I haven’t chased a hurricane since Dean in 2007, but there’s something about seeing the storm warnings go up that still gets in my head. It’s a twitchy feeling that I should pack a bag, clear my schedule, and track down an overtime request form.
Emergency managers usually get a bad name for being unprepared, unresponsive, or just plain out of their depth in planning how to respond to something like a hurricane or an earthquake. The truth is that even though I’m sitting here looking at a forecast track that is eerily similar to Katrina’s, Isaac will behave completely differently. Even when they hit the same place, no two natural disasters are exactly the same… and no amount of pre-planning will overcome the natural tendency of large groups of people to do exactly the wrong thing in an emergency (like staying in a city that’s only kept dry when the levees work and the pumps keep running).
I could tell you stories of horrifyingly bad judgment from everyone from FEMA Administrators, to state governors, to local elected leaders, to average schleps on the ground working under the misguided assumption that they were doing the right things. When you have a bird’s eye view of the event, it’s surprisingly easy to see where things are going wrong. It’s incredibly frustrating and harder than hell to get them going in the right direction, though. In all likelihood I’ll never work another day in emergency management, but after a five year absence, I can honestly say that I’d do it again in a heartbeat if the circumstances every presented themselves.
For now I suppose I’ll follow along on TV like everyone else and just be glad it’s not me on the hook to find millions of gallons of water, tons of ice, and wheels to put under all of it.