September 29, 2005

A Disaster Preparation Template

Carroll Andrew Morse

Peggy Noonan has an excellent article over at OpinionJournal, ostensibly about the government’s role in disaster response, but really about the government’s role in everything. Keep Noonan’s article in mind when reading anything about government disaster programs, like Wednesday’s Projo article on the state of hurricane preparation in Rhode Island.

Noonan points out a weakness intrinsic to any government program: Individuals in government get so caught up in the fact they have authority, they seek to apply that authority, whether it makes the situation better or not…

No one took responsibility, but there was plenty of authority. People in authority sent the lost to the Superdome and the Convention Center. People in authority blocked the bridges out of town. People in authority tried to confiscate guns after the looting was over.
I would extend Noonan’s argument to disaster preparation. The most effective way for government to prepare for a disaster is not for government to compel people to behave in a certain way. It is to most efficiently deliver the means and information that people need to help themselves.

This principle leads to a three part disaster management template…

1. Who and where are the people who cannot help themselves in an emergency? Do we have the resources and are we ready to get them out of harm’s way?

2. What mistakes are citizens preparing for a disaster likely to make? How do we deliver the information and resources that will help people preempt as many of their own errors as possible?

3. What good options are people preparing for a disaster likely to overlook? How do we deliver information about disaster response options that people are not likely to see on their own?