[saymaListserv] Fwd: The Quaker Economist, Letter No. 131
jhminshall at comcast.net
Mon Sep 5 15:08:53 JEST 2005
Dear SAYMA and Atlanta Meeting Friends, Below is
a letter from Loren Cobb whose job is and has
been training in disaster relief. He is also the
current editor of The Quaker Economist, a
publication founded by Friend Jack Powelson of
Boulder, Colorado Meeting. I am sending this out
because it relates to every testimony Friends
hold and to the central teachings of Jesus, the
prophets, and the apostles. Janet Minshall
Note: This letter also appears on the web, with pictures, links, and
PREPARING FOR DISASTER
The Use of Exercises in the Aftermath of Katrina
How does a nation prepare for possible disasters, such as hurricanes
and earthquakes? I have some experience in this, which I would like to
DISASTER RELIEF EXERCISES
Between 1997 and 2002, I had the pleasure of participating in four
international civil/military exercises in disaster relief. They
occurred in El Salvador, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and
Honduras. Each was attended by delegations from up to 20 nations of
the Caribbean and Central America. The small island nations of the
region sent only teams of civilian disaster response personnel, the
larger countries sent much larger contingents, including
battalion-level military commands as well as high-level disaster
Some of the larger aid agencies and non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) also attended, including the Red Cross, OFDA, Salvation Army,
and an NGO umbrella group known as InterAction. Their role was vital,
of course, but they were there for another reason: a key purpose of
these exercises was to test civil-military communications during a
My role in these exercises was to run a computer simulation model 
every evening, to determine the social and economic effects, positive
and negative, of all actions taken by the civilian and military
decision-makers in their responses to the events in the
scenario. Every morning we would inform the players of the new
situation, based on the effects of their actions and new events in the
scenario, and play would commence again.
The typical scenario included both a Category 5 hurricane and a
Richter 7 earthquake, striking nearly simultaneously on opposite sides
of the Caribbean. The expected responses included standing up one or
more Joint Task Forces, and then coordinating the actions of all
civilian, local, provincial, national, international, and military
players. Needless to say, the coordination part was by far the most
To fulfill my role in these exercises, I had to speak several times a
day with every single team, listening to their ideas and frustrations,
asking a lot of detailed questions, and taking notes on all their
actions and inactions. It is quite possible that I was in fact the
only person who spoke with every team, every day.
Exercises are not successful unless some valuable lessons are learned
In the case of Hurricane Katrina, there had been FEMA (Federal
Emergency Management Agency) exercises from which lessons should have
been learned. In 2004, for example, there was a FEMA exercise in which
a slow-moving Category 3 hurricane named Pam hit New Orleans. Levees
overflowed, the city of New Orleans flooded, and 100,000
"low-mobility" people did not or could not evacuate. Upwards of 25,000
"died" in the exercise, providing a spookily prescient glimpse into
the dark realities of Hurricane Katrina. The Lessons of Hurricane Pam
were not learned by the right people. Why?
The following is from an interview conducted by Lisa Myers of NBC
News, with Ivor van Heerdon, the Louisiana State University hurricane
researcher who directed the exercise:
Van Heerden says the federal government didn't take it seriously.
"FEMA officials wouldn't listen to me," he says. "Those Corps of
Engineers people giggled in the back of the room when we tried to
One recommendation from the exercise: Tent cities should be prepared
for the homeless.
"Their response to me was: 'Americans don't live in tents,' and that
was about it," recalls Van Heerden.
It is certainly true that few government agencies, apart from the
military, use exercises to test policies and plans. Corporations and
NGOs are similarly unaccustomed to this practice. In contrast, the US
military seems to make a religion of exercises.
The typical military exercise is preceded by months of detailed
preparation. During the game each participant takes his or her role
seriously, seldom or never stepping out of character to question the
scenario or conduct of the exercise. All questions and problems are
saved for the all-important final meeting, known as the "after-action
review" (AAR). Meanwhile an independent AAR team has been laboring in
the background, observing every aspect of the exercise and making
detailed notes on what they think went right and wrong. The final AAR
meeting is a no-holds-barred examination of the entire exercise,
attended by all participants. Afterwards, the AAR team writes up a
Lessons Learned document, which is the means for transmitting the
experiences gained in the exercise to people who may, in the future,
need to know what happened. In a word, the Lessons Learned document
becomes the institutional memory of the exercise.
That is how it should work, in theory. In practice, based on the 15
major peacekeeping and disaster relief exercises that I have attended,
exercises frequently fall short of the mark. For example:
* the design of the exercise often fails to include breakdowns in
* the after-action review is seldom as bluntly honest as it needs to
be for lessons to emerge,
* the Lessons Learned document is not circulated to the offices and
agencies who need it most, and
* even when circulated, the Lessons Learned are not read by the people
who most need to understand the issues.
Despite all of these problems, the technology of anticipatory
exercises is still our best means for preparing for future
disasters. We need more exercises, we need to design and execute them
with great care, and above all our institutions need to learn their
QUESTIONS OF SCALE
In one five-nation peacekeeping exercise I attended, the scenario
specified an event in which several large bombs totally destroyed the
water purification system of a city of half a million people, the size
of New Orleans. I grabbed the role player for the mayor, and we set
off to inform the battalion commander in charge of the region of what
Battalion headquarters was a picture of intense military
efficiency. An officer was updating the huge situation map on the
wall, the command staff was meeting in hushed tones around a table,
messengers were dashing in and out. The executive officer greeted
us. The mayor handed him the scripted description of the event and,
speaking through an interpreter, asked him for help. The commanding
officer was summoned, and we sat down.
"Your primary need is for clean water?" asked the commander.
"Yes. The river is polluted, there is cholera upstream from us, and we
have no other source of potable water," explained the mayor.
"Right. I have four water trucks. We will start trucking in clean
water beginning tomorrow morning. I need the city to establish a
delivery point and a way to distribute the water that we bring in."
As a response to an emergency situation, this commander's concept was
quite typical. He looked at what he could offer, and did his best with
the resources on hand. From his point of view, he had no more
resources to offer. He had done his absolute best. He reported both
the event and his response up the chain of command, to the brigade of
which his unit was a part, and that was that.
There are several things wrong with this all-too-common way of
responding. The first and most important is a question of scale. Four
1000-gallon trucks to supply a city of 500,000 with potable water?
Obviously this was going to be grossly insufficient. The commander had
not correctly compared the of scale of need to the scale of his
resources, and had not been able to visualize the horror and magnitude
of the cholera epidemic lurking in his future. The second error is
that he never contemplated civilian solutions.
The correct response would have been to signal an emergency situation
to the Humanitarian Operations Center, so that the civilian NGOs
responsible for public water and health could respond on the scale
necessary, with backup from larger military units. A light infantry
battalion cannot overcome a combined water and health emergency in a
city of that size .
Similar failures to cope with questions of scale and coordination
pervaded the US response to the possibility of a large Category 5
hurricane. As it happened, the swath of Katrina's destruction
encompassed 90,000 square miles of territory, including millions of
people and a major port city. The planned scale of FEMA response was
wholly inadequate to the task posed by Katrina, even though the scale
was clearly evident in the Hurricane Pam exercise of last
year. Confronted with problems on a scale for which they had no plans,
FEMA delayed for days while additional resources were found and
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Seeing into the future is difficult at best, and when we are concerned
with the future possibilities of rare but catastrophic events it
becomes harder still. Yet we do have a tool which has proven its
worth: detailed anticipatory exercises. At the risk of appearing to
promote my own specialty, I strongly recommend the following:
* that we run even more exercises, at every level of government and
within civilian NGOs,
* that we take these exercises very seriously, for what they have to say,
* that we take care to distribute the lessons learned very widely,
* that we insist that our public officials address the shortcomings
revealed by these exercises.
As others have pointed out, how can the USA expect to cope with the
next city-wide or regional emergency, whether terrorist or natural, if
we cannot cope with a Category 5 hurricane hitting a large city? There
is simply no excuse for the feeble and tardy response of FEMA, after
four long years of thought and preparation for terrorist attacks.
Sincerely your friend,
 The simulation is known as DEXES, written by me in 1995 for use in
exercises for UN peacekeeping, disaster relief operations, and complex
humanitarian emergencies. It is a dynamic simulation of refugee flows,
public health, public opinion, the economy, and ethnic relations in
post-civil war societies. DEXES is now considered obsolescent, having
been superseded by better technology.
 If the light infantry battalion in question were from the US, then
it would not have had even one water truck. In the US Army, water,
food, fuel, medical stations, and repair services are supplied by a
forward support battalion, working at the brigade level. Even a
forward support battalion would have found it very difficult to meet
the needs of the entire city in addition to its own troops. On the
other hand, Oxfam, a well-respected NGO that specializes in water
supply and systems repair, could have met the need. To obtain Oxfam's
help in a complex humanitarian disaster, military requests should be
channeled through a Humanitarian Operations Center (also known as a
CMOC). By whatever name, this center is the vital nexus for
civil-military liaison and coordination in peacekeeping and disaster
READERS' COMMENTS ON TQE 130, on Hurricane Katrina
(Please send comments on this or any TQE, at any time. Selected
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There are 11,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard. Approximately
3,000 of them are in Iraq. The idea that the war in Iraq is affecting the
ability of the guard in Louisiana to deal with this catastrophe, while
popular on left wing web sites, is, to put it bluntly, crap.
-- Peter Bonis.
Reply: It seems that you did not read the premise of my remark about the
need to recall troops from Iraq. It was written on Sunday, based on the
worst-case scenario, not the present situation we see today.
I specifically stated those assumptions, in the sentence immediately prior
to the point that attracted your ire. They were: "... tens of thousands
dead in New Orleans, the city flooded and reduced to an alligator-infested
swamp, the Port of Louisiana wrecked, the Mississippi River diverted into
the Atchafalaya basin, and the economy of the entire Midwestern section of
the USA choked for lack of passage to the Gulf of Mexico."
In the present circumstance, the Mississippi River did not jump its
banks, commerce will not be choked, and the mortality rate is ten to
twenty times lower than the worst-case scenario. This is quite
different from the specific situation that I was discussing. I would
agree that Louisiana National Guard units in Iraq are unlikely to be
recalled under the present circumstances. The need is being met by
guard units from other states. [Reference] -- Loren
Has anyone heard the status of Friends in New Orleans? Please let us
know if you hear. [If you write to tqe-comment at quaker.org then this
news will be published on this site. -- editor]
--Craig, Greensboro (NC) Friendship Monthly Meeting.
The Manilow Fund and Barry Manilow are matching donations for Hurricane
Katrina victims, $2 for every $1 donated.
-- Ted Goertzel, Camden, NJ.
I note that the Manilow fund is not listed with the organization
Give.org, which means that they do not provide information to the
alliance on how their money is spent. They are also not listed on any
currently existing lists of organizations that have officially pledged
to give money or offer assistance for victims. This does not mean that
your money wouldn't be tripled, and that it wouldn't reach the
victims, but rather that you have no assurances you are not falling
victim to a typical Internet scam. The Manilow fund has chosen not to
publish information about how they spend their money, so you will
never know what happened to your money. Why take a risk when there are
so many legitimate organizations?
-- Kenneth Leonard.
Louise asks how we can help. I checked the NPR site, which referred me
to FEMA, which listed various organizations including Church World
Service (of which Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Friends United
Meeting are both members). AFSC is also accepting financial
contributions, but I suggest we work with a primary agency such as CWS
rather than everyone sending help and money to different places. Go to
the contribution page of Church World Service, or use this USPS
address: Church World Service, Hurricane Katrina Response, PO Box 968,
Elkhart, IN 46515.
-- Gene Hillman
There are many agencies needing financial support also, such as the
American Red Cross, which has a wonderful history of providing
support in times of need. I don't think we should limit where
financial assistance should go. Each agency has its needs and its own
area of expertise for providing that assistance. Just a thought.
-- Mary Anne Crowley.
I'm writing to convey some information and thoughts to Friends who are
concerned with developing an appropriate and useful response to
Katrina, and to sharing information on Friends in the affected area.
Keeping tabs on Friends in the area: I just got off the phone with
Cora Jordan of the Oxford, MS, meeting who seems to know every Quaker
in three states, and she reports that many but not all Friends in the
area are accounted for. Somewhere in the conversation, I think I
agreed to act as a central contact. Please, if you know of people or
meetings in the area, send me names, phone numbers, e-mails, whatever
else and I'll get to work on a roll call.
Many people are inquiring about how to help. Appropriately, I believe,
there is a widespread recognition that Friends in the area -- so far
was we know -- are not in acute need and that our efforts should be
directed toward those who are less fortunate. People are making it
down to the Mississippi coast carrying supplies (non-perishable food,
water, gas, toiletries, etc.) and ferrying people in need of shelter
back north. Whether it's safe or advisable to go down, I can't
say. But several locally-organized trucks of supplies have gone down
and returned without any problem.
The locally-apparent problem is the ever-growing community of refugees
[they are displaced people, not refugees -- ed.] from the coast and
New Orleans. Some colleagues and I are trying to get a handle on
numbers and I'll pass that information on once it's clearer, we hope
next week. It's clear now, however, that we will face a considerable
challenge housing and providing for these people over a period of
several weeks to several months, possibly longer. I would recommend
that if people are looking to target their efforts (if you're not in a
position to drive a load of supplies to the coast), then may well be
the best use of resources.
In discussions with a couple of disaster relief experts here at the
Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University, one
clear message has come through: Recovery is going to take a long, long
time. Gear up for a marathon, not a sprint.
-- Humphrey Costello, Starkville (MS) Friends Meeting.
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PUBLISHER AND EDITORIAL BOARD
Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting
Loren Cobb, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting, Editor.
Chuck Fager, Director, Quaker House, Fayetteville, NC.
Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.
Valerie Ireland, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.
Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends.
Norval Reece, Newtown (PA) Friends Meeting.
J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
John Spears, Princeton (NJ) Friends Meeting.
Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.
Members of the Editorial Board receive Letters several days in advance
for their criticisms, but they do not necessarily endorse the contents
of any of them.
Copyright © 2005 by Loren Cobb. All rights reserved. Permission is
hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.
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