Wednesday, September 28, 2005

First Reports Are Always Wrong

Interesting Post called Katrina: Folklore vs. Fact

I can't believe anyone actually bought this one:

Folklore: Katrina cannibalism. "Black hurricane victims in New Orleans have begun eating corpses to survive."

Fact: Nope.

Another rumor that I've been hearing is that Los Angeles affiliated gangs (Bloods and Crips) shipped in looters all the way from California that stripped the city bare. Supposedly they specifically targeted all the jewelry stores. I guess they needed some "bling".

I call bullshit on that.

I'm guessing that most of the jewelry store owners probably evacuated their wares or at least locked them up in fairly robust safes. So unless the gangs brought demolitions specialists with them, they probably weren't getting at any jewelry.

Plus, how did they get in? A pimped-out hovercraft?

There is an old adage in the military: "First reports are always wrong."

I'm just sad that people were so inclined to believe the worst about their fellow countrymen. That's the real cannibalism in this disaster.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hurricane Rita: Post Landfall +48, The Misery Index Rises

Houston and Galveston dodged a bullet.  The coastal oil and gas industry didn’t take much damage.  There won’t be a five dollar gas, and we can all breath a sigh of relief.  Unless you live in East Texas where things remain bad and aren’t going to get much better for several days, maybe even weeks.  

We now face a cascading impact from the storm.  The storm has disrupted interconnected systems creating ripple effects throughout the region.  Power failures lead to water failures which lead to shelter failures.  Plus, we are having a record heat wave.  The cumulative effect is misery.

The State of Texas is now in a logistical fight.  How much logistical support can we generate in a short time to sustain thousands of people in a non-permissive environment?  Or do we start evacuating people again?

Here is the current situation:

  • Heat.  Without power for air conditions and limited water supplies, people are now at risk, especially the very young and very old.

  • Transportation and Fuel.  There are still severe fuel shortages and blocked roads in East Texas.  Fuel shipments are being moved in and consumed at soon as they arrive.  Local jurisdictions are struggling to keep emergency responders on the road.  Roads are still cut by debris or water causing relief shipments to be slow.  The National Guard has flown multiple rotary wing missions into the strike zone.  But, you can only “live off the hook” for so long.  

  • Power.  Several thousand customers remain without power and will remain so for up to three weeks.  This creates the largest cascading effect knocking out sewer and water supplies.  Life is untenable in Texas without air conditioning.  There is a tremendous need throughout the state for large generators to bring critical systems back on line.

  • Life Support Systems: Beyond sewage and water, other systems are out.  Hospitals and nursing homes remain without power, and drastic change in the storm forecast left many of them stuck.  Even those special needs/critical care people who got out the strike zone are now stuck in areas without power.  Think about all the elderly people that are on oxygen.  Without power, oxygen bottles can’t be filled so full cylinders have to be pushed into the strike zone.  There are also lots of dialysis patients.

  • Shelters.  I can imagine pure misery in the shelters.  No power, sewage, or water.  Limited food.  Texas did a great job of getting people out of the surge zone, but the cumulative friction of the last week left a large segment of the population in need.   There is a huge logistical push going on right now to re-supply small towns throughout East Texas, but it will take time.

  • Communications.  There are severe disruptions because of power outage and wind damage.  Emergency communications towers for fire, police, and EMS are knocked down.  Ditto cell phone towers.  Small, rural jurisdictions that have limited communications capacity to begin with are now effectively black holes.  The State sent representatives by air to many of the smaller communities to assess the situation.  That was the only way to be sure contact was made.

  • Special Needs.  Extra capacity in the state is already maxed out from Katrina.  There is now a state-wide scramble to find extra beds.

What’s happening at my location?

We’ve spent most of the day returning people to their homes.  We received many evacuees by bus so we undertook an effort to return them by bus.  Our shelter population has dwindled from a peak of 20,000 to about a thousand.  We are going to end up sheltering people from East Texas for at least another week.  

We still have many Katrina evacuees from the initial evacuation and some that we received from Houston and other areas.  Nobody is prepared to take them back because systems are beyond capacity.  Given, what Rita did to New Orleans, I think we can now officially say that we have refugees in this country.

What happens in the next 24-48 hours?

  • The State is evaluating what to do with the special needs population, especially the nursing home patients.  They will probably be moved to more tenable locations throughout the state.

  • The State might also set up more shelters outside of the strike zone and move people to them, especially those from the areas that will be without power the longest.

  • Vector control.  Mosquitoes will become a nuisance and then a potential health hazard.  Controlling them will become a priority.

  • The logistical effort will take shape and gain momentum, but it will take time.  This will be a coordinated local, state, and federal effort.

Friction Points:

  • Power.  It all comes down to how long it will take to restore power.

  • Katrina Evacuees.  We still have them locally and spread throughout the state.  Another disaster, this region will be severely taxed, maybe to the breaking point.

My Assessment:

We need improvement in communications.  Local, State, and the Federal government have spent millions on radio interoperability, and this is a smart effort.  But, not enough money has been spent on other forms of communications.  Perhaps we should start spending money on satellite voice and data communications.  I’d like to see satellite phones and data links in every county seat in Texas, especially in the rural jurisdictions that are the most vulnerable to having their communications cut.

We also need to re-vamp our special needs evacuation plans.  I’m not satisfied with the evacuations of nursing homes.  I think we did better than Louisiana and New Orleans, but not good enough.  Some people have commented on this blog that more regulation won’t solve this problem.  I’m not so sure.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Landfall+ 38: Situation Update

Here is the current situation in Texas:

  • 1.1 Million customers remain without power; priority of restoration goes to shelters, critical care facilities, and government.  Some areas may be without power for up to three weeks.

  • Texas remains critically short of fuel, especially in Eastern part of the state.

  • Debris removal teams are moving into strike zone.  Actually, they are cutting their way into the strike zone.  Yes, we have trees in Texas and many of them are now blocking the highway.

  • In the strike zone, 12,700 special needs people were evacuated by air.

  • Many towns and counties remain without power, water, sewage, fuel, and supplies.  There is a currently as massive airlift underway to re-supply these locations.

  • One of the main priorities is opening, or keeping open routes, into the strike zone in order for relief convoys to enter.

  • Generators are the most in demand resource right now.  Many city water supplies will not be back online unless large generators are delivered.

  • Shelters are emptying out as people return to their homes.  The state has asked people to stay in place until they are asked to return.  Houston has implemented a phased return plan.

Our local situation:

  • Shelter population peaked at 20,000 but is shrinking hourly.

  • We are currently coordinating re-entry transportation for those evacuees who don’t have their own resources.

  • We are currently working on identifying those people who will need long-term sheltering.

  • We anticipate being asked to provide resources to aid in the recovery.

Friction Points:

Special Needs.  Keeping mental patients, nursing home patients, and other critical care people in shelters is not the best solution.  They need to get back into their facilities where they can get the best care.

Key Considerations for special needs re-entry:
  • Is the facility staff back in place?  

  • Power?  Water?

  • Damage, structural integrity of the facility?

  • Emergency services?  Are the local police and fire departments capable of responding to emergencies?

  • Roads open?

  • Can the people travel?  Evacuation might have stressed weak patients, and they may not be ready for a return trip.

  • Adequate transportation resources available?  Some special need people require ambulances, an in demand resource.

Next 24 hours:

  • Relief operations into the strike zone and damage assessment.

  • Continue re-entry planning.

  • FEMA/State of Texas sets up their Disaster Field Office in East Texas

Landfall+36: Back on Shift

I'm back on shift, and extremely busy. Will post more when I get a chance.

More to follow, stay tuned...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Landfall +12: Re-entry Planning and Damage Assessments

I’m off shift again. I left the EOC as the sun was coming up this morning. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve come stumbling out of an operations center at dawn. When there is action, you never really want to leave, but at some point, you have to walk away. Get some sleep. The fight will still be here when you come back.

As I walked to my car there was actually a rooster sounding off somewhere in the distance. Why anyone has a rooster in Austin, I can’t explain. But, it sounded nice, probably because it doesn’t live in my neighborhood.

The first morning of OIF, I remember coming out of the CENTCOM operations center and walking back to the warehouse where we slept. Qatari mornings can be pleasant. On this morning the air was filled with the sound of jets streaking north to Iraq to visit destruction on the enemy. Today, Rita was out there with her own brand of shock and awe, but all we could feel in Austin was stiff breeze. Sometimes, during the war, I would come off shift early enough to hear the morning call to prayer in the distance, a reminder that you are a stranger in a strange land. The rooster reminded me of that.

So what happens today?

Today the state and local governments shift gears. The focus up until landfall was evacuation. Now we have to switch to damage assessments, re-entry planning, and if necessary, search and rescue. There have been no reported fatalities so hopefully, we won’t have to switch gears yet again into a recovery effort. However, it will be a miracle if nobody dies.

Re-entry will be our nut to crack. Today we have to sort out what to do with the 17,000 people in our shelters. I talked to my boss this morning when I woke up. He said the shelters were emptying. But, what does that really mean? People could just be stretching their legs and getting some breakfast. Or they could be going home.

The goal is an orderly, planned return, not an exodous. The state has told people to stay put, but we’ll see how that goes.

Today, the state has to do now is figure out which roads are open, how much fuel is available along the re-entry routes, and what areas are safe to go back into. I have a feeling that most of the people from the Matagorda Bay and Corpus Christi areas will leave today. But, that might not be the right thing to do at this point. There might not be enough fuel to sustain their return.

Over the next 24 hours our shelter population will dwindle, and we’ll be left with people who can’t return home either because there isn’t a home to return to or conditions aren’t safe along the route.

There are also reports of large-scale power outages so you don’t want to send people back into untenable circumstances until you know how long it will take to get the power back on. The storm is now stalling, and there will be floods. We don’t want to send people back into a flood zone. There is going to have to be a large amount of coordination and public outreach between the state, jurisdictions in the strike zone, and evacuation jurisdictions.

At some point today, the president is supposed to visit the State Operations Center in Austin where I used to work. No telling how much that will actually slow down the process. Does any work get done when you hear the general is headed towards your TOC?

Landfall. Are We Out of Diet Coke?


And we’re all waiting for Anderson Cooper to end up in Oz.

Evacuees are still trickling in, but we’ve still got shelter capacity. So far, so good. Our plan worked.

Basically, we’ve had a rolling shelter operation. As shelters fill, new ones are opened. All this has to by synchronize with our public outreach program. Signs have to be moved on the evacuation route. Radio messages changed. Staff alerted. Security dispatched. It’s a multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction response, and we’re doing well.

This could have been a lot harder. If the storm had followed the original track, then, by Saturday morning, we would be doing this in tropical storm winds and rains. There would have been debris, power outages, and potential floods—all of which could have derailed us. We got lucky.

There has been friction. Bus loads of hungry people arrive at newly opened shelters that food hasn’t been dropped at. Dialysis patients and diabetics arrive in need of immediate care. Pissed off school principals. Bad coffee. Doctor Phil on one of the TVs. Who new Tony Danza was still on TV?

Anyone who has spent time in a military operations center knows what life is like in an EOC. Time ebbs and flows seemingly at random. People on the other end of the line just don’t understand when you’re not jumping through your ass to solve their problem. Higher just doesn’t get it.

Snippets of running conversations:

“Starbucks still open???”

“Uhhh, they need dialysis? Now? Shit...”

“That girl on the weather channel right now is hot…”

“I understand that’s its one in the morning, but we really need you to open your school right now. No, we don’t know exactly when the evacuees will arrive. There are 2.7 million people on the roads…”

“Who wants Whataburger???”

“Eight buses just are in route, which shelter should we send them to???”

“Shit. Are we out of diet coke???”

“No. Look outside my office. There are about 10 cases…”

“Uh, those eight buses have special needs people on them…”

“But, they’re not cold…”

“Define special needs…”

“You want cheese with that wine???”


“Mental crazy or mental challenged???”

“You want cheese on your burger???”


“Yeah, no lettuce…”

“They should have gone to Temple. That’s the special needs shelter hub...”

“Like I’m going to remember how you like your fucking burger…”

“They’ve been on the road for 12 hours...”

“Then write it down…”

“We’ll take them…”

The eye just made landfall.

H+14: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Back on shift…

Things are actually slow in the EOC so I have time to write. We’ve peaked at about 15,000 17,000 evacuees in 49 shelters, and things have gone well. One interesting note is that we’re currently sheltering about 1,000 animals. This being Texas, we had incorporated livestock evacuees into our plan, and low and behold our expo center filled up with horses on the first day.

Here’s the current situation:

As of about 2230 CST, Rita was 55 miles southeast of the Sabine Pass. 15-20 foot storm surges are expected in Jefferson and Orange Counties. Expect tornado spawns from the storm. The forecasts are also saying that the storm will stall over East Texas and dump 10-15 inches of rain. There is a possibility of 25 inches of rain in some locations. This is what Tropical Storm Allison did in 2001.

And estimated 2.7 million Texans have evacuated so far. Yup, we do everything bigger here.

Evacuations continue, but now the focus has moved to shelters of last resort and hasty shelters. The main effort is getting people off the roads and getting them food and water. Hopefully, these shelters will fair well in the storm. If you’re down with Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Tom Landry, or Elvis now might be this time for some praying.

There are no more cots in the State of Texas.

Search and Rescue (SAR) resources are pre-positioned in Houston and other areas outside the strike zone. FEMA is going to position other assets such as mobile hospitals into Houston as well. Once again, H-town makes it happen for God and Country.

The USS Iwo Jima and USS Shreveport are steaming in behind the storm with SAR and other military assets.

Fuel remains a major problem. The state is continuing to work the issue. Not only will fuel impact current operations, it will impact the return of evacuees in the zones that faired well in the storm. People may be stuck in the shelters for a while.

The next few hours:

Now the waiting begins. There is not way to tell what will happen as the storm comes ashore. The nightly state conference call ended with a “Good Luck and God Speed” moment from the state coordinator. The hard work begins when the sun comes up.

The next 24 hours:

Re-entry planning is the next priority. We will need to get people back into their homes as soon as possible, especially those from the zones that aren’t impacted like Corpus Christi and Matagorda Bay area. Fuel and traffic will slow this down. But, as a general rule of thumb, shelters can be sustained for 72 hours before tempers, supplies, and volunteer staff wears thin. Also, the focus will need to shift to long-term sheltering for those who loose their homes.

Friction Points:

  • Media Coverage: I don’t waste a lot of time bashing the media. It is what it is. But, what I’d like to see is “embeds” in the response effort. Hurricane coverage is a blonde on a beach. Iraq coverage is Rick Atkinson with the 101st. Who do you think has a better perspective? I’d like to see embeds in EOCs, SAR teams, and on the navy ships. The problem with the media coverage as it stands is that it shapes people’s perceptions in the wrong way. People decided not to leave because they believed that trying to get out was hopeless. A reporter on the ground with the Herculean effort that the State undertook last night would have helped the public gain and maintain perspective.

  • Information Technology: Sucks. I can set up a better web-based communications and information hub on Yahoo than Texas currently has at the state level. I have some very specific ideas that I’ll be putting together on this. Bottom line: We might as well being wearing pastel suits with two-day old beards because our IT is stuck in the 80’s. Maybe we can get Glen Fry to do the soundtrack.

  • Some personal notes: Our little shelter is going well in the Casa-de-Alexander. Zane is getting seriously doted on, but the one bathroom situation is getting old. I went for a run after my shift this morning, and I actually felt the breeze shift as Rita got close enough to impact the weather in Austin. Weird.

      Friday, September 23, 2005

      H+11: Evacuation Questions

      I think the biggest friction point so far has been the evacuation. I think its clear that the plan needs to be refined.

      I’ve received several emails and comments today about the plan.

      Why weren’t the highways counter-flowed earlier? This was probably done too late, but it’s a tough call. Once you counter-flow the highways you can assume that you won’t be able to get much down them. This is especially true on US-290, which is not a very big road. I think the decision to counter-flow should probably be driven by two things: are the critical needs evacuations complete? Are you through moving assets back into the strike zone?

      Fuel? Another problem. Both the private and public sector need to surge fuel into the evacuation zone. Gas stations should have tanker trucks standing by to fill their tanks. Mobile teams should sweep the evac zone from behind with buses and fuel trucks to clear out stragglers.

      Why were smaller roads blocked? There aren’t enough responders to cover smaller roads in case of an emergency. Also, many of the smaller rural roads are flood prone. They were blocked deliberately so that they didn’t become traps once its started raining. Also, rural roads are easier to jam. One breakdown on a narrow country road could trap hundreds.

      I think the plan needs to be refined. Here’s some death by PowerPoint, evacuation style.

      Refining the Plan.

      The evacuation should be phased by risk. I think the biggest mistake was telling everyone to get on the roads at once, regardless of actual risk. Galveston leaned forward early in the week because they knew what was coming. But, the suburbs of Houston that are more inland started moving out at the same time as the areas closer to the coast resulting in one big ass traffic jam (that’s the doctrinal term for it).

      Another thing the state and locals can do is set up mobile aid stations along the route. Lots of reports of no-bathrooms and no supplies available. Rest stops were overwhelms. Dropping caches of supplies and porta-johns on the route would help.

      I’m headed to the EOC here in a few minutes. I’ll work overnight and post when I can. I talked to my boss earlier in the day, and he said that Austin/Travis County had ~15,000 evacuees in our shelters and they were filling up fast. We planned on 40,000. Looks like we’re going to use every space.

      More to follow…

      H+3: Warriors Want to Fight

      I’m still off shift, and I’m about to take a nap before I go back into the EOC this evening. Tonight I’ll be motivated and caffeinated for landfall. I’ll blog when I can.

      Here are a few points that I want to make before I rack out. This post borders on a slight rant.

      • Warriors Want to Fight: Throughout the last few days, I’ve been on the phones with all my buddies in the emergency business or in the guard. The conversation is always the same. “Are you going?” “Any word on whether or not they’ll need help?” “You sending anyone? Can I sign up?” Why? Because warriors want to fight. I’m having a serious “always a bridesmaid moment” right now. Got stuck at CENTCOM during the war. Didn’t get to go to Katrina. And now I’m safe and sound away from the coast. I’d rather be in the fray, and I’ll jump on the first chance I get to go down to the coast. I think that there are too many “America haters” out there, on the right and the left, that think our country is creeping towards a catastrophic decline. I’m not so sure. I think they’re still enough members of the warrior tribe to sustain this country’s greatness. It's a matter of will.

      • County Judges: Most people don’t realize how much power a county judge has in Texas. They make things happen in the state, and, in some rural jurisdictions, they are the alpha and omega of local government. By law, county judges are responsible for emergency management in their jurisdictions. In Texas there are plenty of warrior judges, and it does my heart good to hear them in the state conference calls making things happen, often forcefully. Texan have a “git her done” attitude, and we’ve got some “git her done” judges. Kudos to Judge Robert Eckels in Harris County.

      • Local vs. National and State Politicians: There are always congressional staffers on the various conference calls, and sometimes they can be irritating. Local politicians make it happen in disasters. State and National ones sometimes try to insert themselves where they don’t belong. But there is one staffer in Kay Bailey Hutchinson's Abilene office who’s okay in my book. She got on the conference call last night to let us know that there were fifty hospital beds available in her area and she was looking for more. Hospital beds are gold right now. She wasn’t covering her boss’s ass. She was making things happen. Kay why aren’t you running for governor, again? This democrat might just vote for you.

      • Kinky Friedman: I’m no big fan of Rick Perry, but do we really think that “Governor Kinky” is remotely a good idea? Government counts and governing well is hard. How about we start asking Kinky some tough questions to see if he’s really the guy who we want running things the next time a CAT5 is rumbling towards us? Anyone on Kinky’s “staff” reading?

      I'll be back on tonight.


      I'm off shift right now so I don't have all the latest and greatest. Looks like the winds still haven't hit the strike zone, but they are picking up.

      There still appears to be lots of scrambling on the special needs evacuation. The bus fire made my stomach churn.

      The state surged lots of resources into the evac zone last night. Commercial fuelers, national guard truck pumping units, Texas Department of Transportation fuelers were all launched down the highways to fuel stranded motorists. We even had the Coast Guard flying in fuel blivets. (I think the Coast Guard is one of the most under-rated organizations in this country. What a great bunch of folks.)

      DPS troopers were leading bus "strike teams" into the zone to pull out motorists.

      Air evacuation was being surged into the strike zone.

      Shelters are opening throughout the state as far away as Amarillo and Abilene.

      The shelters in Bryan/College Station filled up so evacuees were diverted to Austin. As of midnight last night we had several thousand in shelters. Not sure where we stand now.

      I'll be on shift overnight as the storm makes landfall. More to follow...

      Thursday, September 22, 2005

      H-12: Friction

      We're roughly thirteen hours away from tropical force winds hitting the coast. That's "H" hour at which point evacuations are supposed to be over. I'm not sure if we're going to get there or not. We're being overcome by friction.

      Army guys are fond of quoting old dead Germans. Here is what Clausewitz has to say about friction:

      Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction, which no man can imagine exactly who has not seen war...

      Friction is the only conception which, in a general way, corresponds to that which distinguishes real war from war on paper. The military machine, the army and all belonging to it, is in fact simple; and appears, on this account, easy to manage. But let us reflect that no part of it is in one piece, that it is composed entirely of individuals, each of which keeps up its own friction in all directions...

      This enormous friction, which is not concentrated, as in mechanics, at a few points, is therefore everywhere brought into contact with chance, and thus facts take place upon which it was impossible to calculate, their chief origin being chance, As an instance of one such chance, take the weather...

      That's why I've been labeling problems friction points. You get lots of stuff and people moving in lots of directions, and things begin to heat up. The cumulative effect is what you are seeing on the Texas highways today. If no military plan survives contact with the enemy, then no emergency management plan survives a CAT4-5 hurricane.

      Here's what I'm seeing.

      Friction Points:

      • The Katrina Effect: People are afraid, and they're taking the evacuation seriously. This has created the largest evac in Texas history. The problem is that people who aren't in the surge zone, and were probably inland enough to weather the storm, are leaving as well. They are intermixed with the people who need to leave in order to survive. Everyone is afraid that they'll be the next NOLA when circumstances are different here in Texas.
      • Storm Modeling: The weather guys are telling us that because Rita was so strong that it was hard to model. The track that we thought the storm was going to follow 36 hours ago is nothing like the actual track. This has driven evacuations in areas that aren't going to get hit as hard as we thought, and left people scrambling in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area scrambling.
      • Situational Awareness: In a state this big, it's hard to know exactly what is going on. The fog of war. How "big" is "big" and how "bad" is "bad"? The military spends billions on intelligence systems so commanders and decision makers can visualize the battlefield. Billions more are spend on robust communications architecture. The primary means of communications and coordination within the state is the three times a day Texas Division of Emergency Management conference call. We need better systems. There has been reporting that the state was slow to make all the highways one-way to facilitate the evacuation. This is a big decision because it means that you might not be able to get things like ambulances back into the evacuation zone. Relying on CNN and phone calls from the field saying thousands are stranded doesn't give you enough info to make good decisions. I think DHS has a role to play in this. I'll be writing more on this later.
      • Special Needs: Lots of resources are being pumped into getting special needs people out. The state is focusing most of its assets on nursing homes. There have been reports of inadequate planning in lots of these facilities. I think our lawmakers need to look at how these facilities are regulated.
      • Fuel: Gas stations all along the evacuation route are out of gas. There are reports of "thousands" of cars out of gas on the highways. This might be a fault line in state and local planning. We need to surge fuel to the evacuation routes or maybe cache it along the way.
      • Infrastructure: The evacuation highways don't have enough lanes. I think we need to invest in making these roads more robust. There just isn't enough roadway to support the traffic. Katrina and now Rita show us the folly of neglecting our infrastructure.

      What's going to happen between now and H-hour?

      The state has been scrambling to get supplies, buses, and fuel trucks to the evacuation routes. We've still got time, but the last thing anyone wants is citizens stuck on the highway when the winds hit.

      Here in Austin, the shelter population is growing, but we've got lots of room left. I think we've done a great job of executing our part of the state's evac plan.

      I still think the state had a good plan, and I think we've saved lots of lives with what we've done. There is already a lot of finger pointing in the media and blogosphere. Some of it is right on the money, and some of it is just politically motivated bullshit. There are non-political truths, but too many of us can't see them.

      My assessment: The next twelve hours is make or break. The state and local governments are doing all they can. I'm not sure how its going to work out.

      Just one point of clarification: I'm getting some traffic from some bigger sites (thanks Noah). I keep getting listed as a Texas Homeland Security guy. I used to be a "State of Texas" homeland security guy. A few months ago, I took a job as a "local" homeland security/emergency management guy in the Austin area. I worked for the state for years and am pretty wired into how they do business. I was in on a lot of the planning for state operations. Now, I'm working this disaster from a local level, but I have visibility of what is happening at the state level. Plus, I stayed at a holiday in express last night...

      I just don't want anyone to be confused. Also, my view are mine alone. They don't reflect any official position, even if I'm right.

      H-18: Feeling the Katrina Effect

      You've seen the news. The highways are a mess.

      The storm track has shifted significantly over the last 24 hours. The weather guys say that its strength made it hard to model. The shift in the track has left Texas playing catch-up as Beaumont and the areas North of Houston are targeted.

      The conventional wisdom in the emergency business is that people won't take the first hurricane evacuation seriously. The send one is when everyone panics. And that's where we stand right now. There is an unprecedented number of people on the roads. Katrina has put fear in people.

      Now Texas is scrambling to solve the problems. The state is moving fuel trucks to the highways to refuel cars that are out of gas. Buses are also pulling out stranded motorists. The guard will be dropping food and water as well as pulling people out. We've got time, but not much. The clock is working against us.

      The big friction point here is special needs facilities. Lots of nursing home have inadequate or non-existent plans. This sucking up all the state's resources to pull people out. The special needs facilities remain the state's number one priority. I'll talk more about nursing homes later, but I hope that I won't have to back of my pledge that no-one would die in a nursing home.

      I was wrong about the ACL fest, but it was their luck that the storm track shifted. Austin will escape major effect. The shelter operations in Austin/Travis County is fully operational as well shelter thousands of people. We're expecting more.

      The good news is that Houston and Galveston may avoid a direct hit. The bad news is that there are numerous refineries and petrochemical facilities threatened in the strike zone.

      I'll post more tonight after my shift.

      Wednesday, September 21, 2005

      H-36: This is Going to Hurt

      We're at H-36.

      Evacuations are still underway. As of 1630CST, most of the hospitals in the strike zone were almost complete with their evacuations. This has filled up many of the hospitals in the reception zone so we're having to make some adjustments.

      The feds are staging assets into Texas including urban search and rescue and swift water rescue teams. The USS Iwo Jima is moving into place to be ready with airlift and other military responses. FEMA is moving in a large mobile hospital to take the strain of area hospitals.

      Friction Points:

    • ACL Fest in Austin:

    • From their website:

      "Update on Hurricane Rita and ACL Just like you, we are keeping a very close watch on the weather and are being advised by meteorologists. We do expect some rain on Saturday, so be sure to bring an umbrella and wear your rain gear.

      If weather conditions appear to present any kind of danger to fans, musicians or crew, we are prepared to make the necessary adjustments to maintain safety. Until then, the Festival is on, rain or shine. Look here for updates."

      We're expecting Tropical Storm gusts in Austin on Saturday. If Rita, shifts it could get worse. I think an outdoor festival with thousands of people outside while a CAT5 tears up the coast might be a bad idea at this point.

    • Transportation: The focus is still special needs facilities, especially nursing homes. Ambulances are in short supply. There are ample buses but many drivers are evacuating. A driver shortage was blamed in NOLA as well. Local governments are asking for more drivers that they might not get. I say take some people and give them a crash course on bus driving and make it happen. The state has made this legal. It might not be pretty, but ugly gets the job done sometimes. I think this exposes a fault line in emergency planning. Perhaps every cop, firefighter, and national guard soldier ought to have a bus familiarization course. This also might be a good job for volunteers and community emergency response teams (CERT). I think we'll pull it off, but it could be smoother.
    • Spontaneous Shelters: Texans are generous to a fault. There is Southern hospitality (overrated) and Texas hospitality. When we say "howdy, how are you?", we actually expect an answer. I'm always shocked when I'm up north at how curt people are. In every disaster, there are always generous Texans (okay its not just in Texas) that open their doors to those in need. The problem is that they don't do it in accordance with any plan.
    • Churches are often big players in this. People are often sheltered through informal church connections. Baptists move themselves to the generous Baptist church a couple counties down the road. The problem is that the church down the road might not actually be a suitable shelter. Can it withstand the winds? Back-up power? Adequate sanitation? Medical assistance? Plus, if you open a shelter that is not part of the system, then you can't get reimbursed for your expenses. Meanwhile, space is available at pre-planned shelters that have all the necessary life support systems in place.

      Spontaneous shelters are not a good idea. If you want to help, call the Red Cross or some other group. Trust me, they'll put you to work.

    • Pets: That's the x-factor is this evacuation. The rule-book got thrown out the window. How many people do you know who actually own a carrier for their pets? I'm waiting for the report that some old lady shows up with fifty cats at a shelter. But, I guess as long as she's safe, then we'll deal with it.

    • Resources stretched thin: Some of the things that we were planning on getting from the feds are already committed. We've adjusted fire. Texas has also committed resources to Katrina that we've had to pull back. Some of the volunteer types are exhausted. We're managing.

    • The Industrialized Texas Coast near Freeport, South of Houston

    • HazMat: Much of the Texas coast is heavily industrialized, especially with the oil and gas industry. The picture above is out of the area that will be hit worst, but it represents a lot of what is on the coast. There might be large environment and economic impacts.

    • Analysis: This is a bad storm, but its going to be different from Katrina. Geography is working in our favor. The closest city that Texas has to New Orleans is Galveston, which, given its history, takes hurricanes very seriously. The mayor of Galveston leaned forward in the foxhole and started getting people out early. It Rita swings north and hits there, it won't be as bad as NOLA.

      And even if Houston takes a direct hit, there is not the same type of levee situation as in NOLA. Tropical Storm Allison created an epic flood in Houston. Lots of damage, but few deaths.

      Tonight will be key. I'm off shift right now so I'll have to wait until morning to see how it goes. No plan survives contact with the enemy, and we've had some problems. These are getting sorted out tonight. The key is to get people out by H-12.

      On a personal note, Case de Alexander will be its own little spontaneous shelter. The in-laws are shagging ass out of Houston as I type. Our little 1200 sq ft. house will host four of the Seymour clan plus me, Julie, and Zane.

      I'm a little concerned about the winds and loosing power with a five month old baby so I went to price generators. There is not a generator to be had in Austin. They've all been shipped to Katrina so I loaded up on flashlights and batteries. I even bought a little flashlight for my niece so she's comfortable. She's seen enough Katrina news to be scared. I probably won't need the generator, but it would have been a fun new toy. If all else fails, Julie and the baby can hang out in my office. We've got lots of generator power, and there are twenty cases of diet coke stacked in the hall. We're ready for anything.

      I also filled up my truck tonight. There were also a lot of people getting gas. I talked with a couple folks as I filled up the Bronco. Everyone is worried about shortages and big oil price mean storm related price fluctuations.

      Coverage Notes: KRISTV, Channel 6 in Corpus Christi has some good info.

      And the Texas Division of Emergency Management's SITREP page always has good info.

      H-48: It's The Big One

      Update: Looks like its a CAT5 now. Fun.

      As of 1000 CST, we were at about H-48 from Hurricane Rita. H-hour is when tropical storm force winds begin impacting the coast of Texas. At that time, evacuations halt and people button up and bunker down to ride out the storm. So, according to the latest forecast date, between 1000-1400 CST on Friday, Rita makes her debut. In the next 10-15 hours, the final decision on evacuations have to be made or people will not have enough time to get out.

      My agency will begin 24hr operations today as we prepare to receive up to 40,000 evacuees from the coast. There is a long weekend ahead for yours truly.

      Here is some key info as of 1000 CST:

      • The storm center is 755 miles East/Southeast of Corpus Christie and moving West at 13mph. Currently winds are sustained at 140mph. Rita is a CAT4 right now but may reach CAT5. Tropical wind bands extend 140 miles from the center of the storm. This band will expand throughout the day to 200 miles from the center. Landfall is expected early Saturday morning.
      • The models predict land fall near the Matagorda Bay area, but this can change as the storm head West.
      • Mandatory evacuations are underway in Galveston, Brazoria, and Harris (Houston) Counties. The governor has recommended that the coastal areas ranging from Jefferson County down to Nueces County evacuate. Weather will be good for the evacuation. Traffic management plans are being implemented to facilitate the evacuation.
      • The University of Texas Medical Branch , a big hospital, on Galveston Island is being evacuated by air and land. Patients are being distributed throughout the state.
      • All threatened special needs facilities both public and private (nursing homes, hospitals, jails, state schools, etc.) are being evacuated today. The goal for the state is to have all these facilities evacuated today. This is the major focus today. This is big logistical task involving the entire state.
      • Shelters are opening up throughout the state as the reception jurisdictions prepare to take evacuees. Shelter hubs are opening up throughout the state.
      • The State of Texas is prepositioning resources for entry into the strike zone. Search and rescue teams are being staged throughout the day. The state's goal is to have all of its support elements in place tomorrow afternoon.
      • Apparently, the governor has eased the restrictions on bus driver licenses so that all available buses can be used for evacuations. I'm not sure on all the details on this one, but the goal is that every resource be used. No idle buses like in NOLA.

      Friction Points:

      • We still have 375,000 Katrina evacuees in the state either in hotels or shelters. This may impact our operations.
      • Pets. People died in Katrina because they wouldn't leave their pets. Policy has always been that pets are not allowed in shelters. The state has changed that policy and said pets are welcome as long as they are in containers. That's a new wrinkle on the plan, and we're having to make some changes. Fortunately, there are enough animals groups out there to help.
      • Resources. Many of the resources that we planned on getting from the state and federal government have been committed for Katrina. We can probably manage, but we have to make adjustments.
      • All the hotels in the Austin area are full because of the Austin City Limits music festival. Normally most evacuees seek sheters in hotels, but this may cause our shelters to fill up more rapidly.

      Analysis: All of this is happening without one bit of federal resources being committed. FEMA is at the state operations center, but its a state and local show right now. We never planned on FEMA saving our bacon. And no this plan didn't happen overnight. It has taken years of detailed planning to reach this point. Will there be screw-ups? Yes. Will we do better than LA and NOLA? Probably.

      This isn't meant as hubris. I feel that too many people, especially in the left side of the blogosphere, have rushed to defend the LA state and local governments. I disagree. I think they screwed up regardless of whether or not FEMA/DHS was slow on the draw. I don't think, knock on wood, that anyone is going to drown and die in a nursing home on the Texas Coast.

      Elected officials bear the burden of emergency preparedness. The emergency plans all have their signatures.

      More info: The Houston Chronicle has an excellent Rita section. Good article from there: Houston's hard-won lessons coming into play.

      Tuesday, September 20, 2005

      Here we go again...(Updated)

      Hurricane Rita. On track for a direct hit
      on the Texas Coast.

      Update: The Houston Chronicle has excellent Rita coverage. And what's better is that they don't require and annoying registration.

      From the National Hurricane Center:

      2 PM EDT TUE SEP 20 2005


      I was going to blog about the AFG parliamentary elections today, but I'm busy with Hurricane preparations. My jurisdiction is a reception jurisdiction which means that we will receive up to 40,0000 evacuees from the coast. The coastal jurisdictions are spinning up to get people out. Galveston began voluntary evacuations today. As of 1000 CST today we were at H-72 before tropical winds began impacting the Texas coast so evacuations will probably begin in earnest soon.

      The entire State of Texas is mobilizing resources for this. We have an good statewide plan, and we're all on board. Locally, we're moving things into place. Today I sat in meetings discussing traffic routing and shelter security. We also had a statewide conference call with the Texas Division of Emergency Management. We are all taking this very seriously, and although I don't like pointing fingers, I think our local and state response will be better than the response to Katrina.

      There are some key things to pay attention to as you watch this. One will be the competence and professionalism of the Emergency Management types along the Texas Gulf Coast. They don't screw around when it comes to planning this stuff. I think much of the NOLA gov't was asleep at the wheel with the Katrina evacuation. Not so here.

      Next, watch how Texas coordinates the state response. Anyone who has ever met the state emergency management coordinator here in Texas know that COL (ret.) Jack Colley is large and in charge. He makes things happen whether or not FEMA is slow on the draw.

      Will there be problems? Of course. We already have one friction point here in Austin. The Austin City Limits Music Festival is going on this weekend. There will be 50-60,000 people in town for it over the weekend. Every hotel is booked, and we can expect heavy traffic on the routes that evacuees are moving along. No word yet if Rita will impact the festival.

      Stay tuned....

      Sunday, September 18, 2005

      Help For My Soldier

      I've blogged about my soldier who lost everything in Katrina here and here.

      I still have intermittent communications with him. He and his family are safe, but there lives have been tossed around. They have literally lost everything. House is total loss. Possessions are a total loss. They have received $2,000 from FEMA, but no other assistance. I am hooking him up with other groups, but I want to do more. The best way to help is with money.

      We worked with USAA to set him up a seperate account which only he and his family have access to. You can wire money into it, but only they can take it out. This is the primary means by which I am going to get my unit to donate funds. Most of us are in Texas. He is in Mississippi so money travels best.

      Here is the info:

      SSG Keith Blalock
      Account #: 28719387
      USAA Federal Savings Bank

      If you have any questions, you can call the good folks at USAA at this number which USAA has set up for Hurricane victims: (800) 531-8222

      Two notes: If you want to wire money, but aren't sure if you can trust me, email me and I can put you in contact with SSG Blalock. If you still aren't comfortable, then donate to another charity. Your help will find its way to the Blalocks one way or another.

      And for all you assholes out there. All you internet scammers and spammers, you know who you are. Mister South African Lawyer and Nigerian Business Owner. You, the guy who keeps trying to sell me discounted Viagra. Listen up. We've put control measures in place to keep you out of the account. Plus, you'd have to be pretty damn dumb to screw with one of America's finest. You've been warned.

      Saturday, September 10, 2005

      Wraith Hurricane Update

      SSG B's house.

      another look

      SEPT 14th Update: We're still working out the details. SSG B is leaning towards setting up a bank account that we can donate into. I talked to him on the phone last night. He lost everything. They were thinking about not evacuating, but when the storm got stronger, they left. But, they left everything behind. His sister's house was destroyed too, and he and his wife are out of work. They got the initial $2,000 from FEMA, but other relief is slow. They might get a FEMA trailer, but they aren't sure.

      I can't imagine not having anything to my name, but SSG B is hanging tough. They are all alive and well. Things can be replaced, family can't.

      Once SSG B and I decide on the best course of action, I'll post more info.

      Original Post: I've been in contact with my soldier SSG B. He and his family are safe. Here are some pics of his house that he sent me. They have lost everything. We're working out the details on how we're going to help him.

      Thanks to everyone for all their suggestions and support. I never fail to be impressed by the wisdom and generosity of my fellow Americans. More to follow on how we're going to execute our own little hurricane relief operation.

      Thursday, September 08, 2005

      Wrong Priorities

      Finally a good piece of analysis. From Newsweek:

      In the weeks before Hurricane Katrina, state emergency-planning directors repeatedly warned that the Bush administration’s post-September 11 focus on terrorism was seriously undercutting the federal government’s ability to respond to catastrophic hurricanes and other natural disasters.

      In a tough letter to Congress last July and in a private meeting with top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials on Aug. 21, a group of state emergency-planning directors complained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s traditional role of preparing for natural disasters “has been forgotten” under a DHS almost entirely devoted to the terror threat.


      Internal Homeland Security documents obtained by NEWSWEEK lend support to the state directors’ complaints. Out of 15 “all hazards” disaster-planning scenarios approved by DHS and the White House Homeland Security Council last May, only three involved natural disasters, one document shows.


      They also have fueled a push in Congress to undo at least part of the major federal government overhaul that created the Department of Homeland Security in the first place. Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan said this week he was introducing legislation to take FEMA out of DHS and restore it as an independent agency whose director would have direct access to the president.


      The concerns about the direction of FEMA have been building for some time, according to Trina Sheets, executive director of the National Emergency Planning Association, a group that represents state emergency planners. Some of it revolves around funding. While grants to states and local governments for counterterrorism emergency planning have soared to more than $1.1 billion a year, funding under FEMA’s Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) program—which is specifically for natural disasters—was cut back $10 million by the White House this year to only $170 million, she noted.


      Baughman said the disparities for Alabama are especially sharp. In his state, between $30 million to $40 million in federal funds are available to plan and train for hypothetical terror attacks while only $1.8 million is available for natural disasters. Although Alabama hasn’t suffered any terror attacks in recent years, it has had 24 natural-disaster declarations over the past decade, including three in the last year or so, Baughman said.


      The internal FEMA documents underscore the point even further. Even before Homeland Security officials published their set of theoretical disaster scenarios last spring—which involved planning for such calamities as an “aerosol anthrax” attack and the unleashing of a “10-Kiloton Improved Nuclear Device”—an earlier February 2004 “National All-Hazards Exercise Schedule” prepared by Homeland Security showed the same imbalance. The schedule, marked “for Official Use Only,” included planning for more than 100 disaster scenarios, almost all of them terror incidents. In fact, only seven involved natural disasters—two earthquakes and four hurricanes, although two of the hurricanes were described as incidents in which relief and recovery efforts would be practiced “in context of a credible WMD threat during a natural disaster.”

      My take: Based on my own personal experience, this is right on the money. I never thought placing FEMA under DHS made much sense, and I’ve thought that DHS’s priorities have been wrong-headed from the start.

      FEMA understands disasters, and many of its programs have been in place and effective for years. Since its inception, DHS has been chasing its tail looking under every rock for the next 9/11 while ignoring the nuts and bolts issues that face our countries. Hurricane season comes every year. Long after you and I are dead, and 9/11 is a distant memory that our grandkids re-live on the history channel, Hurricane season will come. People are fleeting, Mother Nature endures.

      The EMPG grant program cited in the article is an excellent example of DHS’s skewed priorities. The cuts cited by the article were originally going to be much deeper and there were going to be much tighter restrictions on how the money was spent. These restrictions were based on DHS’s view of the world, and not the reality on the ground.

      This is some info from a NEMA report on how last year proposed changes to the EMPG grant program would have impacted state and local responders:

      The President’s FY05 budget includes a proposal for a 25 percent cap on use of Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) funding to support state and local personnel. A recent NEMA survey revealed that approximately 1,565 state level positions are supported through EMPG dollars. At the local level, approximately 2,170 full time positions and 1,184 part-time positions are supported through EMPG. Listed below is a sampling of the number or percentage of state and local emergency management positions funded in part by the EMPG program and the impact the proposal would have on state and local programs.

      Here is how the survey assessed the potential impact on two key states in this disaster:

      Alabama would have lost 10.5 Full time employees at the state level, and fifty at the local level. They assessed that emergency management preparedness and response capability would suffer statewide. Many county Emergency Management Agencies would have probably closed.

      Louisiana would have lost 34 full time employees at the state level, 40 full time employees at the local level, and 65 part time employees at the local level. It would have had a severe impact on state and local programs.

      States and local government depend on this money for their emergency management programs to survive. If these changes had been allowed to stand, the result would have been devastating. DHS was going to use this money as a bill payer for other projects. Luckily, congress intervened and the budget was not cut as deeply.

      DHS’s list of 100 disaster scenarios is also another great example of an agency that just doesn’t get it. Back when I worked for the State of Texas doing homeland security stuff, we were asked to comment on this list of scenarios. It had everything short of a Martian invasion. I’m not kidding. It was ridiculous and unrealistic, and seemed more like the product of too many bad techothrillers and not an honest assessment of what actually faces our country. I don’t recall a NOLA levy breech being on the list.

      So what should we do? First, cut FEMA out of DHS. Next, we need to seriously evaluate what, exactly, DHS is for. In my assessment much of the heat that FEMA is taking over Katrina is the product of the extra layer of bureaucracy that DHS has added to the federal response.

      Note: Crossposted at Intel-dump.

      Wednesday, September 07, 2005

      Viva Mexico

      Mexico sends first aid convoy ever to U.S.

      NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico - Mexican army convoys and a navy ship laden with food, supplies and specialists traveled to the United States on Wednesday to help in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort — a highly symbolic journey marking the first time Mexico’s military has aided its powerful northern neighbor.

      A convoy of 45 vehicles and 196 soldiers arrived at the border city of Nuevo Laredo Wednesday evening. It was to cross into U.S. territory early Thursday, Gen. Francisco Ortiz Valadez told reporters as his men refueled at a local gas station.

      Analysis: Insert Mexico joke here. However, I think that this is pretty cool. I grew up on the border, and I've always had a special place in my heart for Mexico and its culture. I'm glad to see that they are sending help. I'm especially glad that they are coming to Texas. If they are still here when my unit has its next drill in San Antonio, maybe we can pay them a visit.

      Tuesday, September 06, 2005

      Wraith Down! And You Can Help

      There is a program for intelligence reservists...err...I mean Army Reserve Soldiers. We're not supposed to call ourselves reservists anymore especially at drill...err...I mean Battle Assembly. Anyway, there is a program for intelligence reservists called MIAD. Basically, because most MI specialties are very low density and MI units are scattered, this program pays for soldiers to come TDY to MI units all over the country. I have soldiers from all over the country assigned to my unit. Okay so why is that important?

      One of my soldiers, SSG B, is from Biloxi, MS. We got word from his today that he and his family are okay. However, their house was completely destroyed. SSG B is a great guy. He's an OIF vet, and a professional all the way. He's one of the "go to" guys in my company--the Wraiths.
      So, I'm going to do something to help him out. I figure the best way is with money.

      I'm looking for ideas about how to work donations for him and his family. I want something that would be easy for him to access, easy for my unit to donate to, and easy for the world at large to contribute to.

      So I'm looking for ideas. I'm going to call Army Emergency Relief and my bank and USAA tommorow. If anyone knows of a set up that works, let me know. I'll lay the foundations, and once SSG B greenlights my help, I'll execute. Of course, he's kind of stoic guy so he might not take a hand out. But, if its a donation from the unit, and all the military types who read my blog, then its not really a hand out, is it? Its just comrades in arms helping another comrade in arms.

      Post your ideas in the comments or shoot me and email.


      Monday, September 05, 2005

      Self-deployment Into a Disaster

      I'm reading a lot of posts in the blogosphere about how fucked up FEMA and other agencies are. A common thread seems to be that FEMA is screwed up because resources are being turned away. Most of these resources seem to be good-meaning people who self-deployed to the disaster. If you do this, you will be turned away...for good reason.

      - Who the hell are you? Are you qualified to work in a disaster? Who is liable for you? Are resources going to be consumed rescueing your ass because you got into a situation where you didn't belong?

      - How do you know you're needed? How do you know where you're needed? So your bus got turned away from the Superdome. I guess the multiple turns of military transportation aircraft out of NOLA airport weren't enough. But, you might have been needed in Miss.

      If you want to go, then contact you local emergency management organization or a volunteer group. If you're not qualified, join a volunteer organization and get some training for next time. If you're a qualified responder, check with your department, they'll know what to do.

      Self-deployment is usually a bad idea. There is a system in place for a reason.

      FEMA Summary

      This is an interesting brief that I saw yesterday. Its a good summary of what the Federal response to Katrina. All this info is available in open source, but this is a good roll-up. This info is 24 hours old, but still pretty good.

      Hopefully, I won't irritate my FEMA brothers by posting this, but I don't think they'll mind a little good press.

      So here is some death by powerpoint, FEMA style. Enjoy.

      Sunday, September 04, 2005

      Don't Bring Your "Crap"

      Does anyone think that refugees need an old typewriter? That's one of the things that I saw someone trying to donate yesterday to the relief effort here in Austin.

      If you are going to donate things, donate what your city asks for. Right now, in Austin, we need basic things like sheets and cots. Nobody needs furniture. Too often donations efforts become the excuse to get rid of shit that you don't want. This just slows down the process. Volunteers have to sort through a mountain of crap to get what people really need. If you're not sure, then give cash. Think of it like Christmas as a little kid. If you didn't get the GI Joe with the Kung-fu grip, then cash was the next best thing.

      I had a busy day today in the EOC. I'm proud of my state and my city. But, I'm leery of the long-term. We have aprox 3,500 refugees now, and we'll probably get more. We might even get a couple thousand more. I'm not worried about the short term, but the long term may be hard. How do you shelter an extra 6-7,000 thousand people who don't have anything? We're up to the challenge, but its going to take some work.

      One thing that is helping is that Texas has been incorporated into the disaster declaration so we'll get re-imbursed by the feds for our expenses. That's a good thing because we can spend without worrying about who foots the bill. City and County budgets are always and iffy thing so now we're set.

      I've got some more interesting things to post tommorow. We'll get a little death by powerpoint, FEMA style. I'm also back in the EOC tommorow so I'll post some more from my limited perspective.

      BTW, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Texas Baptist Men, and many other groups are spending money like privates on payday. If you have some cash to spare, donate it now. Noah over at Defensetech is leading the way with a donation of $1,000. Julie and I have donated. Dig deep. Your country needs you.

      Saturday, September 03, 2005

      "God Bless Texas."

      That's what one evacuee said with tears in her eyes as she reached Austin. Hot meal. Shower. And a safe place to stay. That's overwhealming to someone who someone who has been through hell and back.

      So far, Texas has about 250K evacuees, and has aprox. 250 shelters open state-wide. We're just about at capacity, and Gov. Perry has asked the feds to start sending people elsewhere.

      Planes have been arriving in Austin all day today. We're going to accept 5,000 people. Houston is stepping up to the plate in a big way, and will end up with over 30,000 evacuees. My wife is from Houston, and she's proud. Heaven, hell, or Houston? Not today.

      Donations are flowing in at record pace, but there will be the need for more. We are going end up housing these people for a long time, and we're going to have to rebuild their lives from stratch. More donations are needed. Dig deep. Your country needs you.

      Today was a good day to be a Texan. Not many states can instantly generate shelter for a quarter of a million people. Hell, not many countries can do that. It illustrates what good planning can do, and I feel good about our own hurricane plans.

      God bless Texas, indeed.

      I'll be in the city/county EOC again tommorow so I'll post more updates. No word on whether or not I'm going to the disaster zone. My boss is tired of me I'll ask some more.

      Friday, September 02, 2005

      Attention Texas Mil Bloggers and Readers

      Austin/Travis County is setting up shelters right now. There is a huge need for donations to make this work. The City of Austin is begining its efforts tommorow:

      The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department will staff a Contribution Center at Motorola, 3501 Ed Bluestein Blvd. (Map) The Center will be open for donations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, through Friday, Sept. 9. Donation requests include monetary donations, cots, air matresses, sleeping bags, sheets, blankets, towels and wash cloths.

      There is also a need for volunteers. Spread the word.

      Who is to blame?

      From the Times:

      Brian Wolshon, an engineering professor at Louisiana State University who served as a consultant on the state's evacuation plan, said little attention was paid to moving out New Orleans's "low-mobility" population - the elderly, the infirm and the poor without cars or other means of fleeing the city, about 100,000 people.

      At disaster planning meetings, he said, "the answer was often silence."

      So far, my assessment of the response to Katrina has been mixed. We done some good things and some bad. But, I think the above quote indicates what the real problem is. The Federal government is not responsible for evacuation. State and local governments are.

      The State of Texas has its evacuation plan worked out down to the gnat's ass. TS Allison forced us to be better. We have excercised our plans, and I think we're ready. Apparently New Orleans was not.

      The Superdome was intended to be a "shelter of last resort"--an Alamo in the storm. Nobody in their right mind should accept the idea of thousands of people in a shelter like this, especially given NOLA's unique geography.

      Planner's also know that the federal government cannot instantly mobilized resources. The same goes for the Guard. It takes a couple days to get all the pieces in place to respond once the disaster strikes. I think we've been a little slow, but the response is there.

      So the question that we ought to be asking is why did the government of LA and NOLA accept so much risk in allowing so many people to stay? I think the answer will be a mix of incompotence, apathy, and wishful thinking. It won't happen here, right?

      But, that's not the important thing right now. We've got to get through this and then figure out what went wrong.

      On a personal note, I'm back from doing Army stuff. My boss gave me a heads up that the Austin/Travis County EOC would probably go to 24 hour operations this weekend so I'll be back at work tommorow. We're probably going to be receiving several thousand refugees. I'll keep you posted.

      I've also volunteered to go into the disaster zone if needed. An interesting note is that responders deploying into the zone are advised to have all their shots up to date. The required shot list looks like something you'd get before deploying to war.

      Other Notes: My old agency, the Texas Divison of Emergency Management , has a page where you can read the SITREPs on the response that our state is providing to LA.

      My wife's company Applied Materials is doing a 1 to 1 donations match for any employess giving to disaster relief funds. We've given some money.

      Thursday, September 01, 2005

      Hurricane Update

      From MSNBC:

      “This is a national disgrace,” said Terry Ebbert, head of New Orleans’
      emergency operations. “FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command
      and control,” Ebbert said. “We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami
      victims but we can’t bail out the city of New Orleans."

      "We have got a mayor who has been pushing and asking but we’re not
      getting supplies,” he said. He said the evacuation was almost entirely a
      Louisiana operation. “This is not a FEMA operation. I haven’t seen a single FEMA

      I'm not buying this. I just talked to my boss. We are currently opening shelters in Central Texas to receive evacuees. Dallas has a couple thousand people in Renuion Arena. Houston is currently recieving medical evacuess via C-130 from New Orleans in addition to the people being moved to the Astrodome. Texas is sending or has sent search and rescue teams, EMTs, and command and control personell into LA. The Texas Forest Service (the incident command specialists in our state) is running a logistical hub.

      All of this happens through FEMA coordination. But, none of this happens instantly. We're talking about moving tons of material and thousands of people. It takes time to build momentum.

      I will be returning from Army stuff this weekend. I'll probably roll right into support operations for this. More blogging to follow.

      Good Blog out of the disaster zone: