Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti Earthquake Response - America's Best is not Good Enough


Where are the choppers???

It is probably tantamount to a sacrilege to discuss this but it is becoming obvious that America still has a long ways to go to be effective, efficient and timely in responding to natural disasters. I don't say this lightly but in the dark shadow of hundreds, perhaps thousands of victims trapped in the Haiti earthquake who will die before they are rescued.

Because we did such soul searching in ripping Bush and his people to shreds for incompetence after Hurricane Katrina, our failure to respond aggressively in this disaster is even more stunning. However, the facts are facts and rather than tell the world we are in charge and leading the rescue effort and expect the adoration of the world for what we did, we better get our act together before the next disaster.

At daybreak Friday the victims trapped under tons of debris will have spent three nights and 62 hours buried alive, if they are still alive. No doubt many trapped survivors will die. In addition the thousands of injured victims and millions of homeless and terrified residents of Haiti will still be in tents in open fields, most without food, water and medical help.

So far we have demonstrated an ability to open the airport and help supply planes land and unload. Then most of the supplies have sat since planes started arriving more than 36 hours ago. All the while thousands of helpless victims are buried alive and their families try to dig them out from under tons of debris with their hands.

The Obama administration has mobilized for this tragedy at the same pace as they ordered all those new troops to Afghanistan. Obama orders a troop surge and then we discover much of the surge will take 8-12 months. That hardly sounds like an immediate troop surge to attack the bad guys. I'm not questioning that it takes the military so many months to carry out an order. But in a life threatening emergency like the earthquake we have no time for such comprehensive plans, logistical support operations, and all the other things that can be programmed into a war.

In a disaster you get yourself to the site to assess it and then start making decisions on how to save lives. Three days into this disaster and no one is in charge on the ground and no one is coordinating the efforts except a few bureaucrats back in Obama's office. If it weren't for the first responders who flew down to Haiti before any of the Obama gang, three crews and dogs from America and crews from Iceland, France, England, Russia, and China, no one would be searching for survivors yet. The Obama gang is still in Washington planning.

Check out the television reports gang, people are actually dying. We are not staging an invasion of Iran but trying to save lives in Haiti. Field coordinators should have been on the ground the night of the disaster. There are thousands of Americans and humanitarian workers from around the world who were already in Haiti, they have been there for years. Even Doctors Without Borders had over 100 people there. We didn't need press conferences, we didn't even need people the first few hours, we just needed to get supplies to the people already on the ground. They are still waiting.

It was immediately obvious that Haiti was not going to contribute anything to this rescue effort so military should have been taking over police control the next morning. No one has done that yet. It was also obvious roads had to be cleared and heavy equipment was needed immediately, not four or five days later, to find and save the tens of thousands of trapped victims. Three days and the only equipment in Haiti is what the locals grabbed or the Dominicans sent in.

We know Haiti has 2000 pieces of heavy equipment throughout the country. Why didn't we go get it and fly it into the disaster zone with Chinook or Sky Crane helicopters? We know they can carry at least 28,000 pounds, about the size of modest but life saving bulldozers and cranes to lift debris. Surely there have to be a few dozen helicopters sitting around and Haiti is only a few hours away.

Right now, day three, the trapped are dying, the injured are dying, thousands of tons of supplies are piling up at the airport and there are still no roads cleared. Were it not for the deeply religious nature of the Haitians there undoubtedly would have been civil unrest by now. Still we owe them a better chance to survive.

The clean up and recovery may be a cerebral undertaking at Harvard speed but when lives are at stake like the first couple of days of a catastrophic disaster there is no time to meet and plan but only to execute. There are thousands of people from around the world on site and they are making a great sacrifice to be there. It is too bad that Americas first real contingent of soldiers will not arrive until the end of the third day.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Americans and people around the world for helping out. We also owe it to ourselves to once again dissect our emergency response efforts and try to get it right the next time. No more lives should be lost because of our inability to mobilize instantly and react immediately to the human tragedies like this. America can do much better.


No comments: