Katrina: What Should Have Happened
This is a fictional account of how a humane, organized government can work.
An immense hurricane rips across Florida, enters the Gulf of Mexico, expanding its force and wind speed as it moves along an arc heading towards the mainland of the greatest country in the world.
Telemetry data from the National Weather Service geostationary satellites and Coast Guard Service Lockheed Electra hurricane hunters are being fed into the Cray computer at the National Weather Service’s Hurricane Tracking Super Computer Center. The Cray is computing in real time and continually updating its predictions of the path and strength of Hurricane Katrina.
Even the hardened veterans at the Cray center are shaken as the results predict Katrina’s expansion into a Category 5 storm that will slam into the coast at New Orleans within 36 hours. The Secretary of Commerce is warned of the approaching storm.
As Homeland Security warnings flash from yellow to orange, the President’s hot line buzzes during dinner hour at his sweltering summer retreat outside Crawford, Texas. Summoned to the phone, he is briefed on the situation by the Secretary of Commerce and requests an assessment from his advisors of the possible consequences of New Orleans being hit by Katrina.
Within an hour, the Secretary of Defense warns the President that the Army Corps of Engineers has predicted that the city could be inundated if the levees failed under the onslaught of a Category 5 storm.
The President consults with the Mayor of New Orleans, who has already ordered the evacuation of the city. The Mayor warns the President, however, that not everyone in his city has access to an automobile, nor is the Mayor sure where half a million people can go under such short notice.
An emergency Cabinet meeting is held by video-teleconference, and the President announces a state of national emergency. Orders are sent to every department of the United States Government to prepare for the evacuation of New Orleans and the initiation of rescue efforts for those unable to move out on their own before the storm hits.
Within an hour the Secretary of Transportation is conferring with the Presidents of Amtrak, the BNSF Railway, the CSX, the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and the Union Pacific Railroad. The Secretary tells them what is expected of them.
1. All freight trains traveling on routes radiating from New Orleans will be directed to the nearest yard or siding for temporary parking. Sole priority is to be given to passenger trains, military trains, and any other trains so ordered by the DOT.
2. All Amtrak passenger trains radiating from the New Orleans hub will disembark all of the coach passengers at the nearest city outside the danger zone. These passengers will be put up in hotels at government expense. Sleeping cars and lounge cars will be sent on to their ultimate destinations away from New Orleans, as coaches and dining cars are restocked and rerouted to the New Orleans Union Station.
All Amtrak trains arriving at the Chicago hub, the Empire Builder, the Southwest Chief, the California Zephyr, the Lakeshore Limited, the Capitol Limited, and the Cardinal, will immediately restock all food service cars and reroute them, along with all of their coaches directly to New Orleans.
All coaches and food service cars of Amtrak trains arriving into Jacksonville, the Silver Meteor, the Silver Star, and the Sunset Limited, will be rerouted along the Gulf Coast to New Orleans.
The Secretary of the Treasury authorizes immediate electronic transfers of appropriate funds into the bank accounts of the cooperating railroads to cover their immediate expenses.
The Secretary of Transportation then confers with the Presidents of American, Delta, United, and US Airways to advise them of their duties in evacuating New Orleans. As all visitors who have traveled by public transportation to New Orleans have been ordered to check out of their hotels and return to their home cities, the airlines are ordered to bring only empty planes into New Orleans and are advised to honor all airline tickets and Amtrak tickets for outbound passengers without any added charges whatsoever.
The Secretary of the Treasury authorizes immediate electronic transfers of appropriate funds into the bank accounts of the cooperating airlines to cover their immediate expenses.
All long distance motor coaches of Greyhound Lines and Trailways Transportation within 500 miles of New Orleans will be dispatched to New Orleans immediately as soon as they can be refueled and staffed with drivers and backup drivers.
The Secretary of the Treasury authorizes immediate electronic transfers of appropriate funds into the bank accounts of the cooperating bus lines to cover their immediate expenses.
The National Guard is alerted and troops with amphibian personnel carriers who are within 10 hours of New Orleans will be immediately loaded onto railway cars and dispatched to New Orleans.
All local law enforcement and emergency services are alerted to the impending storm. All leave is cancelled. The Mayor sets up an emergency response center at City Hall.
The Secretary of Transportation designates all Interstate highways leading out of New Orleans as one way outbound on all lanes. Incoming buses and supply trucks are directed to alternate two lane highway routes.
US Army heavy-duty lifting helicopters are ordered to McDonald’s and Burger King supply depots to pick up pallets of frozen food which will be airlifted to fast food outlets along the evacuation routes.
Wal-Mart offers pallets of bottled water to be airlifted to food outlets along the evacuation routes.
Sanitary service operations are ordered to deliver portable toilets to designated locations along the evacuation routes.
US Army field hospitals are airlifted to designated locations along the evacuation routes to handle medical emergencies.
Military Police battalions are airlifted into the city, along with prison buses, to assist with the evacuation of inmates of local jails and prisons.
Hotels within 200 miles, but outside the danger zone are ordered to check out all tourists and visitors who have transportation and make rooms ready for refugees. Treasury Department Electronic Transfers are sent to the hotel’s banks to cover their expenses for food and lodging for refugees.
All medical institutions outside the danger zone are alerted to be ready to handle incoming patients from New Orleans hospitals. All hospital medical records are on line and are uploaded to the computers of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, where they can be accessed by any hospital requiring this information for incoming patients from New Orleans. Treasury Department Electronic Transfers are sent to the medical facilities’ banks to cover expenses for medical services.
All city school buses are commandeered to pick up residents without automobiles and carry them to a temporary holding facility at the SuperDome, which is a ½ mile from the combined Amtrak Station and Greyhound and Trailways bus station. Sound trucks precede the school buses to advise residents to carry a change of clothes and all essential medications. Food and water will be supplied by the government.
Humane Societies from all over the South are coming in with volunteers to pick up pets which must be left behind. Residents are asked to securely hang white flags or sheets on their front porches where pets are left inside. Doors must be left unlocked for easy entry by the Humane Society workers. Pets will be taken to holding areas and data about them posted on the Census Bureau’s computer.
All employees of the SuperDome are called out to work to keep the sanitary facilities and food service facilities operational during the transition time. Extra fuel is ordered to the SuperDome to keep emergency generators operational. As Amtrak coaches arrive at the station, passengers will be ferried by school buses to the Amtrak Station. Incoming long distance buses are sent directly to the SuperDome to pick up passengers.
Even as the winds hit, there are still thousands awaiting transportation, but Amtrak trains are still heading into the storm, and before any water builds up in the lower levels of the city, the SuperDome is emptied as all Amtrak trains and motor coaches head out of town, carrying their passengers to the waiting lodging outside the storm area.
The evacuation is carried out safely and without loss of life hours before Katrina slams into New Orleans. The only people left in the city are public safety officers, National Guard, and the Corps of Army Engineers.
Per the Corps of Engineers predictions, certain levees do give way, and electrical power fails. As water flows into the lower levels of the city, the pumping stations’ diesel generators are started, and water flows out of the city. Multiple fuel trucks stand by to refuel the pumping stations. Although the pumping stations themselves are raised high above water level, sandbags are piled around the stations to protect the fuel trucks.
When the high winds strike, all planes are safely out of New Orleans, having evacuated all visitors safely and without incident.
As the wind and rain tears at the city structures and levees, countries from around the world offer to give assistance to the people of the disaster area. The President asks the Secretary of State to “Accept all reasonable offers of help from abroad, even from countries whose political ideologies do not meet with our approval.”
A potential catastrophe has been averted, and the world smiles with admiration at Yankee ingenuity and “can-do” spirit.
After Katrina passes and the city is pumped dry, FEMA personnel arrive at the city to assess the damages and to determine who can return to their homes. Census Bureau personnel, equipped with handheld computers have kept detailed records of all the refugees, including their home address and their temporary holding location. This data is uploaded to Bureau of Census computers and is available on line to anyone seeking information about missing friends or relatives, or separated family members and pets.
After the city is determined to be safe by local authorities, tanker trucks with gasoline are rushed in to replenish filling stations along the route. Then those who can return to their homes are advised to do so by car. Those without cars are carried by intercity buses.
Within six months, the entire city has been repaired, insurance companies and FEMA have paid all the bills and the Big Easy is back in business.
Ted Blishak has a background is in Electrical Engineering and is President of Accent On Travel-USA.