Thursday, September 08, 2005

Mandatory Evacuations: Pros and Cons

One more Katrina question:

Should the government really be in the business of forcing people out of their homes at gunpoint?

There are lots of good reasons that I've heard. Here are the 'pros':

1) If people stay back, they will likely get in the way of FEMA and National Guard clean-up activities.

2) If people stay back, they are likely to need help again in the future. The government can say "we won't help you," but in the end, they will still have to help them. And that wastes valuable resources, and potentially risks lives.

Some might even say that, given what's probably in the water, it's suicidal to stay. I doubt that would be true across the board; some parts of New Orleans aren't in such bad shape.

3) Implementing a mandatory evacuation now is important psychologically for all the people who've already left. Many of those people in the next few days and weeks will be thinking of returning to start rebuilding, and if they know that they really won't be allowed to do it, they'll stay away.

And there could be more reasons (feel free to add them below). But there are also reasons to worry:

1) It might be more trouble than it's worth. Some of these die-hard survivalist libertarian characters are sitting on their porches with automatic weapons. If the police try and force them to do anything, they might well shoot. We could be talking about a "Waco" type scenario here, which could quickly make a bad situation worse.

2) It might be unconstitutional. Do we really want lawsuits out of this? (I don't know about whether this is really true or not. If anyone has enough legal knowledge to explain the ramifications of enforced mandatory evacuations for me, I would welcome it. Under what principle can the government force them from their homes?)

Moreover, if it turns out that the people who are afraid of having their homes get looted actually get looted after evacuation, they are likely to sue.

3) Some of these people could genuinely turn out to be helpful in recovery and rebuilding.

4) Authorities should allow a few people to stay, and also allow a few people to return to the dry parts of town just to keep the city alive. If some people come back and start doing business on their own sooner rather than later, it will be a lot easier to start rebuilding New Orleans. If everyone is out for a solid, say, three months, restarting the city's economic life might be more difficult.

All in all, I think Ray Nagin is right to require the police and the National Guard to enforce the mandatory evacuation order. But I think there are signficant potential downsides to doing it that people haven't really considered yet. Is there an alternate or compromise solution? I can't think of any.


Rob Breymaier said...

I think a lot of people are worried that if they don't stay their neighborhoods will be leveled. And, I'm not sure that they're paranoid to think so.

12:42 AM  
Taupe said...

I visited Louisiana three years ago and was given a guided tour of an area close to the delta by an expert on coastal systems from Louisiana State University. He spent a lot of time during that one day trip telling us about the potential threat that faced New Orleans. As a possible major hazard, he placed it up there with the bombing of the World Trade Centre (which had already occured) and a major earthquake on the San Andreas fault.

If experts like him knew what was coming (see the blog article I have written here), why weren't the authorities better prepared? Only this morning I read about the discovery of thirty bodies belonging to occupants of an old folks home. It's madness that they should have been left there/allowed to stay like that when every person with a car was hitting the highway...

In response to your question though, perhaps there are still dangers lurking for the people who stay, and even for those who return. One of the things that our guide told us about was the 'killer mold' that infects flooded building and releases toxins that can kill. There's more about it in the article linked to above.

8:16 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home