As anyone who has worked for a large corporation or government agency can attest, change is slow, sometimes agonizingly so. I once heard a speaker tell a story about a small silicon valley company he worked for. One day the entire company held a meeting to address the changing business conditions in their industry. About sixty people were there, and in the course of the day they completely changed their business model from hardware production to software development. One day. They adapted to the market and within a year they flourished.
That is the speed and flexibility that has lead America to the front in almost every endeavor we have attempted. At times this rapid change has lead to mistakes and miscalculation, but taken as a whole, our ability to asses and improvise has made this nation great.
Why should it be any different in Government. How can a huge government agency with layer upon layer of bureaucracy hope to move quickly and adapt to a changing situation? When the President and Congress established the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA was put under it's control, I didn't think that was a good idea. How can another layer of management and a longer decision making tree make for a rapid response to a disaster?
Hurricane Katrina was the ultimate test of how nimble our federal government is. The Feds get a F for speed, but as you can see now by the reports from New Orleans, once they arrive, they arrive in force and bring the cavalry. For that, they get an A+. The problem is the first 48 hours of a regional crisis, what we need is a rapid response force. That force is you and me.
The people who were on the scene first, the real 'first responders' were smaller local charities, churches and local chapters of large charities. Private citizens who know the area and have the equipment to get in and help are crucial. Those folks saved thousands of lives. FEMA and HS should give a small portion of their budgets to fund these smaller more nimble charities and volunteers.
A local volunteer fire department training volunteers with boats on search and rescue. A church with an auditorium with a line of credit at the local Wal Mart or Costo to use for refugees. Every region of every state should have a local outreach and volunteer center. These centers would have back up generators and satellite phones and internet. The would keep a database of names of people who are willing to provide shelter for victims of a disaster. Who has flat bottom boats? A list of 4 wheel drive clubs who can get into places with no roads. Small nimble organizations who feed the homeless everyday. These types of volunteers can give realtime assessments, something that was woefully inadequate in the City of New Orleans following Katrina.
Organizing and deploying thousands of soldiers is not a one day process, but when they get to the scene of a disaster they are the most welcoming sight a wet,tired and hungry taxpayer could hope to see. We need to rethink how we stage assets and how we can work with grassroots responders to buy time until the full measure of federal aid can be brought in.