View Full Version : Thoughts on the "Less than Expected" Katrina Death

09-10-05, 03:49 PM
Written by a Retired Marine Colonel - Vietnam Veteran - Winger - And Dear Friend of Mine

Bob Quinter, Reading, PA

Watching the TV news and reading the papers, much is being made of the fewer than anticipated corpses found to date as the flood waters are pumped out of New Orleans. Hopefully, the observations are accurate and the predictions of heavy losses prove false, however, I think the initial predictions are an indication of the thought process of governmental, private relief and news agencies.

There was (is) a guide I heard often when I was the author of many directives and policies in the Corps and civilian corporations. Basically, the guidance was that when writing instructions to be followed by the entire organization, you wrote as though you were addressing a group of seventh grade students. The thought was that if you reduced instructions to that level, the majority of those subject to the instructions will be able to comprehend their role in the execution of those instructions. Unfortunately, as with most "guides", after you heed the advice for a period of time, you unconsciously begin to regard them as facts, i.e. the majority of the population has the competence of seventh graders.

How does this apply to the Katrina death toll? Most of the families on the Gulf coast have at least one member or a neighbor who has survived storms in the past. With all the lesser storms in the recent past, stories and opinions have been passed on by elder members concerning the appropriate actions to take for self preservation. This "corporate knowledge" comes to the forefront as emergency situations develop. Most people taking refuge in their attics remember the advice, or actions of their seniors to take some sort of tool with them to create a hole in the roof should they become trapped by the rising water. All but the most fool-hardy know not to step into rushing waters or leave shelter in the midst of the storm. In short, what used to be referred to as "common sense" exists in the mind of all but the most intellectually challenged or mentally infirmed.

Agencies responsible for emergency relief should plan and act with the least competent persons in mind during the emergency, but predictions of mass deaths founded on these principles will always be inflated because the reduced capabilities of a few are generalized to include the masses. The fact is, most people will take appropriate action to survive in an emergency situation and, once the critical phase has passed, revert to their normal life values. Just as the family dog will become aggressive and bites someone when it feels endangered and is not under its master's control, if the government abandons it's role of enforcing appropriate behavior, individuals disposed to thievery will take the opportunity to loot and steal as conditions allow.

By definition, most Americans are more capable of appropriate action than the least capable; most Americans will not become looters when the efficiency of law enforcement is minimized, but government agencies and fourth estate personnel automatically assume citizens degrade to the level of the least capable and cannot function without the government's or newsperson's direction. Perhaps they would be more effective if they realized that the majority of the people need the government to get out of the way, and, although it is less newsworthy, the heart tugging tragedies and acts of violence and theft we hear about are the exception rather than the rule. The same principle applies to returning the area to normal. Most people will be working in that direction long before the government decides what should be done. The most effective thing the government can do for recovery is address providing public services, a safe environment, and creating a system to make the means for rebuilding available to our generally capable citizenry.