means separating from an animal)
  • Emergent Special Needs (developing special needs because of the disaster, such as spontaneous anxiety/stress disorders, or recurrence of a dormant health condition, etc.
  • Transient Special Needs (those temporarily classified as special needs due to a temporary condition, status or illness – such as tourists who will need care until they can leave, those who can’t see until glasses are replaced, etc.)

Given the short-term vs. long-term differentiation between federal and CARD assets, many needs will "not become apparent immediately but may instead surface months or years later – when "imported" support and other government programs have gone away or have been transitioned out."

Recovery phases bring increased demands as people with or without special needs will often turn to CBOs for support in the absence of federal care, thereby creating a surge in services demand when the more well-to-do believe that the risk is past. Stress-related issues such as domestic violence and child abuse, suicide prevention and substance abuse aggravate demand for services as do the basic survival issues of food and shelter, job training and placement, and rent, housing repair and replacement support.

It is also instructive to examine the event threat list that CARD and its CBOs recognize that they must prepare for a very wide scale of disasters:

  • Earthquakes
  • Floods, flash floods
  • Fires: wildland, urban, suburban, industrial, hazardous materials
  • Disease: Human/Animal/Vegetation epidemic; food-, water- or air-borne, vector spread, occupational, infectious, contagious, fatal, quarantine response, vaccination issues
  • Terrorism: Agri-, Bio-, Cyber-, attempted, assassination, threats, hoaxes, domestic vs. international, "weaponized" planes, trains, automobiles, trucks, boats, cargo containers, mail...
  • Crowd incidents: civil unrest, marches, riots, protests
  • Structure Collapse: bridges, buildings, dams, highways, tunnels, pipelines, underwater tubes
  • Highway/roadway/transit route incidents: multi-vehicle accidents, jack-knife tractor trailers, spills, lost loads
  • Maritime incidents: collision, explosion, fire, sinking, grounding
  • Mass Transit incidents: collisions, fires
  • Nuclear incidents: power plant, theft, waste transport, weapons accident
  • Hazardous Material: airborne release, spill, explosion, fire, nuclear, radiological, waste removal and transport, medical waste
  • Railroad incidents: collisions, derailments, fires, explosions
  • Mine incidents: explosions, fires, collapse
  • Hijacking: air, train, boat, bus, other conveyance
  • Aviation incidents: crash, collision, space flight accident
  • Critters: insect infestation, cicadas, crickets, ticks, vermin, etc.
  • Economic collapse, genuine and non-genuine destabilization of your currency
  • Landslides/mudslides
  • Mass Murder/Mass Suicide
  • Strike, sick outs, work stoppage
  • School Shootings
  • Seiches (underwater wave in enclosed body of water)
  • Smog, air pollution, air quality, ozone depletion
  • Drought
  • Heat waves
  • Utility Failure: water, electricity, gas, telecommunications, cable
  • Sniper incidents
  • Storm: rain, severe thunderstorm, hail, wind, snow
  • Tornado
  • Tsunami, tidal wave
  • Volcanic Eruption
  • Extra-terrestrial incidents: meteors, space debris, UFO’s
  • Other disasters as assigned…

Disaster planning and recovery is a long-term, personal issue for which those not in harms way find it difficult to maintain the mindshare, resources and money needed for recovery.

Part 7

Disasters and Traditional Emergency Response Organizations
Ana-Marie Jones
Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters
Center for Infectious Disease Preparedness
April 5, 2005

Disaster Preparedness for Special Populations
Ana-Marie Jones
Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters
Center for Infectious Disease Preparedness
March 29, 2005

Community Based Organizations: Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery
Ana-Marie Jones
Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters
Center for Infectious Disease Preparedness
April 19, 2005

Gordon Housworth



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Continued 'random acts of preparedness'

  #

Part 4

The administration ultimately acknowledged that "Katrina exposed serious deficiencies at all levels of government, despite the administration's much-touted National Response Plan [which] spelled out how agencies were to respond to major natural disasters or terrorist attacks."

Consider the departure from plan for Rita in Texas: Evacuees fleeing from Hurricane Rita depleted gasoline stocks. Areas and cities outside the struck areas experienced spot shortages as stocks were drawn into the path of the exodus. Houston's best-case scenario for replenishment of gasoline stocks was 25 Sept but if power to gas stations and storage tanks is slow to restore or if refinery and pipeline damage is substantial, the scarcity will extend.

State officials have not decided whether the government would be willing to refuel cars coming into Houston as they did for those stranded on their way out of town, saying that scenario is too hypothetical.

Only government can say "hypothetical" with a straight face. In contrast, commercial fuel suppliers were scrambling to plan replenishment even before Rita made landfall on Saturday morning. Exxon Mobil was moving tanker trucks in from across the nation. Chevron stockpiled generators for its stations without power. Journalists were using simple techniques to gauge recovery of gas stocks:

Phone calls placed to convenience stores and service stations in the metropolitan area and suburbs along major evacuation routes - including Katy and Huntsville - went largely unanswered late Saturday morning.

Plans were no match for humanity with its mind made up. While Houston and Galveston Texas escaped serious damage, Rita left 575,000 without power, with service disruptions most widespread in Southeast Texas. Evacuees were willing to listen to the Texas governor say, "Be patient. Stay put. If you are in a safe place with food, water and bedding, you are better remaining there for the time being" up until it became clear that many of the evacuees' homes were untouched as Rita shifted eastward.

Despite the fact that as early as Saturday the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) said that it did "not intend to convert any lanes to contraflow traffic for returning Hurricane Rita evacuees [to] break a potentially deadly gridlock," that there would be an announced "phased process for returning residents to the Houston area [in] an orderly fashion," that returnees should expect " extensive delays and fuel shortages" and no electricity, over 2.5 million evacuees began their journey home.

A phased three day return for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (map) was ignored as many wanted to be back for start dates for schools. Announcements of deferred start dates were too late and too ineffective. By Saturday afternoon large traffic jams reformed and fuel and food were again in demand.

We still have much to learn in realistic disaster planning. One wonders if it will appear in TOPOFF 4.

Part 6

Topoff 4 to take place in Portland, Phoenix
By Alice Lipowicz
PostNewsweek Tech Media
03/07/05

Thousands getting jump on three-day plan for return
By LYNN J. COOK, DAVID IVANOVICH and R.G. RATCLIFFE
Houston Chronicle
Sept. 24, 2005, 6:32PM

State Sets Staggered Schedule For Return Of Rita Evacuees
Houston2
POSTED: 8:10 am CDT September 24, 2005
UPDATED: 7:07 pm CDT September 24, 2005

In Plans to Evacuate U.S. Cities, Chance for Havoc
By JOHN M. BRODER
New York Times
September 25, 2005

No contraflow plans for way back
The Road Home (blog)
September 24, 2005

Evacuated Residents Should 'Stay Put, Be Patient'
Perry Mobilizes Teams To Assess Rita's Damage
Click2Houston.com
POSTED: 8:10 am CDT September 24, 2005
UPDATED: 12:31 pm CDT September 24, 2005

Looking for gasoline? Good luck
BY LYNN J. COOK
Houston Chronicle
Sept. 24, 2005, 12:31PM

575,000 without power in Houston
Entergy reports significant outages in Southeast Texas
By KRISTEN MACK and MARK CARREAU
Houston Chronicle
Sept. 24, 2005, 1:26PM

Texans Leave Houston and Coast as Hurricane Rita Moves Closer
By SIMON ROMERO and CHRISTINE HAUSER
New York Times
September 22, 2005

Conflicting accounts from top on Katrina response
By Adam Entous
Reuters
Sep 15, 2005

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As kill boxes become rescue boxes, 'senseless acts of planning' continue

  #

Part 3

From Los Angeles to Boston, from Seattle to Miami, plans to relocate, house and feed potentially hundreds of thousands of displaced people are embryonic at best and nonexistent at worst... [In] many places highways would clog quickly, confusion would reign and police resources would soon be overtaxed... [while] lacking private transportation, [the poor] could be left to fend for themselves in cities without basic services or law enforcement.

Katrina and Rita demonstrated what other major US metropolitan cities have belatedly discovered and what federal authorities should have long ago told them:

  • Preparations made only for localized emergencies involving relocation of a "few thousand or tens of thousands of people"
  • No preparations for evacuating millions of people "with little or no notice" so as to avoid chaos
  • No consideration of diverse spoken languages, recent immigrants and secondary effects such as geography or a second contributing event, natural or man-made
  • No preparation for sheltering dislocated and homeless populations
  • No planning for gaining consensus from the dislocated as to the timing of their return
  • And of course, no coordination and communication among local, state and federal authorities

No planning or improvisation are the watchword of mass evacuation strategies. Coarse plans insufficiently thought out are the norm. One of the very few cities to have actually exercised a mass evacuation plan, Washington DC during the 2004 July 4 fireworks event, has misleading data in their estimates of the rate at which people can be bled off the city as the revelers were not in a panicked state trying to close down their houses, take clothing and food for an indeterminate period, et al.

While I thought that there was far too much self-congratulatory chatter from state and federal officials, the specter of Rita repeating the "ultra-catastrophe" of Katrina did spur better communication, advanced provisioning, early mobilization of national guard and military, and saw a much quicker and less politically messy appointment of a Principal Federal Officer (PFO) in charge.

Preparations for Rita dwarfed those for Katrina, yet Rita was a far milder storm in almost all respects. Although both storms were declared an "incident of national significance" under the National Response Plan (NRP) (also here), the US emergency response system was simply not stressed as it was in Katrina. While some officials "acknowledged that Hurricane Rita had not presented the ultimate test for which they had prepared," we must be wary of smugness and comments of 'how much we've learned' after Katrina. The reader's mileage may vary but I do not concur with Robert Stephan:

"The big difference is that we have been gearing up our entire system for a month now," Robert B. Stephan, assistant secretary of homeland security for infrastructure protection, said in Washington. "There's no warm-up period -- the car is started and ready to go."

Traditional emergency service agencies still suffer vexing similarities:

  • Top-down command structure
  • Response-driven
  • Inherent bureaucracy issues
  • "Father Knows Best" syndrome
  • Success depends on compliance, standardization, shared protocols
  • Infrastructure maintenance is critical
  • Challenged by change
  • Exclusionary appearance/practices

Of these groups, the US Military (Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, Marines) has the greatest readiness planning and the infrastructure for 'force projection' capable of turning kill boxes into rescue boxes.

Part 5

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Were Like Night and Day
By Spencer S. Hsu and Steve Hendrix
Washington Post
September 25, 2005

In Plans to Evacuate U.S. Cities, Chance for Havoc
By JOHN M. BRODER
New York Times
September 25, 2005

Conflicting accounts from top on Katrina response
By Adam Entous
Reuters
Sep 15, 2005

Homeland Security releases national emergency plan
From Mike M. Ahlers
CNN
January 6, 2005 Posted: 9:44 PM EST (0244 GMT)

Gordon Housworth



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