Disaster Resilience, on the Hurricane Katrina Anniversary

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Today in 2005, Hurricane Katrine hit.

I was in a Department of the Interior (DOI) headquarters emergency management office, with new internal mapping technology in place. We could see with surprising clarity how the storm plowed through offshore oil platforms and pipelines monitored by Interior.

We could only imagine the impacts on the city.

Probably about half of the people I've worked with closely in my career since 2000 - including those who are retired - will touch Hurricane Harvey some way in the days and months to come. It's one of the big ones. The people who have dedicated their lives to this stuff will do what they do. I could just about tell you what each of hundreds of people I know are likely to be doing for this one.

It's the biggest catastrophe we've had since Katrina, and 9/11 before that.

Here is a link to a piece called "Why." It's on why I'm doing the work I am now, with a high-level look at some of the post-9/11 and post-Katrina work that didn't get done. There's a bit of analysis on why that happened as well.

I wrote another piece called "Catastrophe in a Catastrophe:  Hurricane Harvey." It notes the "big picture" risks from the same stuff, and analysis on new risks in light of the current administration.

This post, "10 Ways to Help in the Hurricane Harvey Disaster,"  is straight-up advice for how to help in this disaster. Please share it widely. It may seem counter to what is being reported in the media; it is advice based on years in this field and more after-action and policy meetings than you can shake a stick at.

Speaking of... they are called "after-actions reports" (or AARs) instead of "lessons learned," because we seem to not necessarily learn them.

You can help with some of this... by reading and actually following the advice in "10 Ways to Help in the Hurricane Harvey Disaster."

My heart breaks for the bigger picture in the unfolding catastrophe. I have worked on a huge number of now-failed or partially-implemented elements of disaster response that would or could have worked better for this disaster had we done them; or done them well. That's not the world we're in, though.  While we're not where we were planning to go after 9/11, we have iterated forward.  There has been progress.

There are also a lot of things we're seeing repeat from prior disasters that were not things I worked on directly over time, but things I touched over the years in some way. Like the 911 system (PSAP) overloads. That's a complex problem without easy solutions. Especially as communications technology and social media evolve - and fast.

There are a few things, like aviation operations, that I have worked on directly - but for shorter periods. Those things are low frequency but high risk and high consequence for a disaster such as this - and the lessons we didn't catch from Katrina have not surfaced much again until now. The unimaginable is hard to explain when also not well documented, and in a small world such as occurs in the air. The urgency to sort things out just sort of falls away over time; forgotten for this month's pressing agenda.

In a catastrophe we hear one thing a lot - "I didn't ever think this could happen." Nope. We never do (well, often the disaster management professionals do... but not everyone listens).

THAT is why we need to put time and effort and money into disaster resilience. Doing something and being even partially prepared for the unimaginable beats the heck out of being not remotely prepared when the unthinkable happens.

You can do that in your life, too. That's what the counterfear idea is all about: navigating disruption - or creating it if it's needed. We can all have our own after-action analysis from the chaos in Texas, and make the world around us better as a result.

We'll do better in an increasingly complex world if we're at least somewhat ready for what we can't yet imagine.

Be safe, be well, be amazing.


Are you navigating some chaos or disruption?  Think you might need to?  Check out private coaching at inclusive pricing ratesWe can find a way forward.  There's always a way through.

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