Here we go again. As poor, beleaguered New Orleans braces herself for another onslaught, the entire nation holds its breath. We wait, and watch, and hope, because there is nothing else that we can do. And there is no greater fear than helplessness. That is the emotion that conquers us all. If only there were some way to help. Some service to provide. Some way to turn aside the brute force of the wind and the waves.
But, despite all our technology, despite all our science and knowhow, we are no match for the eternal forces of nature. No matter how tall our buildings, how beautiful our parks, how immense our cities, we are nothing against the natural action of a bit of circling wind.
It is only after the storm’s fury is spent that we can pick up the pieces. And, sad to say, it is then that the ugly face of centralized planning, of governmental oversight, shows itself. All of the governmental regulation designed to protect us from others and ourselves during ordinary times, now proves the greatest hindrance to the necessary cleanup and rebuilding that we hope will occur.
After the waves of the storm surge, a wave of red tape is the next menace that threatens the already stricken area. Even seven years after the last catastrophe, New Orleans has not yet fully recovered. True, much money, effort and time have been spent in reinforcing levees, and in building new walls and pumping stations, trying to deter Mother Nature from doing her worst.
But, the natural buffer of wetlands is still non-existent. New Orleans is still below sea level. The hubris of engineers combined with the public reluctance to spend the kind of money necessary to ensure the protection of the city and surrounding areas make inevitable another disaster.
There are over 300 million people in this country. Stop for a moment and consider the enormity of that number. The mind boggles. We cannot get a fix on that immensity. But try to imagine the power and productivity that is available in that many people. Properly trained and harnessed, the collective know-how and energy of just a small fraction of those people can (and have) moved mountains. But we have deliberately walled ourselves off from accessing that energy. We not only discourage, we actively forbid anyone who doesn’t belong, or doesn’t have the proper badge of authority, from entering an area that has been routed by a disaster.
Instead, the few, the vetted, are left to slog along on their own, hounded and harassed by the residents and the officials who can’t understand why clean up and reconstruction are taking so long. The residents themselves are discouraged from offering assistance. The end result is that most of the nation sits idly by, demoralized by the slow response, and helpless to do anything except bother their congressmen to appropriate more money to aid those stricken.
Believe it or not, sometimes money doesn’t solve everything. Sometimes there is no substitute for being in the trenches, slogging away in the mud and the muck and the dirt and the filth. And no amount of money can help when the problem is paperwork that hasn’t been filled out; regulations that haven’t been, or cannot be, complied with; or official benediction that is not yet forthcoming.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were some sort of nationwide response effort that could be implemented in the face of any disaster, whether natural or manmade? Trained workers, volunteer or paid, could descend on an area devastated by fire, earthquake, flood, tornado, you name it. At the very least, this army of skilled workers could move water, food, and other supplies into an area, and remove the debris that inevitably accompanies any catastrophe.
In my post, “Big Picture Ideas—Education”, I posited a system where students would learn not only traditional academic skills (college prep), but also trade skills: carpentry, plumbing, welding, etc. Imagine an entire country full of semi-skilled workers, ready to assist in a recovery effort. I know, having hordes of people descend upon a disaster site like locusts is the government and police’s worst nightmare. So, say we adjust the numbers somewhat. We could, in addition to regular schooling, in exchange for the benefit of public education, require that all students make themselves available for a some period before and after graduation from high school (maybe a total of four years), to assist at any disaster in their general area (to be defined at a later time).
Each section of the country could have a disaster coordinator, who could set up teams of workers. And, as part of their schooling, each student would also undergo disaster training, so that when they show up, they will be able to get to work immediately. Of course, some will not show up, either because of sickness, lack of desire, or some other reason. And some will be less than helpful.
But just imagine an entire army of trained young people, swooping in to provide food, clothing and shelter to those who need it; provide strong arms and backs to clear out the mess; performing at least rudimentary construction skills for temporary housing; babysitting services and cooking skills; much needed materials and supplies; transportation away from the disaster site. The list of needs is endless.
And that’s the point. The list of what needs to be done is so long, yet we restrict the number of people we allow to accomplish it. True, there are people who will take advantage, but an army can provide better police itself than can a few overworked, stressed government security guards, who have other duties to fulfill. Plus, the students would know that they are needed—a strong psychological factor in maintaining a society.
And who knows what benefit could ensue from those same trained people merely living in neighborhoods across the country? Bartering their skills, building and maintaining their own communities, feeling responsible for their own destinies. A pipe dream, maybe, but one at least worth discussion.