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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Hurricanes taught us valuable lessons

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Two final (hopefully) observations about the recent hurricanes that devastated much of the Gulf Coast. First, it now appears that much of the television media hype over the chaos in New Orleans was ill-founded. Granted, there was ample looting and random shootings. Granted, there were drug overdoses in the Super Dome. But if you took the word of the television talking heads, you would have thought war had erupted in New Orleans.

Instead, the picture that is now emerging is one of disorganization and despair. It's a picture of inept local and state officials, of supplies stranded because no one was willing to make a decision. It's also a picture of hundreds of thousands of low-income residents totaling without a clue on how to cope in the face of near disaster.

As bad as the eventual picture was, it was far less devastating than what television brought into our homes on a minute-by-minute basis. There is an argument here against 24-hour news because that format forces the talking heads to fill lots of time. They too often fill it with rumor and gossip and just plain fiction.

The second observation concerns the debate over the evacuation of Houston as Hurricane Rita approached. Officials are scratching their heads trying to figure out what went wrong when the evacuation order was announced. Why did it take hour upon hour to empty the city? And just what would happen in the event of a terrorist attack where no warning is available?

My conclusion is that absolutely nothing went wrong. Just use common sense. Here's my example. If you've been to a ballgame in St. Louis, for example, and waited in long lines to leave the downtown area, you know something about the time involved in moving that many people. Well try moving 2.7 million people at the same time in any location for any reason. Does that give you a sense of what is involved?

I don't understand why officials are upset with the slow pace of evacuation. For goodness sakes we're talking about 2.7 million people? Not all of those people are fully prepared nor will they ever be fully prepared. The pace of movement would make a snail seem fast. But there is no way to change that. It's frankly an argument for me against urban life. But that's another matter.

We should have learned lessons from these hurricanes. First, don't believe everything you hear and not all of what you see. And second, humanity can only move so rapidly. Don't expect the impossible. That means in the event of another disaster many lives may be lost because of our inability to depart an area in a short span of time. Some things you can't change.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen