Posted on 17 Sep 08
I make my living as a consultant. Occasionally that includes work as an expert witness. Let me first address these terms. I’ll use definitions provided to me by others.
A consultant is a person (normally this definition is sexist but I’ll clean it up) who knows 150 ways to make love, but doesn’t have any willing partners. Also in terms of job function - “those that can do, those that can’t teach, and those that can’t teach, consult.”
My best definition of an expert is someone 50 miles from out of town who carries a briefcase (or in the Internet world - a laptop). I’ll redefine expert as someone whose life experiences (scar tissue) warrant their speaking on a topic with some authority.
History (experience / scar tissue):
I lived in New Iberia Louisiana from 1947 - 1965, in Lafayette from 1965 - 1971, in Fort Polk Louisiana in 1971 and in Heidelberg Germany for most of 1972. From 1973 - 2004 I lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and since 2004 I’ve been back in New Iberia. New Iberia is about 15 miles from the coast. In New Iberia I’ve witnessed first hand Hurricanes Audrey, Hilda, Betsy, Katrina, Rita and many lesser storms.
The house I grew up in and the building I now use as a residence have been through the aforementioned storms + Lily and Andrew. I understand that hurricanes can be very dangerous, can do incredible damage to property (study Hurricane Camille that hit Biloxi), and can kill people. Add to this the tremendous costs of evacuation, recovery, and life in hurricane zones and you must respect these storms - DON’T MESS WITH MOTHER NATURE. I respect the people who live here.
Perception and Reality:
Unfortunately what most of this country (non-coastal residents) knows about Hurricanes is the result of media coverage. At best the media exaggerates, at worst it lies, and for the most part it slants to the negative.
My favorite examples of the exaggeration is the weather person standing in 20 mph wind and rain leaning forward or holding on to a street sign to show the tempest. One network during Katrina strapped a news person into a wind tunnel to simulate hurricane force winds. As they went from zero to whatever, hair blew, jowls flapped and you could see the impact of the wind. Then however the commentator spoke of the courage of the person in the tunnel to endure this condition. THIS TUBE WAS SAFE AND STERILE - throw in a fist full of glass or a branch and then let the demonstrator show courage!
Reality is the facts. Perception is how we see the facts. Since 2005 until forever the perception of all hurricanes will be the “Mad Max” world that followed Hurricane Katrina.
Here is the reality.
Hurricane Katrina as a wind and “water surge” event (an act of God) devastated Mississippi, Alabama, and selected parishes (St. Bernard, Plaquemine, etc.) in Louisiana. The destruction was near complete.
In Orleans Parish and in New Orleans proper - the wind damage following Katrina was modest at most. What the media defined as “Hurricane Katrina” and what is burned in our memories from endless hours of TV is not a hurricane - it is a social issue and a failure of government and government programs (acts of men).
If the levees in New Orleans had not been breeched we would have long since forgotten the storm in that city and we’d only remember the initial pictures of the destruction of Biloxi, Mobile, Long Beach, St. Bernard Parish, etc.
The levees designed, built, and maintained (or more correctly not maintained) by various government entities failed and caused flooding. The systems of government (state and local) responsible for the preparation and evacuation did reasonably well in light of the actual damage caused by wind and rain. If there had not been flooding, there would not be second guessing.
All government (local, state, and federal) was not ready, willing, or able to handle the aftermath of the failed levees. Understand that such lack of readiness should not have occurred since as long as I can remember - locals have talked about “when the big one hits New Orleans.” Katrina was not the big one.
The biggest failure of all identified during this process was the failure of the Great Society. It was President Lyndon Johnson’s noble attempt to make life easier for the “poor” in lieu of attempting to make them as individuals stronger for whatever life “throws their way.”
The unintended consequence of this grand scheme was the creation of a large and growing segment of our population that is addicted to the government for cash, health care, education, direction, hope, etc. Their dependency upon entitlements has crippled them and their God given potential to such an extent that short of direct individual intervention most will never enjoy the freedom and opportunity that is America. Our country provides for “life, liberty, and the PURSUIT of happiness.” Unfortunately the drug of ENTITLEMENT has created a belief that happiness can be delivered in a government envelope. It can’t.
Katrina exposed these “social issues / problems” - these are not weather driven. Weather can exasperate these problems but nature does not create them.
Momma is in hospice care at Consolata Nursing Home. Her legs and plumbing don’t work and her mind is at 40% capacity in terms of time. My first concern was her safety. If you think your job is tough - visit a nursing home and then figure out how you would handle evacuating these folks in buses, house them temporarily on gymnasium floors or at other nursing homes, and then bring them home.
Understand when the media panics a region much bigger than that which will be effected it causes more people than necessary to seek shelter away from the coast and causes real hardships for those at real risk.
The good news is that Momma is coming home today (Thursday) after 6 days in Basile - thanks Basile, Consolata and LHC Group.
After loading Momma in an ambulance for the trip to Basile, I visited friends at Mary’s for coffee, therapy, and breakfast with the LSU football team. I then joined Sheila at home to load the car and get out of town. Sheila had nailed down, closed up, or secured nearly everything in our yard. We boarded up our front door, took the blades off the porch fans, and covered a family portrait. Finally we did a silent tour around the house to create one last memory - just in case we came home to pillars and debris.
Sheila’s a redneck and not comfortable with storms so she decided that I wanted to evacuate. We had a big house available in Baton Rouge. Packing for a storm is simple - if you’ve done it before. First you fill up any machine that holds gasoline since it becomes a priceless commodity. Bring food that doesn’t need refrigeration or cooking, water, flashlights, cash (credit / debit cards don’t work without electricity), candles, matches, important records (insurance, bank statements, etc.), ice and ice chests, clothes for comfort not style, pets, pet food, etc.
We arrived at Sherry’s - unloaded the car, turned on the TV, turned down the air conditioning and thought - Hurricane evacuation is good. For dinner we called our son and he joined us at Bass Pro shops - the food was excellent and the company divine. We kissed as we parted - hearts heavy but hopeful - we all knew but did not verbalize the real danger was “out there.” Sometimes denial is good.
9:00 a.m. on Sunday - our power failed. Welcome to evacuation. As the house temperature rose into the 80s we cursed the storm. By Sunday night most businesses had closed. We capped off the tank earlier in the day and for supper I found “to go” at Serops Restaurant. The winds started as nighttime entertainment. By Monday morning - we were in a fulltime storm. Between bands of rain - we’d venture out to survey the damage.
Across the street from us a 60 foot pine tree about 5 feet in diameter was sucked out of the ground to cover the street and the neighbor’s patio. In the storm zone - trees, utility poles, and electrical / telephone cables played nature’s game of paper, scissors, and rock. The ground is covered by trees, leaves, branches, cables, and poles and parts of houses - evidence of nature’s battlefield.
Periodically we’d escape to the car for news and air conditioning. Learning where we were and making us glad where we weren’t. Curfews are imposed - so being on the street was not an option between dusk and dawn. Our meals included grapes, apples, peanut butter and sometimes peanut butter, grapes, and apples.
By Monday the worse was over - now we must merely wait out recovery - return of air conditioning, electricity, and clean up. For evacuees the only recovery you want is the OK to go home. For us this came at 8:00 Wednesday morning. We had learned by phone that our home had survived and our community was OK.
As bad as these storms can be there is always good news. The best news of these storms is the contact from friends all over the country that call or e-mail to express their concern. We realize that we are not “all in this alone.” We - for hours without interruption of TV, the Internet, and social pressures - focused on what’s really important - family, friends, freedom and independence or as it was once written in a government document - “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
The good news and fun of the storm was meeting Sherry and Bill at Pastime Junior Restaurant (a second location of the legendary Pastime Restaurant) for beer and pizza cooked in oven fueled by generators. The good news was checking with and discovering that friends made it. The good news was “Home Sweet Home.”
During these disasters you learn about the best and worst of government, people, and our society. Generosity abounds while petty thieves price gouge, steal, and attempt to scam the system. Good and evil both exist in our world. Some politicians prove their leadership and worth by delivering to the needy (storms create new members in the needy class) - others abdicate their responsibility as leaders and show themselves to be the “wimps” that they are by dumping constituents on the door steps of churches and NGOs that will do what the politico is being paid to do.
In closing - know that Louisiana’s citizens and systems have once again been tested - and we’ve passed. We’ll be OK - plenty of hurt, hard times and work will be required but we’ll make it. We always do. Thanks for asking and the prayers.
Sixty percent of the Louisiana population is along and below I-10. For the first time in history the majority of this population evacuated. Our underlining concern was not the storm but the fear that with the Cajuns gone from South Louisiana the Russians might try to attack us from Georgia. Like Noah in the Ark - on Wednesday night Governor Jindal released a flock of doves to see if recovery was completed - shotguns were heard and soon you could smell the gumbo - we’re back!
Mike Manes is the founder of Square One Consulting. Today he works with agents and agencies to facilitate mergers and acquisitions (issues of cultural compatibility), design and coordinate ventures between banks and agencies, develop niche market programs, build marketing networks, etc.
E-mail – email@example.com
Website - www.squareoneconsulting.com