Sunday, August 31, 2008

Following Gustav and his friends

This is Sunday, August 31, 2008 and I am following Hurricane Gustav and his friends who are taking a hazardous trip across the Caribbean and aiming to reach the United States - Hanna, Ike and Josephine in this order.

Gustav's trajectory offers an opportunity to assess the lessons learnt from Katrina and to evaluate the preparation and response to what is drumming up to be a major disaster producing event. I accept the position that it is the failure of the cultural protections that leads to disasters and that diasters are the result of interaction between these events and human vulnerabilities. Already, efforts are being made to evacuate early and the use the national guard to enforce the mandate. The federal government is on high alert. Chernoff has flown to New Orleans to assess the preparation. What ever happens the impact is already felt, the thousands how are now being displaced, separated from each other and their pets. At category 4, it is not sure how long before they come back home again. Schooling has been suspended and while children wait it out, precious school days are being lost with many children having to relive the trauma of this experience - chronic exposure to disaster producing events. New Orleans will have the resources to respond. Cuba and Haiti may not have these resources, given the kinds and levels of destruction being described as happened there as Gustav trekked its way to the Gulf Coast in the United States.

I expect New Orleans will do better, not because it needs to save face but because it has just experienced Katrina, three years ago, they know more now. Once Gustav has died down, it is necessary to make the transition for effective response. Roads will be blocked or destroyed. Telecommunications will be hampered - respond therefore is better handled locally; the organisational structure normally available to do business will not exist and so new ones without laws, money, need to be formed and so the goodwill of others, their patriotism and 'goodness of heart.'

For me it's finding the schools, locating where they are, assessing the damage or impacts and help to return to student learning as soon as possible. Preparation is crucial in reducing the impact. It is providing the following - security for important documents, locating and organizing critical functions - computer labs and libraries; identifying and securing curriculum materials, temporarily recruiting teachers and other personnel as volunteers since remuneration may not be available in the aftermath.

As this unfolds, the interest is to see how well the city and the state responds this time but this time Gustav may not behave like Katrina and today being Sunday, the roads may be clear to move north and those who do not have means of transportation are going it by train and public buses. I also hope that neighbors are taking neighbors along. Texas and neighboring states are accepting evacuees before rather than after. At least this lesson was learnt. We hope for the best and wish everyone well as we watch Gustav finally come to shore. He does not need a Visa

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