The golden 72 hoursEveryone has something to learn from Katrina
I have no doubt that everyone who reads STRIDE watched with horror the events taking place in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.
I spent a good part of the ’90s living in the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California which, as you know, has a long history of earthquakes. The by-word of the state and federal governments is “be prepared.” There has LONG been a directive from the federal government (i.e., FEMA) for local populations/governments to have 72 hours (three days) worth of supplies on hand in preparation for any disaster. The reason being, it generally takes the feds about that long to evaluate needs, mobilize people/equipment/supplies, arrive on scene and get set up. Earthquakes are “come as you are” disasters; they happen, you’re in what is known as “the golden 72 hours” and you have to make do with what you’ve got. Katrina, like all hurricanes, had a ramp up time. Gulf residents had 48 hours to make those life altering decisions – leave or stay is usually the first one.
Some in the media have suggested that this is a man-made disaster, arguing there is no reason for aid to be so slow in coming in a country that sees hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes on a regular basis. We have all witnessed the horrifying scenes and we’ll hear more over the coming weeks and months. We will watch as grand investigations are launched and authorities play duck and cover, pointing the finger of blame elsewhere — at the invisible ghost “Not Me,” for example. Tales of corruption and deceit will be revealed, but all that is unimportant because it does not bring back the people who lost their lives needlessly or help those who were robbed, raped and brutalized when they were most vulnerable.
I think the bottom line here is that the state is not responsible for your safety and welfare in the event of an emergency; you are responsible until aid can arrive. I also believe that you are responsible for those whose welfare is entrusted to your care. For anyone in the seniors care business, understanding this is the difference between being an employee and a leader. “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway,” as a line from an old John Wayne movie put it. I have no doubt that almost everyone in New Orleans and the gulf states were scared to death when Katrina hit; some saddled up and some didn’t.
What do you do when there is a total breakdown in society, as we have witnessed in New Orleans? When the thin veneer of civilization is stripped away, family members are dead or missing, your home and workplace is destroyed and people are killing each other in the street? As a professional, where does your duty lie when it comes to the care and safety of those you are responsible for?
Recent news has brought us the story of Salvador and Mable Mangano, who face 34 homicide charges in the deaths of residents at their St. Rita’s nursing home in Chalmette. “They were warned repeatedly that this storm was coming,” authorities charge. “In effect, their inaction resulted in the deaths of these people.” The Manganos claim they are innocent and were waiting for St. Bernard Parish officials to issue a mandatory evacuation order, which they say never came. Hopefully, the investigation into what happened will uncover the truth. Did they gamble with the lives of those entrusted with their care, follow procedure or simply make a bad decision?
Canada is no stranger to disaster; the ice storm and SARS have tested us in the last few years. The mettle of Canadians was tried and people of courage came to the fore. Everyone who works in seniors care, from administrators on down, has something to learn from Katrina. We’re still in the daily “what fresh hell is this” mode, with the news bringing us stories that could only have been conceived by Stephen King just a few months ago — but it’s important that we consider, if only for a few moments, “what would I have done?”
I would have been scared to death, but I’d like to think that we would all have courage and “saddle up.”