Hurricane Katrina

Preparing for the Next Catastrophe

The people of New Orleans are still cleaning up over a month after Hurricane Katrina hit the area

The people of New Orleans are still cleaning up over a month after Hurricane Katrina hit the area. (Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP-Getty Images)

The waters of Hurricane Katrina have hardly receded and already the hunt for scapegoats has begun. While the U.S. intelligence community was taken to task for the man-made catastrophe of Sept. 11, this time around, government officials and their bureaucracies will likely be blamed for the chaos that had ensued after the deadly storm.

Unfortunately, the helplessness demonstrated by these officials in preparing for Hurricane Katrina, and afterward, in managing the early stages of rescue activities, is an all-too-natural result of trying to solve catastrophe-type crises or strategic surprises with the wrong tools.

Therefore, pillorying this or that individual official, as tempting as it is, will solve nothing.

Extreme weather conditions and unrestrained terrorism have turned the once quiet home front into “the realm of uncertainty,” much like a battlefield. Similarly, governors, mayors and their bureaucracies have become the generals, officers and headquarters of this new war zone.

However, these “generals,” including Federal Emergency Management Agency’s staff, are relying on planning and management tools designed to achieve stability within a preexisting law-and-order environment. And there’s a certain logic to having bureaucracy methodically following an established routine: It protects the public from half-baked schemes and the like.

But doing so during a catastrophe can only lead to the type of chaos revealed of late in Louisiana and, on a less drastic scale, in Sept. 2001 in the United States and in July 2005 in London.

No doubt, there were farsighted people like Yoel Boren, in the Oct. 2004 issue of The National Magazine, who warned of the new, emerging paradigm, but they went unheeded — as predicted by the theory of philosopher Thomas Kuhn. Like leaders and bureaucrats before them, the Americans had fallen prey to the limits of abstract thinking.

But now that this new reality has been finally taken into account as something that will be with us for the long haul, it is necessary to supply civilian “generals” with the management tools to allow them to plan for, and control, an unpredictable environment. Unlike their military counterparts, these officials cannot convert U.S. cities and towns into armed camps by imposing a regular military-type discipline and security arrangements.

Fortunately, there is a management approach that allows governors, mayors and their bureaucracies to prepare themselves to deal with the new set of problems on the civilian front parallel to regular civil management. Called “Achieving Rapid Dominance Operation (A.R.D.O.),” this approach is designed to prevent the total chaos and loss of control threatened by global terrorism and radical weather conditions.

A.R.D.O. is comprised of two elements. First, it entails clever strategic planning, or Outsmarting Planning, whose aim is to prevent unacceptable losses by investing relatively few resources but in the right places (Minimax). Second, it offers great organizational flexibility, allowing officials at the site of the disaster to make independent decisions while maintaining high levels of coordination — thus overcoming the expected crash of the command and communications network.

Since A.R.D.O. is already based on accepted civilian management practices, it only takes a few hours to master its unique components. Federal, state and municipal authorities will then be able to gauge what needs to be done in their respective areas of responsibility in order to ensure the strategic survival in the face of potential threats.

A.R.D.O. is not a magic bullet. It won’t prevent another 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, but in the event of such surprises, it promises to prevent the loss of control and damages deemed unacceptable. It’s worth thinking about.

Col. Hanan Shai, Ph.D., retired, is currently a senior consultant to Israel’s security establishment as well as to foreign security agencies, and is a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University. Shai’s areas of expertise includes security and strategy, decision-making under unstable conditions, command and control, officers training and development, strategic and operational concepts, operational planning, headquarters training and staff work.