Sunday, September 11, 2005

Echoes and lessons.

The History Channel is showing a special about Rick Rescorla, Security Chief of Morgan Stanley, who, like John O'Neill, knew that there would be a second attack on the World Trade Center, and who prepared for it, saving the lives of its employees on 9/11 while losing his own trying to get people out. He tried to persuade the company to move its offices, but failed. Nevertheless, he made sure that nearly all the employees of his company got out. Then he went back to try to get others out.

It's amazing how reluctant people were to leave the buildings until you remember that until the second tower was hit, everybody thought the first plane was a bizarre accident. After the 1993 attack only a few people worried about another one.

You'd think it would have made everyone in government look at their jurisdiction and consider whether it was adequately prepared, but some didn't, as Katrina showed. The difficulties with the federal response were probably the result of the measures taken by Congress to improve it.

Another eerie parallel is that each disaster occurred in stages, first the towers were hit and first the hurricane went through. Then the towers collapsed, making the disaster far worse, and then the levees and canal broke trapping thousands who had not gotten out of the city. The difference was that in one case the city jumped into action; in the other it dithered and failed to act.

Tonight, Monday, September 12, the History Channel will have three programs about how New Orleans became such a dangerous trap along with a documentary about Lake Ponchartrain and another about the 1900 hurricane that was the deadliest storm in U.S. history, unless the deaths from Katrina exceed it.


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