Friday, September 23, 2005

The Perfect Response...

Mr. Atos

What is the perfect response to catastrophe? There isn't one!

As I attempt to keep track of the progress of Hurricane Rita (from vacation) a clear and disturbing trend is being revealed in the American psyche... the obsession with failure.

First of all an update. The lastest NCH storm advisory (
Advisory 23) shows an apparent weakening of Rita. With sustained winds of 140 mph, she has been downgraded to a Category 4 storm. Although, experts caution that a recycling of the storm could yield an increase in strength before landfall. Nevertheless, her path projections reflect a clear shift to the west, placing landfall along the North Texas Coast to the east of Galveston and the greater Houston Metropolitian area. Make no mistake, however, that a storm of Rita's size still presents significant danger to those areas, and increased danger surely to areas directly before the eye. But, the Big Thicket region of east Texas is far less populated than Central Texas... a far better path for inland assault. Perhaps my particular preferences are exposed here, since the storm is no longer pointed directly at my heartland in and around Lee County.

Surely one city is breathing a sigh of relief, and that is Corpus Christi where previous mandatory evacuation orders have been suspended in light of the latest storm projections. As the Caller-Times reports, dowtown is effectively closed for business. Many families and individuals evacuated inland to San Antonio and Austin and every town along the routes inland. There may yet be a lot of retrospective aggravation in light of a disaster avoided, but for now relief likely overwhelms it should.

In and around Houston however, the tedious process of evacuating the fourth largest city in the United States (plus Galveston through the middle of that) is beginning to breed viral negativity; a disease transmitted by confusion and conjecture through crowds, traffic jambs, shortages, and the obsessive compulsion of the media. The mainstream media cameras are out in force from every station and network - local to international - feeding on confusion and transmitting it abroad. Stories of
traffic jambs, gas shortages, summer heat reflected off black asphalt, no accommodations, and even dead evacuees plague the coverage. Many bloggers are demonstrating that they can be part of the problem. There is certainly much calamity and even failure in an operation of this magnitude. The perception is compounded by the length of the situation. Authorities in Texas got hold of the situation early, and all of the problems unfolding before the storm are issues that can be resolved before the advent of this catastrophe ... and the next. When you evacuate a theater compromised by fire, the best approach is a calm, steady and systematic response to the situation. Because the best way to minimize catastophe is to encourage action while limiting panic. In this repect, Rita is every bit as important a lesson as was Katrina.

The coverage of Hurricane Katrina was nothing if not a constant lecture on failure by everyone in the media... EVERYONE. While the MSM focused attention on every myth about the Federal response to the extent of ignoring a total collapse in some of the regional response, the 'New Media' was obliged to concentrate its attention on the failure of that local response. And the nation was treated to a pathetic exercise in self-flagellation from both.

Do let's be honest with ourselves as we view the regional response to another localized disaster. The best that we can do is better than we expected. Because in fact, catastophe is really nothing more than a systematic collapse of expectations.

Previous posts:

Rita Cat. 5...

Houston Chronicle
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Free Republic Live Thread

(Edited for clarity,

No comments: