[permaculture] Missing the point on Katrina

green apple collective greenapplecollective at yahoo.com
Mon Mar 3 22:20:15 EST 2008

Hey Folks,

I have been following this thread about FEMA and Katrina and I think everyone misses the point. I have been involved in studying disaster responses for years and was involved in the Katrina (specifically the Common Ground and Emergence Broadcast System) relief efforts and continue to follow it closely. I think as people interested in permaculture and sustainability disasters and specifically relief efforts are extremely important to look at and study. The good news is that there has been alot of study on relief efforts in this country and elsewhere (in fact disaster studies is a growing and interesting area of study).

Ibsaltzman writes: "Actually FEMA pre-George Bush was extremely competent at handling
 natural disasters.? All the experienced technical people were replaced by
 political hacks."

This could not be further from the truth (other than the part about 
George Bush filling it with even more absurd hacks). The truth is FEMA has
been its own kind of disaster for a very long time, but not an unplanned one.
I know there is a ton of conspiracy stuff about shadow gov'ts and all
but the reality FEMA has always served a political function and
that has been one to serve corporate and very specific political needs.
You do not need to take my word for it, read their own policy papers
which are all public. It is strange that FEMA puts protecting property (private)
before providing basic needs. Or that FEMA allowed private security firms
like Blackwater to become "First Responders" and thus able to access
large tax-payer budgets; yet city Emergency Doctors have not beeen
able to get that official designation. One can look back any period
in FEMA's history and see it really is about "management", like Forest
Management, it has gotten worse but the premise has been wrong since
the beginning.

David Travis writes
t"hat subsequent disaster relief was both decentralized (with
 multiple state and federal agencies both claiming and disavowing
 responsibility for multiple relief responsibilities)  and lacked a fixed
Again not exactly true. FEMA started managing actually 3 hours before landfall, 
the issue was resource allocation and specific control/command structures.
It was a classic Local, State and Federal turf war that had 
everything to do with budgets and very little about decentralization
or structure. If anything the "managers" stopped the real decntralization,
public relief from being effective.

 "So claiming that Katrina is a case where centralized planning and
 structure existed but failed doesn't seem like a very accurate description"
I think Tobey was correct. All the OEMs and FEMAs are some of the worse
of centralized planning and their history of success is very poor 
especially when compared to more decentralized approaches like the old
Civil Defense model. Meta-analysis show that on every measure
from respond time, injuries, property damage, etc. FEMA/OEM has been
bad. This is not surprising because the real goal as Naomi Klein and
others have pointed out is to provide political power and profits
to corporations (the true neo-con agenda). The ironic thing is neo-cons are all
for taking public money and thrusting into the bank accounts
of corporations. In fact Milton Friedman's (the architect of the
Chicago School)last public writing before he died was about
Katrina (worth reading). 

 "since the main criticism seems not to be so much
 that these didn't work, but that they simply existed as haphazard
 afterthoughts if they existed at all."

There was nothing "haphazard" about what happened to the poor
areas of New Orleans, or what is continuing to happen. This has
been part and parcel of the "Shock Doctrine" for a long time (
at least 35 years). To use disasters (shocks) to remake whole
areas into a neo-con vision and FEMA/OEM have played their part well.

Tobey is wrong also when he says:"You've [Dave Travis] given 
a nice assessment of the causes of the Katrina mess, but my 
point was not that FEMA was the cause; it was that it was useless. "

FEMA wasn't useless in the strictest sense of the word. It was used
the way it's own documents said it should and that is to make sure
continuance of government and economy is not hindered by disasters.
In fact, disasters are big business now and have been since the
1910 SF earthquake, the last time the economy slumped for 
a significant period after a disaster.

Disasters, like permaculture are a matter of design. What are
FEMA's and other relief organization's designs. I think you will
find they all are odds at the basic principles of permaculture.
I think permaculturists can do a lot by extending their ideas
to the area of relief and disaster preparedness. I am currently
part of a group in NYC Aftershock Action, that is trying to do 
exactly that. Just as the real neo-cons see opportunity in disasters
to remake their corporate visions; I think we too can use disasters
to introduce large segments of the population (that would normally
not care about our ideas around sustainability) to the design
principles of permaculture. Bio-remdiation, alternative power, community
enhancing projects, etc. are all needed in disaster areas not 
only National Guardsmen and bottled water provided by Haliburton.

Aftershock Action



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