Friday, July 11, 2008

Hurricane Evacuation Exercise

July 14th, 2008
New Orleans, La.

Dear Volunteers,

I once stood in the dark with Ken Fisher.

He'd taken me over to the municipal auditorium where 250,000 bottles of water and 25,000 packaged meals are stored. "Just in case," he said. "We're ready this time."

Mike, a fictional Category 3 Hurricane was 50 hours
from landfall last Wednesday during the Southeastern Louisiana evacuation exercise. Fisher was an important decision maker in the New Orleans Emergency Operations Center. As you waited at pick-points and went through registration, Ken was getting fictional worst-case scenarios thrown at him, making strategic decisions.

"Ken, yet again, demonstrated his prowess in emerg
ency management last week during our Hurricane drill and the after action comments indicated as such," Jerry Sneed, the director of the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness said.

Ken died Saturday.

It was quick. Natural causes, Sneed said.

Times like these that make you remember the value of friends and family. A sense of community. Last Wednesday, while you didn't see him, he was watching out after you.

After all, it was his job and
he loved it.

This letter began as a simple thank you for your
efforts. With a heavy heart, I realized Ken would be proud of your engagement. He'd also be proud of those of you who had comments of uncertainty about the evacuation plan. If anybody could handle heat, Ken could.

So, for your time and insight last Wednesday--Thank you.

Three hundred and twenty volunteers was the largest volunteer turnout for a Hurricane evacuation exercise in a single parish since Katrina.

If we learned anything Wednesday, it's that the real thing will not be easy.

You played elderly and disabled. You
played criminals and pregnant women. And sometimes you felt like yourself, and wondered why first responders weren't treating you like you were 86.

The drill, you said, is an imperfect operation with progressive concepts and unsettling setbacks.

In the real deal first responders will not have the bright orange cards identifying special needs. You asked, "How are you going to tell?" "What about a sick person who gets separated fro
m his family?" "Are bus drivers considered first responders?"

Others found the evacuation exercise eye-opening and positive. The City has a plan and the ability to execute it kind of thinking. "I'm glad it wasn't easy for us because it won't be easy if it really happens," one volunteer said.

Wednesday was hot like it would be during an actual evacuation. All of you sat hours with little information.

Cole Judge, a volunteer, said, "At one point, I felt like I was actually evacuating."

Another's eyes teared, knowing how close it felt to 2005 and how it might feel if it happens again.

An emergency planner said that the evacuation exercise shows that preparing to get out on your own or to hitch a
ride is the best way out. From an organizational standpoint, the drill was a success, officials say. They found glitches they need to work out. Several first responders wondered aloud where all the volunteer role players came from.

You challenged them.

The emergency operations center at City Hall is on the ninth floor and behind a security door. It's a little enclave of technology and information. Ken watched monitors, tracked the storm and made decisions with you in mind.

He loved talking about the stockpiling of goods for the next storm and the improvements the office had made after Katrina. Especially the evacuation plan that you were so valuable in testing last week.

Thanks Ken. We'll miss you.