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The Underground Garage: Home / Little Steven / Essays and Speeches / We Need an Emergency Boss
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We Need an Emergency Boss

Monday, 01 February 2010
from the Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-van-zandt/we-need-an-emergency-boss_b_459099.html

Once again we have witnessed the incredible generosity of the people of the world, always ready to help in a crisis no matter how desperate their own economic state, and once again we have embarrassed ourselves with yet another too-little-too-late, pathetically inefficient, and shockingly ineffective relief and rescue effort. I’m sure there exists a considerable amount of Haiti-Fatigue at this point and, other than the “religious group kidnapping” sideshow, the news crews are leaving and the public is moving on to much more serious matters such as the Tea Party convention.


But before we move on something needs to be said. As this is written, it is four weeks into the Haitian disaster and we are still seeing entire villages in this tiny country, inside the even smaller zone of destruction, that have yet to see water, food, medical help, or any basic assistance. Very little help of any kind got to anybody for the first three days. The first airdrop happened six days in. There has not been any serious effort to move any of the rubble by heavy machinery. The courageous, hard working crews that have managed to get there have been able to work only during the day because of no lights or generators.


We’re looking at piles of supplies bottled up in gridlock at the airport. Piles of dead bodies rotting in the sun. Parents giving away their children. Sanitation is a memory. $500 million dollars later we’ve managed to deliver 5,000 tents for the million people that have been homeless for four weeks. And here comes the rainy season. None of this is a criticism of the thousands of volunteers or the people that work for all the wonderful relief organizations. And I’m properly proud of our musicians and actors who are always the first ones raising money and awareness.
These tireless, selfless individuals have nothing to do with the problem. The problem is that nobody’s in charge. It’s time to face some simple tragic truths. With all due respect, there is no emergency  organization in the world truly prepared for an emergency. As a species, we have lost our sense of urgency. We have lost our ability to actually get important things done. We have learned to accept the quicksand pace of our government as inevitable. I don’t know exactly how one measures the ultimate proof of profound criminal incompetence, but from now on I believe we’ll be able to use children’s sutures and amputations without anesthetic as our new standard.


That is what will be remembered from Haiti. Has there ever been a more beautiful people more consistently mistreated? Two hundred years and counting. We all thought Katrina would last forever as our worst nightmare of lack of preparedness and pathetic rescue execution but we were wrong. And soon we’ll be entering the visionless rebuilding stage which, at best, will be as effective as the half of New Orleans — or the Indian tsunami site – that is still a shambles five years later, and, at worst, will gloriously restore Haiti to it’s former shantytown state, but that’s another conversation.
What the world needs is an Emergency Boss. An Emergency Czar. An Emergency Commander. A true Master Of Disaster. One person completely responsible for the anticipation, immediate reconnaissance, and urgent execution of rescue and relief efforts around the world. And then remain in charge of the oversight of the plan for rebuilding, and make sure it gets done. It should be a military man, General Schwarzkopf comes to mind, and every emergency should be treated as a military operation preplanned and executed like a military invasion.

In fact one thought would be to have the organization live inside the 82nd Airborne, joined by a team of rapid deployment experts from the Green Berets, Navy Seals, definitely the Seabees, international groups such as Britain’s SAS, and anybody else qualified. C-17s should be ready to go at various military bases around the world packed with water, food, medical supplies, sleeping bags and tents, all prepared to be air dropped in alongside soldiers and doctors to begin relief efforts. Within three hours of a disaster event there should be a recon damage assessment of the infrastructure and an educated guess as to the casualties and degree of imminent human peril. Then make the airdrops of supplies and  personnel. Simultaneously, Seabees would be dropped in, with lights and generators, to begin rescue efforts.


Followed by bulldozers, cranes, and dump trucks to move debris and clear the roads, if there are any roads. We should have parachuted in supplies and personnel at five hundred dropsites within six hours of the quake, not six days, each with doctors, nurses, and soldiers to hand out food and water and keep order. How many lives would have been saved? How much frustration and violence avoided? How much lifelong trauma negated?
One Emergency Commander coordinating everything. From the initial drop, to the airport landing priorities, to the orderly and rapid distribution of supplies, to the coordinating the efforts of the various relief organizations and volunteers. And by the way he would be responsible and accountable for the hundreds of millions of dollars that always gets raised and just as quickly always mysteriously disappears.


I’m not saying it gets stolen, or even that it is necessarily misspent, all we know is there is never a complete accounting of the money, and never very impressive results to show for it considering the astronomical amounts raised. If this stuff doesn’t start getting fixed eventually the generous people of the world are going to stop being so generous. And then these emergencies will go from the double tragedies of the event itself plus the frustratingly uncoordinated and ineffective rescue and relief and rebuilding efforts, to the triple tragedy of an apathetic populace suffering from rip-off and incompetence fatigue no longer willing to pay for it.
Let’s stop making the same mistakes over and over. Let the wealthier countries and corporations of the world fund an Emergency Organization. With one person responsible for running it. Someone who can anticipate, assess, and execute effectively and urgently. And give the human race back some dignity. And pride. And remind us that once upon a time we knew how to get things done.