Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 27, 2014

3,287 Days Ago

Filed under: Disaster — by Jerry Monier on August 27, 2014

This essay was originally written on the evening of August 29, 2013 with the title of 2920 Days Ago.  Since then, the essay has been updated to reflect the passing of an additional year since Hurricane Katrina.  The views represented in this essay are those of the author and do not reflect the views of his employer.

Any random date on a calendar represents an important personal or professional milestone.  Birthdays commonly represent another year of personal maturity and growth.  Wedding anniversaries represent the passing of another year of sharing the ups, downs, struggles and celebrations of life with a significant other.  In other instances, a specific date reminds us of the significant tragedies that have influenced the collective resilience of the United States of America.  The date December 7, will always be “a date which will live in infamy” influencing the builder and baby boomer generations of American society.  The date 9/11 will always memorialize the sacrifices of persons who fell victim to the terror attacks of that day having given rise to an American enterprise known as Homeland Security.  The personal perspectives and memories of these events change with the passing of each year.  This essay was originally written on the evening of August 29, 2013 and represents the author’s observations in the years following Hurricane Katrina’s landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line on August 29, 2005.

It is about 9:10 PM Central Time on August 29, 2013. I have just finished reading a bedtime story to my seven-year-old daughter. As I lay with her and watch her fall asleep, my mind wanders back to the night of August 29, 2005.  My location at that time was the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, located on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. I was tasked with executing a plan developed the previous week, during the now well-known Hurricane Pam exercise. Our goal was to establish a field hospital at this facility. Over the upcoming days, our facility would treat an estimated 6,000 survivors requiring medical intervention,  An additional 18,000 survivors were triaged and then transported to various mega-shelters located throughout the United States.

In the short time spent with my daughter that evening a year ago, I closed my eyes and listened to her calming bedtime lullabies.  My mind began to shift between the past and present. Earlier in the week, a professional colleague had commented in an email about the “Big 8” coming up this week. That email, coupled with my own thoughts, brought me to realize how much has and has not changed in the days, months, and years since August 29, 2005.  This Friday, August 29, 2014, represents the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the passage of 3287 days.

3287 days has spanned three presidential terms.

3287 days has spanned the terms of three Secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security.

3287 days has spanned the tenure of three FEMA Administrators.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Governors in Louisiana.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Governors in Mississippi.

3287 days has spanned the terms of two Mayors in New Orleans.

3287 days has included three significant tropical weather systems making landfall or affecting the same Louisiana coastline affected by Hurricane Katrina.

3287 days has included two significant tropical weather systems making landfall near New York City, and impacting the Northeastern states of the United States.

3287 days has included the largest oil spill in American History impacting the same coastal communities and social economies affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike.

3287 days has spanned four Directors of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness or the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

3287 days has included countless reports published by the GAO and Congressional Research Service on the preparedness of the United States.

3287 days has included acts of terror committed in the United States.

3287 days has included a school shooting in Newtown, CT.

3287 days has included congressional fact finding and the publishing of A Failure of Initiative.

3287 days has included the passing of PKEMRA legislation.

3287 days has included the development of homeland security to an all hazards environment.

3287 days has included the expansion of homeland security’s focus.

3287 days has included the expenditure of 14 plus billion dollars to build hurricane protection levees around the metropolitan New Orleans area.

3287 days has included the expenditure of 17 plus billion dollars in recovery aid to the State of Louisiana.

3287 days has included the development of catastrophic response plans for major metropolitan areas.

3287 days has included the production of Quadrennial Homeland Security Reviews-each having their own characteristics and personalities and political spin.

3287 days has included the development of several Homeland Security or National Security Strategies.

3287 days has included the development of National Frameworks for Prevention, Response, Preparedness, and Mitigation.

3287 days has included numerous policy changes, defining how we as a nation respond to and recover from catastrophes.

3287 days has included the birth of two beautiful daughters.

3287 days has included the earning of an undergraduate degree.

3287 days has included the earning of a prestigious graduate degree.

3287 days has included many memories.

3287 days has included five career moves.

3287 days has included the rebuilding of Louisiana’s emergency management culture in the face of constant adversity.

3287 days has included the demonstration of resilience in an enterprise known as emergency management.

3287 days has included an unknown number of reports, academic papers, research, and the development of think tanks based on the premise of resilience.

3287 days has included the deaths of 1,836 US residents due to Hurricane Katrina

3287 days has included an influenza pandemic.

3287 days has included a significant natural disaster in Japan with numerous cascading effects, including the loss of fixed nuclear reactors.

3287 days has included the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

3287 days has included a national recession.

3287 days has included detrimental budget cuts to government agencies in the state of Louisiana, potentially impacting their ability to respond to the needs of their residents in the future.

3287 days has included the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

3287 days has included the development and implementation of Presidential Policy Directive 8.

3287 days has included the development and introduction of THIRA.

3287 days has included the consumption of numerous bottles of whiskey.

3287 days has included the process of healing.

3287 days has included a synthesis of interaction, experience, and complexity.

3287 days has included the demonstration of resilience by multiple stratums of society.

As my daughter fell asleep I realized just how much can actually occur in the span of 3287 days. By the same token, I also realized how much can be lost over 3287 days.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the negative effects of partisan politics on American society.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the negative effects of finger pointing and blame on the homeland security enterprise of the US.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed how the success of the homeland security enterprise is only as good as the most recent catastrophe.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed attempts to define the concept of homeland security.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed the struggle to define an all hazards approach to resilience.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed how the physical, social and political attributes of the term risk reduction has been negatively applied to public policy.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed an increase in dependency upon the federal government.

In the past 3287 days, I have observed a political desire to “not be the next Katrina.”

In the past 3287 days, I have observed hundreds, if not thousands of applicants and speakers describe their “Katrina Story.”

It is now 9:46PM in the evening, and I have come down from the attic where my personal notes from the “Katrina Days” are stored in a fireproof container.  I open my notes from late August of 2005 and begin to process the emotions of eight years ago, and how my thoughts and perceptions have changed over the past 3287 days.

As the clock approaches 10PM, I locate a picture of an elderly couple and a golden retriever.  A colleague took the picture on the morning of August 31, 2005 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC).  The couple arrived as part of the initial push of evacuees from the New Orleans area.  This picture has had a place of prominence in every office that I have occupied over the past 3287 days.

Jerry M picture

As I recall, the only belongings the couple had with them were several days of food for their golden retriever. I remember how I checked on them constantly while they were at the PMAC. I remember making sure they had water and food while they waited on metal chairs outside the PMAC in the dense, late summer humidity of Baton Rouge. I remember walking outside in the late evenings and early morning hours 3287 days ago and seeing the couple sleeping in those folding metal chairs, each with their head on the other’s shoulder. I remember the golden retriever staying awake and observant while his masters slept. I remember walking outside and noticing the couple was missing. 3287 days since then, and I still wonder what happened to that couple.

As I continue through my notes, I remember the promises of federal assistance and how a community embraced those who needed assistance with or without government direction.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the student body of LSU adopt survivors rescued from a nursing home as their own grandparents.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a medical community embrace volunteerism and their professional oath to serve those in need.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a new football coach and his players move pet crates to establish a pet shelter for companion animals who had evacuated with their owners.

3287 days ago, I witnessed my wife, sister-in-law, and father-in-law come to my aid and staff what would become one of the largest companion animal evacuation shelters in America.

3287 days ago, I witnessed a dog named Ollie become the first pet evacuee housed at this shelter.

3287 days ago, I witnessed employees of the State of Louisiana demonstrate and renew a level of energy and commitment to the people of Louisiana.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the best of a community.

3287 days ago, I witnessed what is now termed “self-organizing communities” prior to it becoming another buzz word of this emerging enterprise of homeland security

3287 days ago, I witnessed resilience.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the best of Louisiana.

3287 days ago, I witnessed the resilience of America.

3287 days ago, I determined that I was PROUD to be a Louisiana responder and emergency manager.

It is now 10:30 PM in the evening and the memories of that night and the days to follow continue to flow.

3287 days ago, at this time, I was told to expect the first wave of evacuees from New Orleans.

3287 days ago, I looked a minimal staff of medical volunteers, state employees, and 100 or so LSU students in the eyes and told them that I didn’t know what to expect.

3287 days ago, we accepted our first wave of nursing home evacuees.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that we would eventually receive the patients and heroic medical practitioners from Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that we would hear the first-hand stories of orderlies feeding hospital patients semi-frozen peas one pea at a time to maintain their nutritional intake and survival.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that something as simple as a beacon light on a crane would shut down the evacuation of patients from New Orleans area hospitals.

3287 days ago, I didn’t know that I would experience the emotional roller coaster of planning for the dead, while rejoicing each birth that occurred at our makeshift campus hospital.

3287 days ago, I never thought that I would reach a point of acceptance, and see those following days in an entirely different perspective.

A lot has happened over the past 3287 days. 

In the past 3287 days, the people of Louisiana have demonstrated resilience throughout various natural and man-made adversities.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our homeland security enterprise should not be about resilience, rather resilience has and continues to be the strong narrative of this enterprise known as the United States of America.

In the past 3287 days, I have wondered what happened to that elderly couple and their golden retriever.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our homeland security enterprise has emphasized processes and frameworks rather than focusing on the social networks and community empowerment.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our enterprise should be focused on helping that elderly couple with a golden retriever.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that our enterprise is a service industry.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that there are those who need our help.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that no matter the governmental policy, citizens will help others, regardless of race or socio-economic status.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized the significance of citizen responsibility

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that in the absence of political motivation, people will help people.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that an overabundance of partisan politics will gum up the works of our enterprise.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized the righteousness of our society.

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that an elderly couple with a golden retriever, an expectant mother, or a dog named Ollie will be taken care of by our “Great Society.”

In the past 3287 days, I have realized that regardless of media biases, this is a great country, and that the resilience of this country is truly dependent upon its citizens.

As for the next 3287 days, I am not sure what lies ahead. 

I know that in the next 3287 days, my daughters will be sixteen and thirteen years of age, respectively.

I know that in the next 3287 days, my wife and I will be celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary.

I know that in the next 3287 days, I will have aged nine years, and be that much closer to retirement.

I know that in the next 3287 days, the people of Louisiana will continue to demonstrate resilience.

I know that during the next 3287 days, I will have eight more opportunities to reflect upon those days following August 29, 2005.

I know that during the next 3287 days, I will continue to ponder the gains and losses made to better the emerging enterprise known as homeland security.

———-

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jerry Monier is a Spring 2013 graduate of the CHDS Masters Program. In the past 3287 days, Mr. Monier has served as a national level homeland security consultant, public health preparedness manager for the State of Louisiana, and most recently, the Chief of Preparedness for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Louisiana. During Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Monier was employed by Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and was assigned to establish a field hospital at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center located on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  The PMAC Field Hospital provided medical care to 6,000 survivors and triaged an estimated 18,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina.  The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of his employer.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 27, 2014 @ 10:52 am

And NOLA still unprepared and suckered [no other word appropriate] into believing that now protected by USACOE!

Bye bye NOLA!

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