Author: Madhu Beriwal, CEO & President of IEM
A few weeks after August 29, 2005, I drove to New Orleans. The water was gone, the police cordon around the city was gone, and the TV cameras were gone. It was shocking. From the lush green vegetation of Southern Louisiana, I entered a gray world– like an old black and white movie of a place hit by a nuclear holocaust. This city, where I had cut my teeth as a professional emergency manager, was like a massive pile of rubble. Block after block and mile after mile of gray.
It was a storm I had lived with for over 20 years.
In 1982, as Program Manager for State of Louisiana for a Hurricane Evacuation Study, I had spent months working with National Hurricane Center model runs showing how much water could be expected under 50 different scenarios. We surveyed the people in southeast Louisiana, asking if they would leave, when they would leave, where they would go. Eventually, we ran evacuation models to estimate how long it would take to evacuate the region, so that the Mayors and Parish Presidents would know how many hours before storm landfall they should evacuate to empty the region (more than 60 hours – when the storm would be far away from the City). I had lived the data inside out.
Twenty-two years later IEM won a contract from FEMA to assist in Catastrophic Planning around the nation. This was the brainchild of Eric Tolbert, North Carolina’s State Director who ended up at FEMA. Thus was born Hurricane Pam, an exercise to try to put together a plan for what to do after a catastrophic storm hit New Orleans. Over 300 participants from federal, State (mainly Louisiana, and some officials from Mississippi) Local, and City agencies came together and worked during several workshops. In 54 days, starting with the signing of the contract, IEM put together a set of consequences to guide the deliberations at these workshops. These consequences predicted the damage a Category 3 storm could cause to people, to structures, to the economy. This predictive data drove the discussions.
Now, the thinkable had happened. (more…)