What’s criticism for?
One of two things. Either it points out bits of empirical reality that was not taken into account before the present situation that will be useful the next time around, or it builds a case that someone or some organization is unfit for the job and needs to have it taken away. (What entity gets that job, and whether or not that job should even continue to exist, are of course other useful questions to be addressed…)
No matter what you think of Bush, he’s not going away. Neither is Blanco. (I don’t know about Nagin – what happens to a mayor when his city is deserted?) So most of the really useful criticism is that aimed at the first goal.
To that end, here’s a few questions:
1. Why were people prevented from leaving the area on foot, even when security and provisions were not available?
2. Why was Greyhound bus service suspended two days before landfall?
Now a couple of ideas for y’all to rip holes in:
1. Make it easy and legal to stockpile medication. The easiest and cheapest way to do that is to drop prescription requirements. I should point out to our friends on the left that this would end any problems people may have getting birth control pills, morning after pills, and so on. This would also lead to lots of unemployed pharmacists, so it’s not completely easy and painless, but it still improves matters during a disaster if some people don’t need to have medication brought in.
2. For that matter, some medical devices that are limited to hospitals ought to be publicly available. A respirator that people could stash away and use when the next bad flu shows up and all the hospitals are full would be cool. This will provide a profit motive to make the things easier for regular people to use.
Yeah, people are better off going to hospitals – when they’re open. Occasionally they’re not…
3. Priority during an urban disaster, in order: (1) Security, (2) Everything else. Our experience not only in New Orleans but in Iraq and Somalia tells me that security is priority 1, and that people will have a much easier time seeing to their own needs to some degree if the thugs are cleared out or deterred. In fact, once security is in place, other organizations can bring in the other stuff safely, and the government won’t have any reason to do things like keep Red Cross and other volunteers out with people going hungry inside.
4. If you’re going to drop water bottles into a flooded area, put them in sealed Zip-loc bags with air trapped inside so they’ll float. That should work with most other sorts of supplies too.
5. In any situation, disaster or not, your prospects improve noticeably when you have lots of wealth, technology, and energy. Technology and energy in particular have a way of easing logistical restrictions that hamper supply to disaster areas, hostile territory, etc. A deregulation spree will make these three things easier to get over the long term. More wealthy people means more resources to take care of the non-wealthy, and fewer non-wealthy to take care of, when bad things happen.