Amateurs Do Strategy and Tactics…

…while professionals do logistics (more about that in a bit). There’s a fascinating interview with Wesley Clark where he discusses the lessons of Hurricane Katrina.


First, I was glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks that using the National Guard as a way to avoid having a draft degrades one of their most important functions–the response to natural disasters:

Now, one more thing that’s worth talking about on Katrina of course, is, the National Guard leadership. Most of them were in Iraq. Both Mississippi and Louisiana have what they call an enhanced infantry brigade. And this brigade has the command and control apparatus. Usually it’s the major, let’s call it in technical terms, the maneuver arm for the state. So if you’ve got heavy lifting to be done, they’re going to do it. And they’re not the engineers that have bulldozers. They’re not the signal corps that has all the wire laying capability. And they’re not the aviators that have all the helicopters. But, these are the people that, if you want to organize something, they’re the people who do the organization and planning. They were in Iraq. Some of them had already participated in planning for disaster like this. So, somebody would’ve said, “Oh yeah, the bus problem! Yeah! Ok, remember when we did that in the exercise two years ago? How we….”
But they weren’t there.

But what’s more interesting to me is his criticism of the inexperienced politically correct appointees (italics mine):

But when you get right down to it, to make something like this work you have to do a lot of rehearsal. People have to think through the problem. Somebody has to say “Well, gee we’re gonna have eighty thousand people with no transportation. Uh, let’s see eighty thousand, now, how many per bus? What’s our planning figure per bus? Forty. Forty, if you can get a big bus, forty. Ok, so let’s see, forty into eighty thousand. You need two thousand buses? Uh, but, uh, what’s the readiness rate on buses? Well, like one in ten won’t work. And one in ten might break down, how far they gotta go? I dunno, where we gonna put the refugees?”. So then you start, you know, trying to work your way backwards through this thing. Turns out you might need three thousand buses, with three thousand five hundred drivers, with extra tanker trucks, refueling stations because, what if it’s the middle of the night and the bus is out in the middle of Louisiana, you know, it gets, drove a hundred and fifty miles down, drove a hundred and fifty miles back, it’s got a two hundred mile range. It needs more fuel. So somebody has to think of all this, and to plan it. “Ok, what community, you got twenty buses, you got fifty buses, you got a hundred buses but you’re three hundred miles away.” So, I mean all that had to have been worked out. Where’re they gonna meet the buses? What neighborhood? What roads are gonna be flooded? Somebody has to do all that. None of that was done.
And then, when you ask for the buses, you know you’ve gotta have a sort of sequence ok. You ask for the buses and then somebody has to call each community. Do you know who to call? Who do you call? School board? Mayor? Chief of Police? Fire Department? “Um, ok but the Mayor’s office is closed.” Got a home number for the Mayor? And then, how bout the bus driver? How do you get the bus driver at two AM? And what percentage of them no longer have the same phone number that they had when they signed up for work five years ago? You know? Have you ever tried it? So, when you sort of work all through this thing it’s like.. It’s like doing line dancing. I don’t know if.. you ever do line dancing? My wife and I went out one time, this guy says, “Hey you’ve gotta learn this.” He’s big into country western music. He says, “You gotta learn this line dancing.” My wife got to the ninety second step, and she said, “I quit!” She said, “Any dance that’s got ninety-two steps, I’m not doing!” And, to make this kind of stuff work, you gotta go though a hundred and ninety-two steps. And they’ve gotta be thought out. Somebody’s got to be responsible for it, and, as soon as they come back and tell you the, you know, “We tried, we missed ten percent of the buses. Cause we couldn’t, you know these were the ones that..”. Somebody’s got to follow up and say, “Ok, get so and so on the phone, drive from this town to that town. Go to the parking lot for the buses. Get me backup drivers. I want National Guard. Break the padlock. Get into the buses. Start the buses.” You know, and, how are you going to do that with people who’ve never done it before?

Perhaps the worst thing about the movement conservatives’ ideology isn’t the ideology per se, it’s that the ideology has been used to supplant and replace the detailed planning that is involved in any technically complex operation. One always needs to ask if doing something is technically and operationally feasible, regardless of any perceived justness of the action. If it will fail, then you probably should try a different approach. Ideology is no substitute for logistics. Of course, if your ideological framework repeatedly generates stupid ideas, maybe that should tell you something.

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9 Responses to Amateurs Do Strategy and Tactics…

  1. PhysioProf says:

    “Perhaps the worst thing about the movement conservatives’ ideology isn’t the ideology per se, it’s that the ideology has been used to supplant and replace the detailed planning that is involved in any technically complex operation.”
    Sara Robinson at Orcinus blog has discussed in detail the destruction of the “culture of planning” that has occurred over the last six years:
    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/10/saras-sunday-rant-culture-of-planning.html
    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2006/10/sunday-rant-culture-of-planning-ii.html

  2. Mark Duigon says:

    I heard the other day how getting feed to stranded livestock in the snowed-in parts of Colorado has been much more difficult owing to National Guard equipment being in Iraq.

  3. PhysioProf,
    thanks for the links.

  4. SLC says:

    If the Democrats recapture the White House in 2008, I hope they find a position for General Clark which will make use of his talents. This interview shows clear thinking on his part.

  5. Greg says:

    Clark did not talk only about logistics. Every other sentence assumes the existence of somebody who accepts and exercises responsibility. Not only that 3500 buses are needed, but also that somebody gets them.
    If you want Clark to be in the government, *you* might have to do more than hope it.

  6. Greg,
    Part of logistics is having the appropriate people with clear, defined responsibilities in the right places. That does require good will, but good will is necessary, not sufficient. You can’t just get some ‘good folks’ together and construct a light water reactor. Personal responsibility isn’t enough.

  7. Greg says:

    So… Will you do nothing?

  8. Greg,
    I’m confused. I’m not a Clark-for-president guy. As to being involved in politics, during the political season, I canvass and man phones for Democratic candidates and/or organizations. I also have a day job, part of which is to help improve medical access in developing world, and also to conduct research. I have kind of a full plate.
    The post wasn’t about getting Clark in office (elected or otherwise), but about crisis and organizational management (the latter I do, in part, for a living).

  9. Greg says:

    Sorry, Mike, both for misunderstanding and for delayed reply.
    My first comment replied to SLC, immediately before. I wondered what you were getting at with, what seemed to me gratuitous, introjection about the insufficiency of good will and of taking responsibility. It seemed to me you were joining, or at least cheering on, the massed choir singing, something is really bad and some one else ought to do something.
    I did know you involve yourself and I apologize for suggesting otherwise.
    (Although, he hisses, it might be more effective to pay more attention to the rascals in the political off-season when they do the most damage.)

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