Friday, March 30, 2007

The City Assisted Evacuation Plan of New Orleans

In recent months, I have not had very many nice things to say about "Camp Nagin", but now I have to applaud himand his team. The unveiling of a comprehensive plan that places the municipal government at the center of evacuation efforts for the city is a laudable step forward by City Hall, and it demonstrates a clear and explicit effort to by this administration to avoid the mistakes of the past. Mayor Nagin's plan mobilizes public resources and calls upon civil servants and volunteers, alike, to assist in the evacuation of the elderly and underprivileged hours ahead of dangerous conditions, rather than resting upon the old, Darwinistic approach that left every man for himself. Faced with what experts like Accuweather are predicting to be "an active season in the Gulf of Mexio", the mayor and his team seem to have grasped the idea that, if nothing else, in times of uncertainty and need, we are truly our brothers' keepers.

Two things, though...First, people do need to find the capacity to work as a community. Without committed volunteers, the plan could be less effective, and every iota of unrealized effort could mean the difference between life and death for someone. Secondly, neighboring parishes should take heed. Unless their governments also set some direction on assisted evacuations--and also take action--many residents in these additionally vulnerable parishes may find themselves at risk with very little pre-event help from those around them.

Better that we serve and protect the interests of the poor, the aged, and the defenseless, by getting them out of harm's way first. Then we can focus on ourselves, with some comfort in knowing that we did as much as we humanly could to help our fellows.

Once again, big ups to Mayor Nagin! This successful directive is befitting of a man who was always capable of more great things, if only he could bolster the political will to actually articulate, fight for, and implement his dreams for a tenacious New Orleans.

gh
Matt 5:16
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City unveils evacuation plan

By Michelle KrupaStaff writer, Times-Picayune

With as many as 25,000 residents expected to need help getting out of New Orleans in advance of a hurricane, city officials on Friday rolled out their most detailed evacuation plan since Katrina, along with a call to city employees to sign up for 400 positions required to put the plan into action. Under the “City Assisted Evacuation Plan,” volunteers — both ordinary citizens and city workers — would begin picking up elderly residents and those who lack transportation about 54 hours, or 2½ days, before tropical storm-force winds are expected to reach the Louisiana coast.

Volunteers also would be responsible for keeping track of where evacuees are sent and helping with pets. Depending on the storm’s severity, the plan calls for Mayor Ray Nagin to enact a citywide mandatory evacuation 30 hours before winds whip up.

That’s far earlier than Nagin ordered residents to leave the city before Hurricane Katrina. The mayor has been criticized widely by members of Congress and others for waiting until the day before the landmark storm to issue a mandatory evacuation. As presented Friday, the plan reflects the basic protocol that City Hall planned to enact last year, though the lack of a serious hurricane threat negated any need for it.

While some agreements with state and federal authorities still are in the works, the plan generally offers a clearer picture of the process than officials shared in 2006. Col. Jerry Sneed, the city’s emergency preparedness director, said officials need 400 people to undertake such duties as assigning residents to buses and keeping track of the destination of their pets, which generally will be evacuated separately from their owners. The number does not include the phalanx of essential emergency workers who man police and fire stations, drainage pump stations and other critical sites.

Last year, the city tried to rely purely on residents to fill the jobs called for in the evacuation plan but got only about 200 volunteers, Sneed said. Speaking Friday to hundreds of employees from dozens of city departments and agencies, Sneed asked city workers who are not otherwise assigned to emergency jobs to sign up for the evacuation duty, noting that anyone who volunteers would be paid extra as allowed by civil service rules. Employees also would be given rides out of the city well before weather becomes hazardous, he said. Sneed stressed that the city’s plan, outlined to city employees on giant screens, was “difficult at best.” The models are strictly guides, he said, though preparing far in advance hopefully will help make the process run smoothly. Hurricane season begins June 1, with the most active part of the season taking place in late summer.

“When you’re doing this, it will not be Katrina chaos,” Sneed said. “If we do this right, it’s controlled. At worst, it will be controlled chaos.”

Matt Kallmyer, Sneed’s deputy, said he hopes municipal employees will sign up in droves. But he added that the city does not expect them to fill all the vacant ranks. “We would hope that a majority of it would be city employees, but to pull off something this size, we would need the assistance of the community,” he said. “We need people to go ahead and want to help their fellow citizens.”

Kallmyer said there has been no talk of requiring city workers who usually do not have to serve during emergencies to report to work against their will. “No one has said at this point that they would draft employees,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to force anyone to do that.” Sneed laid out the evacuation strategy during a “Citywide Planning Day” designed to unite the municipal workforce behind Nagin’s top priorities.

Beyond emergency preparedness, the program focused on a recovery blueprint unveiled this week that directs $1.1 billion of public spending toward inducing private investment across the city, with special attention given to 17 neighborhood redevelopment zones. Commending them for their hard work over the past 19 months, recovery czar Ed Blakely charged employees to carry word of the plan to “every corner of our city and across the country.”

“You are the message and the messengers of this recovery,” he said during the event at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Nagin, who addressed the employees briefly, stressed the importance of their effort in the rebuilding. “This recovery over the next two years is our No. 1 priority,” he said. “The work is not only important to us but to our children and our grandchildren and their children. The history books will be written about you. ... You are history-makers.”

Using hand-held keypads to answer questions that flashed on giant screens, employees weighed in about their personal experiences since Katrina and the challenges they have faced since Nagin laid off about 3,000 City Hall and Sewerage & Water Board workers shortly after the storm.

Of those who participated in a four-hour morning session, 83 percent saw their home damaged, with 48 percent experiencing severe flooding, vote tallies showed. Twenty-four percent suffered the death of a family member or friend in the storm. Sixty-six percent were separated from family during the aftermath, and 35 percent still are living in a temporary home. As for the workplace, employees — weighing in this time by sending messages from laptop computers — said they are proud to be keeping the city running with fewer employees and resources. They said teamwork and communication among city agencies has improved since Katrina, as has workers’ ability to sympathize with each other. However, 77 percent said they need more resources to do their jobs well, including people, money and equipment. Seventy-two percent called for better compensation, and 39 percent wanted better working conditions.

Residents interested in volunteering to aid the city-assisted evacuation program can contact City Hall at nooep@cityofno.com or (504) 658-8700.

1 comment:

Nick said...

"...[P]rotect the interests of the poor, the aged, and the defenseless, by getting them out of harm's way first."

That is admirable, man. We should all have your heart.

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