Will we ever get it right?

Yesterday I read a news report that thousands of victims of the earthquake in Haiti are trying to leave the capital city of Port-au-Prince because they are starving to death waiting for food and water to get to them. Residents of a nursing home are slowly dying on a street just a few miles from the airport where relief supplies are stacking up.

As I read that news story I couldn’t help but think of Katrina and the thousands of of people huddled in the Dome in New Orleans waiting for food and water to get to them.

In both cases, there were/are legitimate reasons for some of the delay. Ships cannot get into ports filled with debris. Planes cannot land at airports that have been damaged, and local governments cannot take charge if they have been decimated. But some supplies are getting through in Haiti, just like they did in New Orleans, and still people wait and die waiting.

It shouldn’t be a complicated matter to get a couple of trucks, load them up with supplies and take them to the people. Yet poor management and bureaucratic red tape hold things up for days.

Remember the buses that sat empty during the evacuation before Katrina because nobody was authorized to drive them. Then after the storm hit, relief was painfully slow because information did not go through the proper channels.

Something similar seems to be happening in Haiti.

The other day I saw a news report that showed food had been delivered to the capital city in Haiti, but was held there for hours before the authorities there would release it. A reporter asked why they were waiting, and the spokesman shrugged, saying something about needing official direction.

Here’s some official direction. How about forgetting about red tape and focus on the quickest way to get relief to the people. Don’t be so married to a disaster response plan and procedure that you don’t know what to do when part of the plan is literally blown out of the water.

I know there are disaster response plans on all levels of government. I was part of one when I worked for a hospital as a chaplain and we had procedures and protocols to follow in case of a catastrophic disaster. But the bottom line in our response was – the patient and patient needs come first. Respond to the people and take care of the chain of command later.

So it boggles my mind that people can stand around, waiting for direction, and not grab a key to a truck and head out with some food and water.

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