Wednesday, November 04, 2009


This book turned out to be nothing like I thought it would. The title, Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family From Disasters, implies a sort of self-help book, helping you prepare for such disasters as you may face in your part of the country.

The book is far more interesting than that. It does have information on what supplies to have on hand - but that information is in the appendix.

Apparently, I didn't pay enough attention to the Hurricane Katrina coverage, or I would have been familiar with the author, Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré. He became the 'face' of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Apparently, he was all over the news. He explains his official role and job title in the book.

Survival is more like Honoré's autobiography - with "Lessons Learned" at the end of each chapter. He is certainly confident in who he is, if perhaps a bit egotistical. But, he makes some interesting, and good, points, even if I don't necessarily agree with all of his "Lessons Learned."

There are several things I appreciate about this book. First, for a military newbie, he has a semi-understandable explanation of the difference between the National Guard and the Army. He mentions the Posse Comitatus Act several times, which limits what the Army can do on US soil. I point that out, because when I was watching season seven of 24, one of the characters mentions it, and I knew what he was talking about - which I wouldn't have if I hadn't been reading this book. The complicated structure of command is still a bit confusing for non-military people, but I have a better understanding of the difference.

Second, Honoré continually stresses a culture of self-reliance and preparedness. Preparing my family for disaster is my job, not my government's job. Preparing the community for disaster is the job of local government officials, not the federal government. Honoré makes this point when he describes touring southwest Louisiana with President Bush after Hurricane Rita.
"It was obvious from [the local mayors] conversation with [Bush] that they were expecting miracles from the federal government. He wasn't responsible for not having enough gasoline or generators or high-water vehicles. He wasn't responsible for their lack of planning." (pg 188)
Third, Honoré advocates a culture of planning ahead for disasters, instead of scrambling to respond to them.
"The present disaster response system is based on the "pull" model of operations. An event happens, local authorities ask for help, and that help is pulled into the area. We have to base our response more on the "push" model. If we see an event about to occur we push resources into the area ahead of it. ... It's a basic concept of good planning and preparation." (pg 195)
Honoré admits this costs more money, but if this model had been followed, Hurricane Katrina wouldn't have been so devastating to New Orleans. It is especially ludicrous that experts knew what kind of devastation a hurricane could bring to New Orleans, but local officials didn't prepare for it. A great many people have suffered because of their own lack of planning, and that of their local government.

It reminds me of the difference between 'responding' and 'reacting.' What we saw with Hurricane Katrina was a 'reaction' to a disaster, instead of a 'response' - at all levels. A response is more planned, less emotional. A reaction is quick, chaotic and emotional. I prefer to respond to people and circumstances, rather than react to them. So I could relate quite well to Honoré's points in his book.

I also realized that Glen and I have some work to do to make sure that our family is prepared for disasters we might face here in the Midwest. Thanks to Honoré's clear outline in Appendix 5, we have a good starting point.

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