Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Honore: "Survival", family tips for disaster preparedness tag along behind his autobiography: a word of warning, however

Author: Lt. Gen. Russel  K. Honore (US Army, Ret),with Ron Martz

Title: “Survival: How Being Prepared Can Keep You and Your Family Safe

Publication: New York: Atria, 2009; ISBN 978-1-4165-9901-2, 274 pages, paper, also available as e-book; Prologue, Epilogue and 18 chapters, indexed.

Honore achieved some “notoriety” recently with an op-ed inviting members of Congress to take boot camp and learn the meaning of “physical sacrifice” (Issues Blog, Aug. 3, 2011), after their prolonged partisan bickering during the recent debt ceiling crisis.

He describes himself as mixed race of “mutt” Creole and Cajun, born during a hurricane decades ago. He was the unofficial head of military rescue operations after Hurricane Katrina, although he had much less formal authority than people think, or so he says.

The book starts as an autobiography of his military career, where he admits that writing was not one of his skills – and that shows in the book, which seems episodic. Each chapter is an autobiographic segment (most of the chapters deal with Katrina, and then Rita and Wilma later in 2005), ending with a shortlist of specific recommendations for disaster preparedness, which don’t necessarily follow from the content of the chapter.
But the subject matter is, of course, of critical public interest.  Very early, around p 26, he points out that our modern culture of individualistic capitalism is deceptive; we don’t know how to do things for ourselves the way people in earlier generations did, and the market economy doesn’t really take care of everything.

He has an interesting perspective on the behavior of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters. Most were poor, and left living in vulnerable areas below sea level (and around inadequate levies) after the jobs left. (He doesn’t get into the Army Corps of Engineers’s failures the way he could have.)  And their behavior after the catastrophe was driven by survival, not by a desire to loot.  He makes an interesting point that people who live in crime-ridden areas do not like to leave home frivolously, and may not be as responsive to evacuation warnings as needed.

He does suggest that it is constructive to have better building standards for low-lying or vulnerable areas, but it is not wise to put too much stock in expecting people not to live in hazard-prone areas.  People may have less choice in these matters than others think. Furthermore, the range of disasters that could occur is very great. He mentions the risk pandemics (without discussing the need for vaccines, for example, for smallpox and H5N1), and also talks about the earlier efforts to have the public prepared to survive nuclear attacks (which probably was not very realistic, given the dangers we faced during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962).  The list of other dangers includes not only earthquakes and wildfires, but electromagnetic pulse (from a high altitude terrorist blast or certain other microwave devices) and even severe damage to the power grid from coronal mass ejections on the Sun (related to “solar flares” or geomagnetic storms or “space weather”  -- more could be done to mitigate these risks by electric utilities than is done now).  Other dangers could include a huge East Coast tsunami from the Cumbre Vieja volcano (and undersea landslide) off the coast of Africa, as well as conceivably the Yellowstone or Mono Lake caldera supervolcanoes.  On p 176, he mentions the Defense Authorization Act for 2007 which makes it easier for the president to declare martial law when a state is unable to control an emergency.  It was not declared during Hurricane Katrina.  He also suggests that school teachers should be cross trained as Red Cross workers everywhere. Does this include subs?

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