Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 4, 2013

Could Hollywood have prevented “Katrina?”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on February 4, 2013

Or, as a great homeland security point of view, “you steal from everything.”

Andrew Sullivan highlighted a recent interview with Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh:

I look at Hurricane Katrina, and I think if four days before landfall you gave a movie studio autonomy and a 100th of the billions the government spent on that disaster, and told them, “Lock this place down and get everyone taken care of,” we wouldn’t be using that disaster as an example of what not to do. A big movie involves clothing, feeding, and moving thousands of people around the world on a tight schedule. Problems are solved creatively and efficiently within a budget, or your ass is out of work. So when I look at what’s going on in the government, the gridlock, I think, Wow, that’s a really inefficient way to run a railroad. The government can’t solve problems because the two parties are so wedded to their opposing ideas that they can’t move. … That’s how art works. You steal from everything.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones would like to disagree:

Hollywood! The place that brought you Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar! The place where a cartoon director was handed $200 million to direct John Carter, no questions asked, because hey, how different can live action be? The place where studio chiefs practically quiver in fear over green lighting a movie that’s not a comic book or a sequel. The place with executives so easy to parody that it hardly even seems worth the bother anymore. The place that spent years trying to ban VCRs. The place that’s spent the past two decades trying to figure out the internet without any notable success.

I’m not going to argue with Drum’s characterization–though Soderbergh presents the same argument I’ve heard from many representatives of private business that insist their operating strategies can be translated to federal government.  What I did like was the “steal everything” idea.

Unfortunately, this concept is sorely lacking at the federal level.  Every department seems to want to roll like Sinatra — “we’ll do it our way.”  Inter-agency cooperation is a favorite phrase, but not a well exercised practice. While I have my doubts that Hollywood would have done better during Katrina, I do hope that at least some decision makers learn to steal all the good ideas they can.

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6 Comments »

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

February 4, 2013 @ 7:27 am

Check your spelling of Sinatra.

I think the problems have more to do with leadership than interagency cooperation.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

February 4, 2013 @ 8:32 am

Indeed quite obvious that our once great Republic is now devoid of leadership and We shall pay a very dear price for our vulnerability from within.

“If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be under the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. But, in reality, it will be an Enemy from within” – James Madison (1785).

“No People will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can they be easily subdued, when knowledge is wide spread and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without Aid of foreign invadres” – Samuel Adams (1775).

Interagency cooperation….look at the “Benghazi Massacre” led by the WH and State and see how even interagency can be so easily manipulated. Hillary Clinton and Barry Obama should be held for suspicion in breach of trust, treason and where are the arrest(s) of those who perpetrated such pre-planned attack and the massacre of our four brave Patriots w/such lies spewed forth…maybe Hollywood should do a movie about the “Benghazi Massacre” – where were the tough questions…the detail which every American is owed….

The days forward look very dubious and some advice -

“Using history as our guide, the new wealthy will be those who had the wisdom to get out of paper money before the BReakdown of the current financial system” – Aubie Baltin

Comment by Arnold Bogis

February 4, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

Thanks for catching my unintentional insult to the Chairman of the Board. That’s what happens when I write so late at night.

I would suggest that leadership is essential in positive interagency interaction, at the local level as well as federal. The belief that “we should do it our way” isn’t solely a DC issue. For instance, I know of a fairly large city that at least a couple of years ago could not come to agreement among responding agencies about how exactly to deal with a dirty bomb.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 4, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

Hurricane Katrina when making landfall was a CAT II event. Beware the CAT V! Both Camille in 1969 and Andrew in 1992 were larger events in the NOLA area but were almost exactly 1 degree off from NOLA or there would not have even been a NOLA for Katrina to damage or destroy.

The failure of floodwalls not levees although some were overtopped but did not fail in protecting to their design limits is what caused the huge losses in NOLA.

I have previously revealed on this blog that in 1981 FEMA referred Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes for affirmative litigation on a variety of theories. The USACOE persuaded DoJ not to include Orleans Parish using a variety of arguments including tears of a Field Grade service Army officer.

Basically the lawsuit rested on the Parishes reforming their efforts to get a
Dutch like grip on the threats to them and those threats come from five very different events although often they are combined. The land is subsiding in the NOLA area and other portions of S. Louisiana.

If, and to be honest I doubt that the USACOE has in fact spent $14B improving the defensees of NOLA since Katrina, by open admission it is barely to a CAT I protection level and not even to a 500 year flood level which is the USACOE standard for levees. FEMA has never published a levee standard by regulation after notice and comment for its mapping program. One of many issues that in my 20 years in FEMA were ducked as too politically tough to deal with.

Because the people of NOLA understood the risks even if not depicted on flood maps they bought very cheap insurance under the NFIP because they were not shown as flood prone. In fact almost all of the $20B spent on Katrina claims in NOLA and elsewhere were collected in areas not depicted as flood prone.

So good luck HOLLYWOOD in creating the backroom discussions that were the real cause of the large payouts of the Katrina disaster.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 4, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

One distinction between most definitions of leadership and management is a readiness to innovate. There’s quite a bit of literature on how “leaders” are able to deal with the unknown through a disciplined process of quick probes, observation, adjustment, more probes and in this way execute an unfolding strategy of quick shallow failures, quick replicable success and incremental progress. It is a kind of artistry. Talk to many entrepreneurs and they are frustrated musicians, painters, (film directors?) who have applied self-aware artistic techniques to non-artistic contexts.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 4, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

Speaking of leadership, this month’s ATLANTIC mag continues to deal with the probing of the Kennedy Administration’s building of the myth of their leadership abilities in the Cuban Missile crisis.

What a person understands about the nuclear weapons of today and their surety and safety can usually be revealed quickly. Unfortunately few Presidents have made the effort to understand what they need to understand.

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