Hurricane Katrina affects us all…

The devastation related to Katrina is so overpowering that is has taken away my motivation to write about real estate… With that in mind, I’m going to take off my real estate cap and write about some of my observations as a transportation planner having worked on homeland security projects…

As you may know, I (Dustin, Anna’s husband) work by day as a transportation planner for a consulting firm in Seattle. One of my current projects is to help the City of Seattle prepare detour routing plans should the City experience a terrorist event. Among other things, my work has involved developing a graphical information system (GIS) tool for the City that would allow them to quickly prepare detour routing plans (such as which streets to close, where to place detour signs, how to re-time signals, etc.). This work has lead me to many discussions in the past few months on what could/should be done in Seattle should a major event occur here… I mention all of this because I know that my background clouds my current view of the government’s response to Katrina.

As I’ve watched the situation in New Orleans deteriorate over the last few days (only to finally show some signs of hope today!), I can’t help but think about a story that was told to me by the City of Seattle’s emergency response coordinator. He was at a conference recently where emergency response personnel from the Israeli government were discussing how they respond to suicide bombings. He was shocked to learn that the Israeli government has a policy of returning the situation back to normal within four hours of a bombing. This includes not only completing the police investigation, but also cleaning up the scene. In the United States, we’d still be waiting for investigators to arrive at the scene after four hours and no where near cleaning the mess up. My guess is that if a small backpack bomb was detonated in Seattle, things would not return to normal for days, if not weeks. What’s the relevance to Katrina? We are fortunate in the US to not have all that much experience with major disasters.

Along these lines, people are excellent at lulling themselves into complacency because their past “dances with fate” turned out okay. (Richard Feynman writes an excellent example of this in his investigation into the Reliability of the Challenger Shuttle). In other words, I think that the fact that many hurricanes have come and gone without causing such large-scale damage lulled people at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) into thinking that their time was better spent worrying about terrorists events than natural disasters. (Fred Kaplan at Slate has more on the priorities of the DHS). My ramblings are not meant to excuse the inadequacy of the federal government’s response, but rather to highlight that no amount of training exercises will ever replace experience in dealing with major disasters.

Before I end this post, I feel I must mention that I’ve been in contact with real estate agents from both the real estate blog squad and the KW Cares who are looking to make a large impact in helping hurricane victims. I’m committed to working with both of these groups to provide long-term help to the thousands of people who have been displaced.

  • Are you a Puget Sound resident interested in working with me to organize an event to help hurricane victims?
  • Do you already have an event organized?

Email me if you would like to coordinate efforts.

In the mean time, money donations to the Red Cross make a huge difference.

UPDATE: The Seattle Times has lots of information on how to get involved locally.

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