Saturday, September 24, 2005

Casualties down

Anybody wonder what's going on in the GWOT lately? In case you hadn't noticed (and damn few people have in the hurricane furor this month), the coalition casualty count is down. Way down. Lowest since March. At current pace, September will be only 6th deadliest since we invaded Iraq.

There are lots of reasons for this, I'm sure, not the least of which is that the bad guys have been targeting civilians again instead of our team.

Nonetheless, the recent decline in casualties is remarkable when you consider we are
conducting offensive operations in some of the toughest towns along the terrorist infiltration routes into Baghdad, that Al Queda in Iraq has allegedly forged alliances with most of the other insurgent and terrorist factions, that Iran is stirring up trouble in the relatively peaceful south, that terrorist recruits are allegedly pouring over the border, and that Sunnis are reported to be largely dissatisfied with the draft constitution. And this is all occurring as we expect an upward trend in violence prior to the coming constitutional referrendum.

So what does this mean? It means the bad guys have lost their better planners, their knowlegeable bomb builders, and their competent troops. We're fighting the second string, now. And we're doing it with the help of competently
trained and led Iraqi forces. We've passed the tipping point.

I think it means we're winning.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Silver Linings

As the bulk of the life-saving effort is behind those dealing with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, it’s time to begin to look beyond tomorrow, and toward the future.

As we do so, we must, of course, review our collective performance in this emergency to fix the problems we had so we can do better next time. It’s soon going to be the appropriate time for the inevitable, unavoidable, and extremely distasteful blame game (although many have already jumped the gun on that one). But whether your approach is to fix problems or to fix blame, these functions are both backward looking, not forward looking.

What we really need now is for people to start looking forward. The silver linings of the dark, wrathful clouds that were Katrina and its aftermath are the opportunities that face us if we truly look forward.

The opportunities ahead face individuals, local communities, the region, and the nation as a whole, if we only stop our backbiting, political wrangling, or self-serving opportunism long enough to recognize them.

Those who have been dependent on the government or the largess of others for their basic needs have an opportunity to overcome their dependency lifestyle with an independency mindset. For individuals who, before the hurricane, were living at or near poverty level, were unskilled, and barely made enough for their families to survive, the opportunity is to get involved in the reconstruction of their communities, and in so doing learn skills that can lead to a comfortable life in the future.

Of course for these individuals to benefit from this opportunity, they need a hand up, not a hand out. If we have people in the public and corporate worlds really thinking ahead, we'll be setting up skill training centers near all shelters (in the effected states and in the cities where many of these have been evacuated to). We'd be teaching the currently homeless who have no prospect for returning to their old jobs (not just NOLA, but casino workers in MS, etc, too). What would we be teaching them? Basic carpentry and masonry skills. Worksite safety. Drywall hanging. Paving. Stringing electrical, telephone, cable TV. Plumbing. So many other basic skills. Lets license folks on bulldozers, backhoes, and forklifts, in the parking lot of the Astrodome.

Home Depot and other big hardware chains run classes for folks wanting to do home improvements, so they've already got SOME capability to help with this. So do community colleges and other publicly and privately funded skill training centers. The effected areas outside NOLA already need these skills. By the time NOLA is ready for folks to begin working, we can have the folks ready to start doing the work on their own city. We can set up temporary worker camps near the city for those doing the work.

The best part of all is that this is an opportunity for ALL concerned. Clearly the opportunity for the individuals who get good jobs by learning basic skills and use those jobs to get experience and even more skills is potentially life-changing.

For all levels of government, this same situation is an opportunity to simultaneously reduce those who are dependent on the government, increase the numbers of those paying taxes, and make necessary repairs and reconstruction happen with a workforce that has a vested interest in the quality of the outcome.

For the business world, the opportunity is to bring into their workforce fiercely loyal employees who will appreciate and enjoy working for a company that has shown faith and hope in them. It also offers them an opportunity to build a fiercely loyal customer base. As those folks are raised from poverty or subsistence, they’ll be building homes for themselves and their families. Aren’t they more likely to go to companies that helped them in their time of need when spending newfound wealth to build homes?

This, of course, is just one set of closely related opportunities that exist if we’re bold enough to seize them. There are so many possibilities that we can exploit it’s impossible for one blogging soul to imagine them. Those who rebuilt the Mississippi coast after Camille tried to do this. They saw the opportunity to bring wealth into the nation’s poorest state by building the coastal casinos. Lets hope the next version of Southern Mississippi is as bold in its design, but does a better job of preparing for the next major hurricane (no more floating facilities, please).

New Orleans must be rebuilt (don’t argue – it WILL be rebuilt, so lets get over that discussion and decide how best to do it). What do we want NEW New Orleans to be? Do we want it to continue to be an industrial/port city? Then lets make it the best industrial/port city in the world. We have the opportunity. Do we want it to be the most ‘wired’ city in the world? We have that opportunity, too. Would a modern transit system have made that city and its outlying areas easier to evacuate, better to live in, and an economic boon? Build one. For that matter, can we rebuild it to be safer from the next storm? Compartmentalize it with more levees within the city limits? Backfill the below-sea-level areas and build on top of it? We did it to Manhattan Island over a hundred years ago and it seems to be working so far.

Regionally, there is a lot of infrastructure that has been damaged or destroyed. Here’s an opportunity. Did I-10 need to be widened? Let’s widen it. Were there enough rail lines? Build more in the rebuilding process. Were the shore-bound portions of pipelines - the life’s blood of the rest of the country – too vulnerable to storms? Fix that problem now by hardening, redundancy, and reducing our national dependency on them to begin with by building other facilities elsewhere, creating a regional mass-transit system that pays for itself, and exploring REAL alternative energy sources (ethanol? Give me a break).

We need our politicians at ALL levels to stop looking backwards for the witch hunt long enough to appoint some truly forward-looking folks to lead the reconstruction planning. We need those who can grasp opportunity from the jaws of disaster. We need them to produce some unconstrained ideas and figure out later either how to pay for their ideas or how to get as close as we can with the funds available.

And then the partisan politicians can get back to their name-calling and finger-pointing while real American leaders rebuild the south.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

STOP Them Before They Commission Again!!!

Lets stop all the politicians before they ram another failed commission down our throats. We don’t need another stinkin’, failed 9/11 commission on our hands. We need an After Action Review (AAR).

A commission, which is just a fancy Washington DC term for ‘witch hunt’ didn’t solve the problems of 9/11, and won’t solve the disaster preparedness and relief problems we are experiencing over Katrina. All the proposals I’m hearing for commissions and other investigative bodies pay lip service to fixing problems and focus on fixing blame. Everybody wants a “blue ribbon panel of experts”, or some similar nonsense, to come in, give a superficial anal exam (yes, it’s a contradiction in terms, but an intentional one), and then make some heads roll. When they’re done, they quit and go home and we still haven’t fixed anything.

For one thing, there are NO EXPERTS on what happened the past week. We have never faced anything of the magnitude of a major hurricane and major urban flood at the same time before, and we’ve never in modern urban history had to evacuate a major city. Actually, I take that back. There are experts on what happened. They’re the ones who were in the middle of the action – the ones so many people want to establish a blue ribbon panel to lynch.

There’s a reason witch hunts, commissions, lynch mobs, etc, never fix problems: Everybody clams up. Everyone involved goes into CYA mode. The only ‘evidence’ or ‘testimony’ they provide is self-serving claptrap that either hides what happened or, worse, seeks to focus attention and blame on someone else in order to save one’s butt. See the 9/11 commission report and some of the things we’re only finding out now about how far off target they were in many ways. Also, see how well their ‘recommendations’ have paid off in preventing a debacle with Katrina as another example.

OK, so we’ve got a problem, and a commission is not the solution, so what is? How about a professional discussion at every level (each locality, each state-level, and the national level), as well as between each layer of ‘command’ about what the real problems were (root causes, not personalities) and how we prevent them from happening the next time. In the military, we call this an AAR (After Action Review). This is the only way to, as the president put it, “fix what’s wrong, and identify what’s right and duplicate it elsewhere.’

We do this all the time in the military, and the AAR process is most often identified as the ONE MOST IMPORTANT reason we’ve got the best, most professional, and most respected military in the world. We use the AAR process to focus on fixing problems, not fixing blame. AARs don’t result in firings, either, except in one specific instance: If someone goes into an AAR and either doesn’t participate in the spirit of fixing problems in which its intended, or fails to learn from the AAR and apply the fixes afterwards, then they can get fired. We don’t fire those who try and fail, but we fire those who fail to try to make corrections.

Why does the AAR process work? Well, one reason is because everyone in the military understands that we’re there to make the collective organization better, and that you only get fired if you DON’T approach it with a positive attitude. The flip-side of that reason is we can focus on being better prepared to accomplish the mission the next time we have to execute if we know we won’t be fired for telling the truth and recommending solutions. Compare that to what happens in a witch-hunt.

So what does that mean about Katrina? First, we have to ALL stop ALL the damn finger-pointing and name-calling. And that means me, too. When folks started pointing the finger of blame lots of folks started getting defensive and pointing back or pointing at third parties. I know better and I fell into that trap as much as many others as I tried to defend folks I thought weren’t worthy of the fingers pointing at them.

I described in a previous entry what I considered a failure of leadership. Well, I was wrong to do it. I wasn’t there, and I sure as hell don’t know all the facts or factors behind what happened and why. I WILL say, though, that if any of the folks at whom fingers have been pointed don’t drop their shields and their own pointing fingers long enough to professionally discuss and fix the problems, THAT WILL be a failure of leadership.

Another thing this means for Katrina is that the politicians have to back off. No commissions, at least not now, and damn-sure no firings of those who know what happened and can contribute to fixing problems if we give them the chance. We need to let those involved conduct AARs and report their findings and recommendations for fixing things to Congress and the other political bodies involved. Congress can review the AAR findings & recommendations and THEN determine whether or not their concerns have been addressed and whether or not a ‘commission’ is required. After those involved have had a chance to fix themselves, then you can appoint your commissions and conduct your witch hunts, but they can be focused on folks who fail to learn from the ‘lessons learned’ or fail to implement the recommended fixes. Why? Because it’s those who don’t want to learn from this mess that deserve to be fired, not those who did their best in the middle of a completely unique and complex situation, came up short, but are determined to do better next time.

That’s what I think MY lesson-learned is.


P.S. I’ll continue to defend those that I think deserve defending, but I’ll try to do so without pointing fingers. On the other hand, expect me vilify anyone who is more interested in fixing blame than fixing problems.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Oh, No! NOT the football analogy!!!

OK, folks, it's time for a football analogy to describe what happened here with federal aid for Katrina.

Lets say the offense called a counter-trey (running play) to the right (Gulfport/Biloxi). The defense called a running defense play to the left (New Orleans) and set up to defend. The defensive captain (FEMA director) saw the offense set up and correctly read the play to the right. He did the right thing and called an audible to adjust the defense to the right.

So, the offense (Mother Nature) snaps the ball and everybody (offense & defense) starts moving to the right. The running back hits the line & does some damage - driving the lines a few yards deep into the defense. The defense swarms to the point of penetration and is getting a handle on things, when that Bitch running back fools everyone and runs backwards & around the end to the left (breaking the levy in NOLA). Most of the defense is tied up with the initial penetration, and one skinny little defensive end (NOLA first responders) is left to stop the biggest, baddest running back in the league. The DB slows down the ball carrier, but not much.

Lucky for us, though, we've got some very agile and talented folks backing up the defensive line. They've been able to get back to that skinny DB, latch onto the ball carrier, and have drug it just about to its knees, and done so short of the end zone - and done it while still containing the rest of the offensive line to keep them from breaking the ball carrier loose, again.

This was an incredibly flexible defense that reacted to two major penetrations at nearly the same time and prevented the loss of the game.

As LTG Honore has been trying to make clear to everyone, this was two disasters. The first and most obvious to the folks on defense was the worst parts of the hurricane hitting Gulfport/Biloxi and tearing a state-wide hole through Mississippi. Even the press idiots who have been so quick to criticize everyone at the federal level were at first proclaiming from the highest transmission tower that NOLA had dodged a bullet. Gulfport/Biloxi area, however, were leveled. They even started moving cameras there.

Then, on Tuesday, the levy broke. The defense couldn't STOP reacting to the very real, very severe damage on the coasts AND inland areas of LA, MS, and AL, even as they then had to switch focus and find resources to do something we've never done in my memory in recent history - evacuate the whole of a major American city. This second, major disaster had to be handled, even though most resources had already been moving for over 24 hours to help with the first.

Critics of how the feds reacted to two different and nearly simultaneous disasters, both in an area with damn little remaining infrastructure, just don't comprehend what the challenges were.

Yes, that's what I think.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

The problem with the press

As I sit watching DHS Secretary Chertoff hold a press conference, something has clarified itself that has been teasing the back of my mind for days now:

The problem with the press corps, national and international, cub reporter to senior editor, is that the vast majority of them have never been responsible for something truly worthwhile in their lives. As a result, damn few of them can fathom the least complexity involved in the least element of this massive disaster relief effort that is going on, let alone fathom the vast complexity of the combined elements themselves. This is classic "man in the arena" syndrome.
All they've ever done in their lives is watched other people do stuff, and critique the doers as they tell their stories.

As one example of what I'm talking about, I saw an NBC reporter yesterday compare the ability of the vast resources of NBC to be able to sustain one small reporting/production crew with dedicated satellite communications on a high-and-dry patch of ground in New Orleans to the massively complex task of caring for and evacuating hundreds of thousands of souls from a flooded, polluted city whose infrastructure has collapsed and whose first responders have lost all communications. The message was, essentially, "If NBC can take care of ten of us, how come the government can't take care of these people?"

This is just one relatively minor example of the moronic analysis I've seen over the past couple of days. In all fairness, it's not all coming from the press themselves, but the press is generally too ignorant to be able to ask questions when others present the same inane analysis themselves. The 'civil rights' folks blaming the problems of this response on racism and bigotry ought to have a special place in hell set aside for them today, for example. They just have no idea what's involved.

In any case, as I started out saying, most of the press have no personal experience doing the detailed work of anything important or complex to have the context in which to analyze what is REALLY going on. They say "where are the busses?" while having no idea what it takes to get busses there.

First, the busses IN New Orleans are under water (topic for another post, perhaps). To get busses there from elsewhere requires finding busses that aren't being used to help in other areas of the state and region that were ALSO hit (something most of the reporters in NO seem to have dismissed).

Once you find a bus that's probably hundreds of miles from where it's needed, you need to get it ready and find a driver for it. Ideally, before you send the bus in, you're also loading it with supplies that are needed in the area (backhaul is another topic for another post).

Even as the bus is being readied, you need to find a route it can take to safely get there in the first place. Initially, clearing the few major routes that weren't damaged was a major effort in and of itself.

Once you've got a bus, you need a place where it can safely get to once in NO to safely pick up and evacuate folks. Lets assume away the problems of health, security, baggage, age (both extremes), orderly passengers, etc, and assume the pick-up will be a military-style one of healthy, disciplined, organized passengers who know and understand the process and their role in it. Once those theoretically ideal passengers are on the bus, you've got to have a place to take them (again, cleared routes, place to receive them, etc)

But WAIT, we've left out a step. The bus is now nearly out of gas because there's not a working gas station for hundreds of miles. Back up to the beginning. After we've cleared the route, but before we begin moving the bus in, we've got to get a reliable source of fuel to the outskirts of the effected area in order to be able to fuel busses (and first responders, and helicopters, and lots of other things, too, which requires Diesel, gas, and AVGAS as well as other fuel-type supplies).

OK, that's what it means to get a bus in, and we assumed away problems of health, sustenance, law & order, organization, and so many more. We haven't even touched on the complexities of sustaining the operation itself. The people and equipment required to get the bus there in the first place need to be taken care of unless you want them to become part of the problem instead of part of the solution (as has happened with some of the N.O. first responders when their facilities were flooded).

Then there's the further complexities of what you do with the passengers once you've got them out of the effected zone. The problems that have occurred with getting people set up in the Astrodome are an example. THIS IS NOT meant as criticism to the great people of Houston (or other parts of Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, and lots of other places that are getting spun up to help). Those folks have been incredible and God has blessed us with having them as friends, neighbors, and Americans. Nevertheless, there have been glitches there, with the number of people they can sustain, which evacuees they would take, etc. While their problems have been minor, those problems and worse are happening at every other center we're taking evacuees to (and we've assumed away health, age, work, law & order, and other issues at those shelters for this discussion, mind you).

At the same time we're trying to move a bus, we've got to save the people who we can't even get busses to. To this day and hour the USCG and other uniformed services (civil and military) are plucking hundreds of survivors from flooded areas every day and identifying more still that they can't handle yet.

And this is just a tiny slice of what's going on in New Orleans alone. At the same time this is going on, we're dealing with what would be one of the biggest disaster recovery efforts on its own in other parts of LA, most of MS, and parts of AL. That's something the press are all seeming to sweep under the rug. This hurricane did more damage OUTSIDE of New Orleans than just about any hurricane since Andrew, and the same people trying to move that one bus are dealing with that other stuff, too.

What reporter has grasped all of this? Even the least element of it? None I've seen. They all seem to think that if you need a bus at the Superdome, you just call Greyhound and it'll be there in an hour.

To be fair, I'll mention that there have been a few folks working for the networks who get at least parts of this, but it's usually their specialists. Guys like the doctor that consults with FNC that's working as a doctor at the NO convention center, for example. There are maybe two other reporters that kind of get it. I'm not a Geraldo fan, but he seems to understand the complexity - or at least that there IS complexity - probably because of his extensive experience working in and traveling about war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to come up on the net until Friday.

Anyway, that's what I think.


Friday, September 02, 2005

Do you really want the Feds in charge?

My response to those who are attempting to blame the problems we're seeing in the Gulf states on the Bush administration:

Something the press idiots sitting comfortably in these press conferences, or uncomfortably on overpasses for that matter, don't understand is that the way our system is set up for emergency preparedness is for local and state officials to plan, prepare, and execute in cases of emergency with federal government in a supporting role. To many folks, this initially appears backwards at first, but I assure you its not.

Why do we have it the way it is? Simple. Who knows your city or county better than your city or county officials? Who can get there first in case of an emergency faster than your local officials? Nobody. Who knows it next best? Someone sitting in your state capitol or a burrocrat (misspelling intentional) in DC? Who knows the road, rail, river, and other routes into your city or county better than your state officials? Who can call up the national guard (which can help with both law enforcement and humanitarian assistance and which knows your community better than the vast bulk of the US military)?

Meanwhile, the federal government has set up regional operations centers and regional stockpiles of emergency supplies that they can move in multiple directions to help states with big-money type resources (running warehouses full of emergency supply stocks that have to be rotated, for example). We have logistical experts at the federal level that can move large amounts of experts and materiel from outside effected areas to relief centers set up by the local authorities who know where best to put them (at least in theory - the Superdome being the counter-argument).

The Feds have also funded all states and major cities to set up standing facilities in (hopefully) secure locations from which they can manage disasters - natural and man-made. I've been in the center set up in Kansas City, MO. It's got the communications, video feeds, computers, press facilities, and anything else they should need to manage disasters in or close to the city. The Feds provided the funds and some basic guidelines, but the guys who know the city best are the ones who picked the location and designed it to meet their local first-responder organization and other city-specific needs. This is the kind of thing the feds are good at - spending money on things that don't pay off today or tomorrow, but might eventually (like the military, for instance).

Now lets look at the system these reporters and some of the victims apparently want. They want the Feds to be in charge of everything. When the Feds are in charge of everything, everywhere, then disaster relief will look the same everywhere. Are recent disasters in Miami, LA, NO, NYC, or OKC alike? NO! Are the cities themselves alike? NO! Are any of the city-centered disaster problems anything like the impact of those same disasters on suburban or rural areas of Florida, MS, or AL? NO! Do any of those situations require the same approach to relief? Of COURSE not! But that's what you'd get if the Feds were the lead planners on every disaster. You'd get a cookie-cutter approach to unique problems.

I don't know about you, but the system we have is the best one. The one Achilles heel we have with this system is when you've got piss-poor leadership at both the local and state levels. IMHO, that's what we're seeing in New Orleans. The damage in parts of Mississippi and Alabama, and even rural parts of LA, are just as bad as the problems are in New Orleans - and in some cases even worse. In those other locales, we've either got competent local leadership or competent state leadership. From what I've seen, we've got a failure of both in N.O.

Unless you want the Feds to put some DC-bound administrator or some General or Admiral in charge of New Orleans, you can't blame DC for the problems there, and from what I've said above, there are some damn fine reasons NOT to put those folks in charge. In fact, there are legal constraints like Posse Comitatus that keep us from putting the Feds in charge in many ways, so to do this would be illegal as well as stupid.

At least that's what I think.



First post. Not much to look at, huh?