Watching Gustav Roll Toward the Gulf Coast, and the Importance of Security to Evacuation
… and hoping that the damage is minimal and that everyone is safe, including any OJ readers. Watching the television today caused me to recall a conference I attended a few years ago, a meeting of humanitarian disaster professionals who dealt with developing world disasters ranging from natural disasters to conflict relief. At one session, on natural disasters and, as it turned out, especially focused on coastal flooding, one of the panelists asked what the biggest need was in situations in which mass evacuation was the best course of action. The answer was security. He said, in passing, that whenever he watched television of natural disasters in the developed world, he was always struck by how quickly and immediately – not medicine or food or water, even, to my surprise – but how quickly national guard or similar troops were on the street. To prevent, as he said, looting (this was years pre-Katrina). Why was this so important? Because otherwise, he said, people would not evacuate. They would not dare leave their property, for fear of it being looted and stolen. No one would evacuate, and many more might die. Mass evacuations, someone else pointed out, are important because emergency services can at best deal with a tiny percentage of people, and if you get 95% of the people out of the way, you might have a chance at dealing with the remaining 5%. But far fewer will go, especially if the weather pattern is uncertain, if they fear that there will be little or no public security to protect their property. And someone else pointed out that it was in some ways a luxury even to have places to which the population could be evacuated; mass evacuations are relatively rarely attempted in the poor world even when, if it were the US Gulf Coast, for example, it would be the obvious policy. This was on my mind watching Gustav roll in; it appears, at this moment, that it will be less severe than feared, but who knows and for those who might be in the storm’s path, best wishes and God bless. And please remember the victims of this storm who have already been hit beyond US borders, in the Caribbean islands, Haiti and elsewhere; I’m linking here to MSF, but there are many other charities too that do good and efficient work in these situations.