why it fails and what needs to be done
What to do?
Don't wait till it's over ...
The first and perhaps biggest failure is that the event is "awaited". Instead of assuming bad things will happen, the official line is always to wait for the assessment of damage ... before ... anything is done or even mobilized. If the federal government could simply assume the worst and at least begin to move prior to the event, they could be days ahead of where they were with Katrina. For instance, why are Navy ships dispatched two days after the storm instead of two days before? Why weren't these ships coming in just as the storm was leaving?
FEMA is an after the fact organization which is expected to fill a before the fact role. It's charter needs to be rewritten. As it is now, FEMA behaves more like Allstate Insurance. They come in afterward and see what people need. This is not what we need in these types of situations. We require a small army ... ready to move on a moments notice ... with all the requisite equipment ... and ... which is scalable, i.e. it can get as big (or as small) as is necessary very quickly.
What Can Be Done?
There are many things that can be done which aren't because no functional planning is ongoing. In fact, I wonder what people do at FEMA when there is no disaster. Do they twiddle their thumbs? Do they argue over who's the boss? Guess so, judging by their output when they are called upon.
Here are some areas of interest that need to be addressed. There may be many more. Perhaps you can devise alternate solutions. The point is that solutions are available and some don't cost all that much either.
Prior Commitment and Personel
The American people should spend a buck on emergency preparedness ... something on the scale of an army. After all, we don't have any wars to fight anymore (at least not big ones). Some of that savings should go into preparing for "natural war" which seems to come around with a fair degree of regularity. Nature is not intimidated by the hydrogen bomb and will attack us anytime, anywhere and just doesn't give a damn about our nationality. Still, we have to deal with this. So, why not be ready in a big way instead of the current method of waiting till CNN reveals the extent of the damage ... then wring our hands and appeal for "donations" ... as though we didn't know this could happen. It does. Everybody knows it. Let's commit ourselves to do something about it prior to its happening.
If we could be ready for the worst case scenario and respond prior to its occurence (when we see it coming) ... then, if it doesn't happen just return to normal ... we'd be ready for just about anything. I don't mean here the mobilization of a gaggle of insurance adjustors but rather the mobilization of 100,000 organized rescue workers who are trained (like a USA national guard) to go where needed ... on call at anytime. It's not a problem to get them to the vicinity of the disaster. They just need to show their official badge to an airline and walk onto the plane and be there the same day called. No need to pay them ... until ... they are used. It would not be difficult to get the necessary volunteers either. This is an adventure-type job with reasonable risks and which is totally helpful to civilization. What young man or woman wouldn't jump at the chance to do something important for a few days, weeks or months?
Too bad nobody says anything along these lines. Politician's have foresight of only about 2 years down the line (the next election) and don't want to rock the boat. Anything I might propose here would result in unnecessary spending, i.e. no results ... unless something happens.
Lots of problems are unsolvable in a hail storm of bullets. If people are shootin' and lootin' they simply have to be suppressed. As I have shown elsewhere, looting is painfully easy to supress at the cost of very few lives. All one need do is have several teams of army snipers atop large structures with good vantage points. A shooter, a spotter, a decision maker and a few grunts to secure the position and the day is yours.
All one need do is spot the looter, put the laser dot on him and ... if he doesn't cut and run in five seconds ... give him one in the leg with a very accurate .22 caliber slug. If this doesn't stop the looting ... then more serious caliber ... even head shots in the worst case (but this probably wouldn't be necessary because looters are, after all, a disorganized mob and will run at the sight of organized resistance). For those gangs who decide to do serious battle ... well ... do I have to tell you that they have roughly no chance at all? Their only chance would be to set fire to the building on which the team was operating ... but ... there are other teams close by. We can go round and round here on this but the bottom line is that a street gang has no appreciable chance against professional soldiers. The kill ratio would be worse than Mogadishu (~100 to 1).
Most likely outcome: Order is restored less than an hour after deployment. Unfortunately, nothing is said about this. Many people die and get ripped off so that we won't deprive any looters of their rights without due process. What the hell is marshall law anyway. I'm glad to see yesterday the police encountered eight armed thugs who were attacking a work crew. They shot them all, killing five. This is the right thing to do.
Rescue and Evacuation
In most disasters, the roads are impassable. That leaves helicopters, maybe some tank-forms and boats. And if the disaster is inland ... the boats are no good either. There should be a large, aircraft carrier sized platform to act as a base just for helicopters. A huge barge would do ... one on the east coast, one on the west and one in the gulf. It would be towed out of harm's way before the disaster then toward it afterwards. Helicopters on the top deck, shallow draft small boats on the lowest deck and a fully functional hospital in the middle ... maybe these barges could be tethered together and they separate and go where needed. They could be anchored or docked anywhere till needed. Too bad nothing is being planned at present.
On land, the problem is awful. Till roads are clear, the only thing we have that can go with some impunity (even in a storm) is a tank. But we never see a tank in these situations. Nature has some heavy duty wind but nothing that can overturn a tank or even an armored personnel carrier. We need a professionally designed heavy, tracked vehicle that can go anywhere in any weather. It should probably float too and move through water when necessary. We probably don't need cannon on top ... but maybe a machine gun nest ;o). Unfortunately, there is nothing being planned along these lines.
Over the longer but still temporary term, we need some sort of overhead monorail that can be constructed at a rate of about 1 mile per day by a crew of 20 guys. It needs to be light for fast construction by helicopters ... just for carrying passengers and food in and out of the area. It doesn't have to go fast or be comfortable ... it just has to work dependably. Generally there are plenty of undamaged staging areas even in disaster areas. They just need to be connected to one another and to undamaged, non-disaster areas. Hell, the Chinese laborers put in a mile of track in a day on the continental railroad over a century ago. Surely, we can do better than that. But again, there is nothing on anyone's planning board.
Power, Communication, Food, Water and Sewage
Electrical power comes from construction-type generators ... they type you see hanging from cranes on holidays and at night when the crew is not working. This obvious solution is already used. It works well and I see no great problem with helicoptering in these things along with fuel. I don't think this a problem even with the current disaster. It's solved.
Communication has been hampered by bandwidth problems with cellphones. A dedicated hard line is needed. It can be strung along the water line described below. Stand in line to call your relatives while the rescue personnel get all the airtime they need.
Food is easy and not as critical as water. People can do without food for days to weeks (though not babies). The airlift is the easiest approach ... to staging areas. Getting food to people who are stranded is problematic. That kind of "home delivery service" is an expensive and time consuming task. It would be better to pick up the people than to chopper food to them. However, I've seen on TV that the helicopter crews don't even have the means to lower stuff from the chopper. They just throw it out the window and half of it breaks up on "re-entry". What a joke. They need a little rope with a plastic supermarket bag on the end filled with water and food. The recipient just rips off the plastic bag and the rope goes back up into the chopper. Cheap and efficient ... no waste from droppage and inaccurate throws.
Water is far more critical. Carrying water by chopper is extremely inefficient ... it's too heavy and lots of it is needed ... much more than you can get in an Evian bottle. In the heat of New Orleans, those people need a gallon per day apiece. In the Superdome that means 50,000 gallons per day minimum. Your typical garden hose can deliver about 300 gallons per hour or about 7200 gallons per day. So we need the constant flow from about 7 garden hoses. That represents about 6000 cubic feet of water which would fill about a half dozen tanker trucks. So, that amount is easily deliverable from trucks ... but how do you get it to a staging area like the Superdome?
Well, I've seen the answer along the highway through farm land. Those huge watering rigs where water is pumped from a central spigot, goes out though a big pipe that wheels around in a circle. A circular field watering system. Of course, we don't need it to go in circles, we don't need wheels, we just need the ~100 foot arched connectors to hold it above ground. Now, I do believe that any competent engineer could design a connection system so that a helicopter could carry a section and insert the male end into the female end so that it would lock and would not require a man on the ground to do anything at all. Thus, one or two choppers could construct perhaps 5 miles of waterline in a day, i.e. from the truck point to the Superdome delivery. The water pressure would be maintained by centrifugal pumps where the trucks go. If it has to go over deep water, you would need to design floats for the pipe. Gee, that's impossible ... eh?
All along the system is a spring loaded "slow feed" tap so that anyone could get water at all points between and it would shut off automatically when they got their fill. Of course, on the end, you'd have many taps and fountains set up for the main body of people. In other words ... next day clean water by the gallons. I'd expect to see some showers too ... if ... the supply is sufficient. Otherwise it's the wet rag clean up for everybody. And ... the main line should have "Y" connectors so that you could branch off from the main line to another area if needed ... without having to construct an entire new line. But then ... there's no engineers working on these things because ... it can't happen here.
Sewage is a huge problem and I can see no other solution than to chopper a giant empty tank to the area and put porta-potties on top. You climb up the steps ... take a dump into a hole that plops into the tank. The problem is stink. The main tank needs to be vented much higher than the people walking around. The porta-potty needs a fan to shove air down into the pot-hole so that the stink stays down there and exits the high vents. This is not difficult.
I've seen it done efficiently in some dumpsters at national parks. They smell OK. I found a solution when they are not so well equipped ... you take a big plastic bag and scoop up a load of fresh air and take it in with you ... then you inhale from the bag and exhale out into the stink. You can get many breaths of clean air this way (maybe enough to take a quick dump even). Fans are a definite necessity. The crap and piss must be trucked out after the disaster is over. So ... you need a big, big tank. And ... somebody has to spray down the toilets with a pump sprayer with some disinfectant every ten seconds or so ... and ... the toilet lid has to spring up so it doesn't get pissed on as much. Well ... nobody else will talk about it ... how often does CNN go into the restrooms at Superdome to film the offal? See? What nobody talks about ... never gets done.
Emergency Lighting & Medical Requirements
I've always thought that any disaster needed a huge dirigible with the capacity to light up a large area at night. Where are they? Crap! Why are there no dirigibles anywhere? Crap! Just because the Hindenburg burned and ... and even worse disaster ... a real bomb ... the movie starring George C. Scott ... is no reason to abandon the rigid airship. It has too many good points ... especially heavy lifting and station keeping.
Imagine carrying an entire staffed hospital and leaving it wherever you want. Then pick it up and take it elsewhere. This would be possible ... if ... you had a Zeppelin. It could hover all night (if the wind weren't too sever) just to light up a square mile or so. Hell, even a blimp could light up, though you'd have to tether it with an electrical line to feed power to the lights.
It would be really impressive to look up and see this giant "thing" hanging in the sky. What hope would this give to the victims! Too bad nobody is working on these things. But then ... it just wouldn't be worthwhile.
Short and Long Term Shelter
Short term shelter means tents. Thousands of 'em. But people can only put up with life in a tent for a few weeks. So, this obvious solution is only acceptable for the duration of the emergency. After that we need something on the order of a two-year solution ... something for a family to stay in for the time required to get the disaster area back to more or less ... normal. Then they can move back to where they were or find another permanent place to live ... in a realistic time frame.
I would like to see the construction of cheap, flatbed, railroad cars with apartments built on top of them. Like a movable city. You need a flat area ... lay track to it ... fan out multiple "spurs" and park it right there ... in long rows of semi-permanent dwellings with modest accoutrements. Say, two apartments to a flatbed. That's about 40x10=400 square feet each. Two bedrooms 8x10 (with 2x24 walkway alongside) 4x8 bathroom-shower between the bedrooms, and a 16x10 living area complete with kitchen area on one side with fridge, microwave, sink, cupboards, etc. ... and ... a couch & nice chair to watch the small TV (not smaller than 27" - after all, this is AMERICA).
This should be constructed close to the disaster area so that "daddy" (or mommy) can go to work repairing the city (lots of gubment construction and cleanup jobs there) while the kids stay home and go to school at one to the other flatcars that's been fitted out as a classroom. There are also daycare centers and a commisary and a bigass tent for showing movies ... and ... a bigass playground for the little monsters. You get a sum of money back when you leave from which is subtracted funds for the missing TV and furniture and too much damage. That way ... maybe ... the thing will be relatively intact when it's towed elsewhere.
I estimate that people could tolerate this setup for two years if necessary with little adverse consequences. It would cost a lot but it would be reused every decade or so ... no! wait! ... it would never be used at all ... because ...
We're immune ... 'cause we're America!
A prediction: When San Francisco gets hit by the "big one" ... it'll be the same thing over again ... no preparation just like NO'Leens