Like all Americans, I’ve been watching events unfold in New Orleans. A lot of it is emotional, however I’ve been struck by the difference in leadership styles between New Orleans’ mayor Nagin and New York’s mayor Giuliani after the terrorist attack on 9/11.
I’ll try to keep this as politically neutral as possible, as one thing that really aggravates me is how political this situation has already become at the expense of simply helping those in need.
9/11 was an event unlike any experienced before in the United States. However New York had a very detailed and well-rehearsed emergency action plan that was immediately put into place. The mayor and his various commissioners immediately knew where to go and assembled a rapid-response "war room". Communication issues were experienced, but they had been planned for and hence the impact was minimized. Giuliani took immediate charge, and very visibly commanded and coordinated his team. He also visibly reassured his city and the nation.
Katrina, by contrast, was known to be an event waiting to happen. Many scientists had predicted this type of catastrophe for decades. Unlike 9/11, a specific plan was created for this type of event, one part of which called for an immediate and mandatory evacuation when a category 3 hurricane was poised to hit the city. They waited until a full category 5 threatened before issuing the evacuation order. They knew the levees could only withstand a category 3 hurricane and the Army Corps of Engineers had tried without success to get a project approved to upgrade them to withstand a category 5. The plan also called using city and school buses to evacuate those without transportation, but this plan was never executed… leaving tens of thousands stranded and hundreds of buses submerged only blocks from the Superdome. The governor had the authority to call out the National Guard immediately, but waited, and almost 1,000 of the New Orleans police deserted immediately.
Planning and execution. The plan was there, but the execution wasn’t. I’m sure there will be the investigations and commissions, but one lesson to be learned is to plan, and trust your plan.