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Lessons from Hurricane Katrina 10 Years On: Are You Prepared?

A full decade after the “storm of the century” we must ask ourselves, what were the lessons we learned?

New Orleans one week after Hurricane Katrina, adjacent to the Superdome. (Paul Markel)

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a massive and monstrous storm the likes of which, fortunately, only materialize on average every 30 years. Biloxi, Gulfport, and the entire gulf shoreline of Mississippi took the full brunt of Katrina. Despite what you may have seen from news coverage, New Orleans did not suffer the greatest amount of storm damage from Katrina. Regardless, the lion's share of attention was given to "Beirut on the Bayou" in the days, months, and years to follow.

Boots on the Ground

A few days later after the storm hit I was driving to work in Ohio, listening to the morning news shows. The reports of the storm destruction and the breakdown of society were beginning to filter out of the gulf coast. Stories of looting, robbery, murder and other lawlessness were gaining traction as eyewitness accounts became available.

After work, I opened my email and there was a message forwarded by a colleague telling me that Blackwater was looking for professionals to deploy to Louisiana immediately. The company was specifically seeking certified peace officers in the United States to respond ASAP.

Two days later I was on an airplane flying to Shreveport, Louisiana.

From Shreveport I traveled to a small field in Baton Rouge, the primary staging area for security and relief workers going to and coming from New Orleans.

It was here that I was able to get my first glimpse of the reality of the situation. At the BellSouth Telephone headquarters a tent city had been erected to shelter and feed company employees that had been displaced by the storm. Hundreds of people were sleeping on cots, sharing meals in a communal mess-tent, and attempting to make sense of their situation.

Like thousands of other companies in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, BellSouth had put a crisis management team together and they were taking care of their employees most basic needs: Water, food, shelter, hygiene facilities, comfort items, and security.

Security was something that these displaced families truly desired. They needed to know that they and their children would be safe from the lawless elements. This fact was driven home to me almost immediately.

New Orleans one week after Hurricane Katrina, adjacent to the Superdome. (Paul Markel)

On my first morning in Baton Rouge I was standing in line to eat breakfast behind a family with young children. A little boy, probably 8 or 9 years old, looked up at me and asked if I was there to protect his family. I assured him that I was. Not quite placated, the boy asked “What about at night, when we are sleeping, will you be awake?”

I could see the genuine concern in his eyes. I assured the him that myself and many other men would be awake, 24 hours a day to keep his family safe.

My team did not stay long in Baton Rouge, after a day or so we were sent to New Orleans to establish a command post for patrols, escorts, and property security. Upon entering the city I was struck by the post-apocalyptic scene. Every liquor store, pharmacy, and pawn shop that we passed had been looted and then set on fire.

Despite the apologistic response from pundits a thousand miles away, the vermin were not taking food to “feed their families.”

They stole prescription medication, alcohol, guns, tennis shoes, TV’s, and anything else not nailed down. Doctors and nurses were terrorised at gunpoint in the few hospitals that remained open while the vermin stole all the drugs they could get their hands on. A large percentage of N.O.P.D. officers had fled the city with their families and those that remained were greatly outnumbered.

In addition to providing armed escorts to the BellSouth workers, our command post in Baton Rouge sent a list of addresses for us to find and inspect. Many residents and business owners had fled ahead of the storm and had no idea what shape their homes and businesses might be in. As we patrolled we would attempt to locate the addresses given and determine their condition. Some were underwater, others looted and robbed, but many we found were in good condition.

The Players

In the dystopian aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans was plagued by roaming bands of thieves, rapists and killers.

For the first couple of days the criminal element held sway over the city operating with impunity both day and night. Their activities were evinced by burned out buildings, cars riddled with bullet holes, and the occasional corpse that had yet to be removed by relief personnel.

However, within 72 hours the tide began to turn. Good men with rifles began to converge on the greater New Orleans area from all points. The Louisiana Army National Guard took control of the Superdome and began to clean up the mess. Police officers from every surrounding state converged on the “Big Easy” with black AR-15 rifles in their hands.

The authors personal kit used during the security mission in New Orleans post-Katrina. (Paul Markel) 

Almost overnight, the criminal element lost control of the city during the day and had to use the darkness to cloak their activities. The good citizens who had stayed behind could come out of their homes and begin the cleanup process.

Despite what was reported in the mainstream media, the good people of New Orleans were not wary of the “feared mercenaries.” Quite the opposite, they embraced us, literally.

At one of very few gas stations that had both electricity and fuel we encountered an older couple. As we stood around our vehicle clad in body armor with black rifles slung around our necks, the couple came up to thank us. The woman embraced us and kissed our cheeks.

“Bless you, bless you for coming here,” she said.

Her husband enthusiastically shook our hands.

“Thank you, thank you for coming to save us,” he said with tears in his eyes.

I will never forget the looks of relief and thanks on their faces. There was no fear or apprehension. These good people knew instinctively that we were on their side and they had nothing to fear from us.

It was not just law enforcement and armed security who arrived. Relief workers from every agency in the United States flooded in with clean water, emergency food and comfort items. Medical personnel of all sorts arrived and set up aid stations throughout the area.

Lessons Learned

Ten years later there is still evidence of Katrina in the poor and depressed neighborhoods of New Orleans. Many businesses took their insurance checks and left after their buildings were looted and destroyed. Some storm damaged houses still stand in New Orleans East as grim reminders.

The environmental disaster brought on by the hurricane was exacerbated by the lawless and shameful behavior of criminal reprobates. Before the storm damage could be addressed the vile and verminous had to be corralled.

A full decade after the “storm of the century” we must ask ourselves, what were the lessons we learned? Just as appropriately, are we simply doomed to repeat history?

N.O.P.D. officers after Katrina. (ARMY T-shirt given to officer whose uniforms were ruined by flood water.) (Paul Markel) 

Let us consider lessons learned from the standpoint of the individual citizen.

The most important take-away, at least from my perspective, was that any disaster, whether natural, man-made, or the combination of the two will bring out the very best and worst that society has to offer. Innumerable hours of television footage was dedicated first to the looters and then to those who were portrayed as helpless victims.

Missing in most all of the media coverage were the tens of thousands of good guys who dropped everything to travel to a distant place and lend aid to total strangers. It was not just big name relief organizations but thousands of individuals, church groups ... Americans who simply saw it as their duty to help their fellow citizens.

Sadly, these volunteers had to be protected from the lawless thugs who used the breakdown in society to prey upon the good samaritans. It is not enough to load a truck with food and water, if you expect those supplies to get to those in need, it must be protected by good men with guns. Wishes and good intentions will not shield you from monsters.

During the 10 years since Katrina we have witnessed disasters, both natural and manmade, like those in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other major metropolitan areas. Are we prepared to protect the innocent from the evil?

The government cannot be your savior. Time and time again, we have seen people look to a faceless government bureaucracy during times of tragedy. Not only does the government do a poor job, the reality of the situation is that the United States of America was not founded to be a nanny-state where the government is charged with delivering the daily bread.

Communities need to be the saviors and to be the blessing in times of needs. We used to understand that in the U.S. but we have become so weak and dependent that we have lost our way.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. While that might seem like a cheap cliche, it is also most certainly true. Nationally it is estimated that your local grocery stores have only three to four days of food on hand to feed the population if the trucks stop running. Is your family prepared in the event that the stores are all closed? Do you have more in the refrigerator than half a jar of pickles and condiment packages?

Until this world stops turning there will be disasters and crises that must be dealt with. The question every man and woman must answer is this; are you prepared to be a blessing or a burden? Will your family, church, and community be ready to aid and protect each other or will you fall in line and beg big brother for your salvation? As these words are typed you still have a choice.

Paul Markel is the author of the new book "Faith and the Patriot; a Belief Worth Fighting for" and the host of Student of the Gun TV and Radio.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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