There is no competition here, there is only lives saved. Untrained ad hoc groups had smaller boats, had more boats, and were able to help people who would have died otherwise.
I do think it is worthwhile to talk about problems that occurred. Get a list of them, prioritize them, find solutions. Though they have to be solutions that don't make things worse, preferably ones that get tested during a mock disaster, not during the next real one.
One thing to note: Most people involved in these efforts were good intentioned and did their best. There are a few reports of bad actors, but they were rare.
What training videos or info graphics does an ad-hoc flood rescue group need? How about urban earthquake? Terrorism response? Wildfire? How do you do effective dispatch? Triage? How do you best integrate with the professionals when they show up?
The knowledge gap between an amateur and a paraprofessional has never been substantial, and now we have the ability to provide training on-demand. We just need to build the capability to rapidly scale baseline knowledge and plug into a coordinated network. When disaster hits, you download the app and see what you can do.
Skills may, to a limited extent, be substituted by something that guides decision making. Like that chatbot that helps people file small claims against Equifax. But that works best with well documented stable situations, and can be brittle in more fluid (no pun intended) ones.
As well, when it comes to definitive local resources like phone numbers, web sites, you have to keep checking them and updating them. And if information is changing rapidly or uncertain, this may be extremely difficult.
I am a generally thoughtful individual, but I really see the benefit of a domain expert in planning any app or tool for this purpose.
> I told him they needed to try to get to them
> I went to the bathroom, refilled my tea, walked around a bit, thinking to myself, "What are you doing?? You're not qualified to do this!"
I'm not trained to handle this sort of thing either, but I'm pretty sure if you suspect someone has been electrocuted you shouldn't encourage others to attempt to rescue them unless you're confident they aren't also at risk of electrocution.
Within California, there are mutual aid requests flying between counties almost all the time, along with support from CalOES, who coordinate heavy equipment, helicopters, communications, and other resources as needed.
Good search and rescue teams train regularly. In my current county, volunteers must at a minimum complete one of two wilderness first aid courses every year, CPR for professional rescuers every other year, show up to a minimum number of searches throughout the year, and a smattering of other training. (edit: overall training in my county is available almost once a week, with major mock searches a few times a year, plus an average of about 30 call-outs per year, usually including one major multi-agency incident. The folks that show up to most of this stuff get really good really fast.)
There are a lot of folks that just show up and dabble and provide the necessary manpower for basic tasks during an incident, and some folks that take it really seriously and try to complete as much training as they can and respond to as many incidents as their day job allows for.
Unfortunately, the county-level search and rescue teams rarely venture out of state.
I have some ICS training and could have managed a dispatch role, talked some folks through CPR, juggled multiple concurrent requests, and so on -- and I have software available that would have helped a lot. But this is the first I've heard of Zello.
FEMA is making some changes to SAR resource management and I'm hopeful that there will be improved cooperation between the states in the future.
And by the way: if you're interested in this kind of stuff, and want to do something hands-on helpful in your community, I really recommend checking out your county's SAR organization. If you're not sure where to start or what to expect, feel free to send me an email and I'll reply. If you're in California, I might even know some folks from your county's team. (SAR organizations could really benefit from more tech-oriented people, too.)
Just to add another data point, everything up in Oregon works exactly the same. Monthly meetings, monthly trainings, optional trainings for specialty teams (rope support, trail running, ATV, mountain biking, etc) every week or so, and a call-out once every 1-2 weeks.
If you're even remotely interested in emergency preparedness I highly recommend signing up with a community search and rescue organization.
There is also the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which have other public health roles, in addition to deployment during natural disasters. The PHSCC deploys with the Coast Guard for sea duty. USA Freedom Corps, and AmeriCorps play a role in disaster response.
Team Rubicon is a group of veterans that deploys in disaster response. I think they have small boat capability.
1) Security of evacuated areas and vital objects
- during calamities such as flooding and disease
- authorities in maintaining public order
- with large military transports or exercises ('Host Nation Support')
- civilian authorities other military units during large events
3) Ceremonial activities
Notably absent: fighting wars on foreign soil. And while training attendance is required, all work is voluntary.
The National Reserve is part of the regional emergency plans so there's a real opportunity there to be part of the organised relief efforts right from the start.
If it's not, you may want to work on partnering with local emergency services to get one going.
In many other countries there is Civil Defense (
The US also appears to have a Citizen Corps
(https://www.ready.gov/citizen-corps) under DHS.
Then LVMPD decided it was their responsibility.
I am thinking more like a level below volunteer firepeople, with some regional and national coordination.
Or form your own.
visit your local shooting range for details.
Like, ah, these fine gentlemen. 
I'm thinking of more of a social graph where civilians who are going to help in these sorts of situations can be organized more efficiently. For instance, instead of having a bunch of people drive their personal cars out there, going out as a group would improve the individual's abilities to help efficiently.
They will also be deployed domestically to repress public uprisings, etc.
If you want to help people, you're better off becoming a firefighter. Unfortunately, outside of some small community volunteer firefighter groups, this really isn't an option. The National Guard does not fill this gap.
It wasn't clear to me, but I'd love to learn more about the tech powering this app. Is it open source? Is it somehow decentralized?
The implicit question is, what percentage of people in the disaster zone did, and did not, have a channel out through this app? Does this story represent the 10% case or the 50% case or...?
Not sure where to find the answer...
There were just a _lot_ of stranded people and not enough boats.
not in a badly effected area, but definitely there was flooding nearby. most of my friends/family/etc (irrespective of area) had power/phone/etc throughout, even those with flood damage. Which is not to say the flood damage was exaggerated however.
I personally only had a power outage for 4h only after the electric company blew some equipment trying to restore service for others.. (again not in a bad area)
we are pretty sprawly and most power lines, etc are above ground except in the very center of town. not sure if that helped or not, but perhaps worth mentioning - but as for trees falling etc, this storm had very low wind, etc for those in the HTX area (same def not true for those who experienced the actual hurricane)
Not a great environment to be trying to get _just_ the right level of zoom to hit the form input field on your smartphone.
However, many were using the app, and it's a great showing on the part of the Houston cell network.
Obviously Zello and its ilk bring significant benefits with them, but I worry about the impact they have on proliferation of radio skills.
So I went ahead and spent 8 months on it. I got my Extra license (the highest level), learned all about Ares, got into nets.. all of it. I bought an Icom 7300 (really great radio). I even started learning Morse.
Why did I quit?
I couldn't deal with some of the hmm,"interesting" people on ham radio! I have a slight accent, enough to mark me out as a non-native born American (I'm a citizen now though), and I kept meeting people who were downright nasty to me.
I tried focusing on the positive, but after a few months and one particularly unpleasant contact, my wife asked me why I was wasting my time trying to talk to people who clearly didn't want me around.
She was right, and I quit. Yes, I met plenty of really nice hams, but every week that I was on the air, I would be bound to find someone calling me names.
Sure, you can just "spin the dial", but for those who don't know, ham radio is not anonymous. FCC regulations state that you have to give your call sign every 10 minutes, and you can look up anyone's name and home address from that call sign. That unpleasant contact consisted of a fine citizen telling me that he was going to come over and "kick my ass". Just because he thought I was illegal or something like that.
I'm sure he was just bloviating, but hey, I have a wife and kids.. I'm not risking it.
I'm still an Extra, but I sold my radios and don't want to get into it anymore.
Hams did help during Harvey and are helping during Irma, but it doesn't get as much press as it used to.
I also think that there has been sort of a systematic degradation in neighborhood relations that has an impact on disaster response. My neighborhood has mostly middle aged and older people in it now, most of us know each other, but many neighborhoods have become much more transient in the last generation or so and ties are not as strong.
My challenge to a community that includes "hacker" in its name is to consider picking up the radio hobby. It has some real old school hacker opportunities for everyone. And, it has never been easier to obtain an amateur license. The Morse code requirements have been dropped. The technical part of the test is not that difficult for anyone with any understanding of electronics. The regulations are somewhat obscure, but not difficult to grasp. We need an infusion of new amateur radio operators. The old guys (like my dad) are disappearing fast.
Personally, I'm planning to take an exam in literally 28 days from now. In my country there's a group of HAM operators training regularly for emergency operations (EMCOM), and I'm interested in participating in that.
You hit the nail on the head here. I've been fooling around with computer programming for over a decade now (since I was in Jr. High), and Arduinos and Raspberry Pis as long as they have been available, but I never put much thought into ham radio. Most of the makers I know go straight to pre-made WiFi or Bluetooth modules when the time comes to make their projects work wirelessly - accepting their limitations while overlooking much simpler solutions which can be achieved though RF and a little bit of know-how. In hindsight, I wish I had learned about ham radio much sooner.
There is a massive schism between the ham community and the hacker community which doesn't make much sense to me. They are both very much interested in finding novel solutions to problems and sharing them with the community, doing more with less, placing value in decentralization, and have a similar sort of independent counter-culture and grounded respect for technology.
I think it is simply a problem of awareness. Before I got into ham radio, I assumed that the FCC simply allocated a tiny bucket of useless spectrum for amateur use, and that it's practical utility was quite limited. I didn't know that amateurs had access to bands all the way across the spectrum, that they are allowed to transmit at 1500 watts, that they could talk directly to the ISS, or make use of satellite repeaters and reach across oceans with a walkie talkie. On the HF bands, ham radio makes international communication possible without any middleman, subscription fee, or infrastructure. It is also a godsend for people launching weather balloons, allows you to build some incredibly badass RC craft, and can serve as the backbone of all sorts of other fascinating endeavors.
I think the schism is generational. The maker movement is composed largely of kids who grew up with the Internet, and really took off with social media and web 2.0, while the ham community is composed of a large body of people who came of age and mastered their craft before computers became ubiquitous. For better or worse, a lot of them seem to remain set in their ways. Many ham websites, including those of active clubs, brick and mortar stores, and repeater networks, look like they're straight out of the 90s, and social media outreach remains quite limited. I suppose the fundamentals of radio, much like physics or mathematics, hasn't changed much in the past 50 years, but these communities unfortunately seem to be living in different worlds.
I think that it is essential for us to bridge the gap. The alliance of the hams and the makers really stands to bring positive outcomes for both communities.
I don't have any social media accounts, but I know some hams do engage there.
It seems uncertain whether these kinds of weather events are going to become more common but in general it does seem that climate change is likely to cause more extreme weather conditions worldwide (some of the wildfires we've seen could have a similar isolating need-rescue situations), disaster preparedness might become much more of a way of life than it has been for us in a while.
Decentralised radio is essentially ham radio. Individual units talking directly to each other, without relying on a single point of failure (the cell company). As others have said above, ham radio is a godsend in some situations. If you use the right bands, you can talk halfway around the world while running off batteries and using a wire thrown over a tree for an antenna.
And then what when everyone talks. Isn't it already regulated for this same reasoning? Seems to me a combination of open protocols and mesh networking would be better than government restricted ham.
About the Cajun Navy - There were so many people responding to this disaster wanting to help with their time and boats that many times we found ourselves staging to launch but ultimately unable to get in the water because the neighborhood or area we were planning to search only needed 15-20 boats and two or three times that many boats staged for the task. That means dozens of trucks pulling every kind of floating contraption lined up on relatively dry Houston streets and roads and waited in line hoping to be able to take off into the floods and bring people out who needed assistance. When the authorities determined that enough boats had launched for that area, everyone else had to find somewhere else to go. Massive resources were wasted with boats lined up in one spot that could've been actively searching somewhere else.
We ran into a couple of guys from the east coast following Zello Cajun Navy reports who at great expense, drove out to help and had not been able to participate for two days because they were trying to stage in spots where the Cajun Navy was being called up. Once the call went out to the Cajun Navy, boats flooded in from all over and you were nearly guaranteed to have more than you needed. In Orange, we ran into a Texas-based rescue outfit, not the Texas Navy but some group who dressed in military duds. We explained that we were heading into one of the neighborhoods along the Sabine to check a report and asked whether they had already checked it or knew anything about it. They hadn't heard that report or checked that area so we were cleared to go in and the leader of the group asked how we heard about the people needing help. When told that we heard it over Zello, he commented to the effect that the Cajun Navy and Zello was kicking their asses in mustering people and boats.
Fun stuff but the reality of the Cajun Navy effort from our standpoint was that a lot of people wasted a lot of time following their channels and maybe better coordination with other groups would've made a smoother effort.
About the Cajun Navy channels on Zello and Zello itself - Over time the effort evolved into one where each affected area had a dedicated channel to direct boaters to those who most needed assistance. This was not true at the start when the Houston channel had reports from all over the Houston area and eventually Beaumont, Port Arthur, Orange and Vidor too. It was tough at first to determine where the person filing the report was located although there was a website we used to guide us that was actively accumulating requests for rescue and pinning them on an active map. This map evolved to eventually drop many of the requests that were determined to be expired due to rescue already happening or floods receding, etc. We chased reports from that map in the areas that we worked and several times found ourselves following an old report that had not been updated. Obviously, the solution to that is to have boaters radio in and update as they visit addresses. Once the large collection of initial reports from those who had been rescued were tagged or removed the site was much more useful.
A big drawback of Zello in our opinion is that it is vulnerable to manipulation by anyone with the app installed. We kept hearing reports of shots fired at rescue boaters, attempts to steal rescuers boats, rescuers being attacked by residents, etc. and I feel that they were almost all false. We staged at Addicks Dam at the same time reports were actively coming in on Zello Houston channel about shots being fired and boaters were encouraged at the staging area there and later at Bass Pro Shops in Katy to be aware that some rescuers had been targeted. While at Addicks Dam staging area none of us, all Texans and familiar with weapons and gunshots, heard anything remotely like a gunshot. In the days that we were there none of us heard a gunshot at all though the reports over Zello made it sound like you might be taking your life into your hands if you tried to rescue in some of these neighborhoods. A number of rescue boaters were armed and as far as I know none of them had to fire a single shot. I could be wrong though.
Along the same lines Zello was full of reports about imminent dam or levee failures. This got really old as we moved from Houston to Beaumont to Orange and kept hearing the same reports of imminent failure from possibly the same person who kept assuring listeners that the Coast Guard was there with him and informing him that people should leave as failure was imminent. Jeez. Give it a rest. I checked maps around Orange and found that there is no large lake or dam or levee just upstream and we radioed to correct the reports letting people know that they likely applied to Addicks Dam in Houston if they applied to anywhere. Within minutes the same guy came on and announced that the failure of the dam was imminent, the Coast Guard had informed him, etc. A lot of bad information and potentially damaging misinformation was spread.
Anyway. We're home now. Rebuilding will take a while. Help if you can.
I'm on a search & rescue team, and this is usually the chief challenge with "the public" getting involved, there is no established organizational structure. People all mean well, but it is incredibly difficult to utilize a horde of untrained people effectively at the drop of a hat, and it can also make things worse.
Zero criticism of the Cajun Navy et al, sometimes a motley crew is the best you've got and you do the best you can. But if you've ever been turned back when you tried to volunteer for a disaster, this is why.
I wonder if a future extension to ICS/NIMS could be, how to plug in these unconventional resources where professional manpower is insufficient. Develop a 2-minute briefing, a point of contact for unconventional resources to report to, a simplified structure & communication network. The most important concepts are pretty simple, and the first responder doesn't need to know that much about it.
Great idea, but unfortunately when it gets officialized, the lawyers and the bureaucrats get involved and start talking about liability and ways to insert themselves into the situation to profit from it and things quickly gain the complexity of joining the original organization, so it ultimately fails. Maybe I'm too cynical here.
Instructors will tell you, it's only when you want to be part of the management structure that you really need to know what is going on. Even today, the bottom rung mostly just needs to know where to check in, who they report to, and how to communicate.
I understand your cynicism, and in many places it's applicable. I've noticed however that gov't works developed in the wake of a disaster seems to be pretty solid. Maybe because the project leaders are granted unusual latitude to ignore the lawyers & bureaucrats :)
We all came away from this with the feeling that we had done some good for people that really genuinely needed and appreciated outside help. We began actively planning how we could assist the next time something like this happened. We analyzed what we had done and how we did it and identified our own deficiencies and came away resolving to be more prepared.
I think that likely benefits not only us but those who we attempt to assist if there is a next time.
I honestly wasn't trying to knock the Cajun Navy or Zello though it probably reads that way in spots. I'm a consultant in real life and a lot of my work involves identifying logical problems and other deficiencies in my client's operations so that they can focus their improvement efforts where they get the most benefit. Hopefully some of this is useful at some later point.
One thing I forgot to mention that we encountered involves rescuers entering neighborhoods where most residents do not speak English. The 'official' groups we encountered didn't have anyone who could translate English to Spanish or vice versa and thus were unable to understand what problems one potential evacuee needed resolved. Groups should get an introduction to Google Translate or other real-time translation tools so that people who may be in imminent danger can be assisted without having to wait for a translator to arrive.
Houston is a very diverse city culturally with large vibrant populations of people who do not speak or understand English. Once you get into smaller cities you are more likely to find groups where Spanish is the main language. Tools for communication with ALL affected people should be available with all trained, official first responders.
I think your idea about use of unconventional resources is spot on. Most people there with a boat and not part of an official group only wanted to know where they needed to launch or would be allowed to launch and addresses where people were requesting assistance or rescue. I believe a very effective solution to disaster response was demonstrated in Houston and the surrounding area over the last couple of weeks. There are things that could use some polish but overall it is a great model.
Ham operators, I hope, will always be a critical part of the infrastructure. Their ability to relay information when other options are unavailable is very important.
The National Guard and Coast Guard are armed and did respond to rescuers being attacked. Not sure if they actually fired back in response, or only forced them to leave.
No one that we talked with fired a shot or was fired at. During the several days that we were down there none of us heard a shot even though at times we were supposedly in the neighborhood where boaters had been attacked. We did find some neighborhoods where civilian boats were not allowed - authorities had blocked access except to Coast Guard, Nat'l Guard or other official group boats. Several of these neighborhoods were along the bayous where a lot of expensive homes were built. It seems unlikely that anyone was going to shoot at a rescuer in those areas.
I was the one who created the Cajun Navy's crowd-sourced rescue mapping strategy, though, while helping out with the 2016 Louisiana floods, so I can give a little insight.
At first, I just saw that people were posting requests for rescue in various Facebook groups and becoming quickly buried under requests by others. So I spent a lot of time combing through the posts and adding the details to a spreadsheet, which I then posted on Batchgeo for rescuers to use.
After that, I started working with the people from one of the Facebook groups who had set up a Google Form for submitting rescue requests, and ended up periodically copying requests over from there.
We also had another form for updates regarding a specific request, and were fielding phone calls from people about it as well.
The original map is actually still up here if interested: https://batchgeo.com/map/984218ef8a04f3587f6e723561501e89
The maps are down now as I believe the website went dark once the main flooding danger in Houston was past.
The map appeared to show markers all over the Texas Coast color-coded based on the type of request. The user was able to select a marker and in the left pane a descriptive entry gave information about the address, the number of people requesting rescue including a breakdown of #adults versus #children or elderly. Many posts had telephone contact numbers and each one had an entry from the person requesting assistance granting permission to post their request. Something like an "I Agree" entry after their contact info in the post. I visited the website while it was up and looked at the help request submission part and it was a pretty simple dialog set collecting the needed information along with an "I Agree" or a "Yes" button at the end granting the website the permission to post.
Early problems were predictable. Some of the posts should have been expired because the people had been rescued. Handling the updating of the information required the rescuers to confirm that the people had been rescued so that marker could be cleared. We ended up following several leads that had to be from the previous day. When we arrived at the target address the streets were dry, families were walking pets and kids were riding bikes in the street in one case. A couple of others also involved places where waters had receded and one involved a non-existent address that turned out to be along the beltway between two businesses.
The website did clear many of the older posts and altered the color-coding so it would be clear what you were heading for - medical problem needing assistance, people trapped needing rescue, etc.
It was quite handy. I know there were other maps including one maintained by the Cajun Navy that was similar to the one we used.
There is room for improvement in the maps and in how they coordinate with rescue assets. Timeliness is important and older posts in neighborhoods known to be heavily visited by rescuers should be cross-checked using contact info provided. A lot of traffic on the Cajun Navy channels was people confirming that a rescue needed to happen or that one had already occurred for a particular address.
I believe that the actual requests for assistance on the map I used came from those needing the help since many of them were from someone who was posting for a person needing help who had no access to phone or other communication network. I don't know who had the ability to remove the markers once they were placed but I know that feature by itself needed improvement in tracking rescues that had already occurred.
Does seem like a good idea if Apple or Samsung might build in some point to point radio hardware similar to a Gotenna that's works without cell infrastructure.
I was thinking 150Mhz~ MURS like Gotenna for a few miles range.
There's other options as well. But I'm not sure how that would help here?
But I became almost depressed after reading this https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/10/world/americas/irma-carib...
I've got different meanings for "First World Problems".
Would you prefer an organized, professional response in two days, or an impromptu Walter-Mitty-wants-to-help response in an hour? I don't think it's ever feasible to rely only on professionals for response to wide-scale events like this. You need neighbors helping neighbors.
Think about whatever naturally sourced neighborhood disruption strikes your area. For us in New England, it's snow storms and ice storms. In a snow storm, I go shovel/snow blow out some neighbors sidewalks and/or cars. In an ice storm, I'll help clear the sidewalks near my house of fallen branches because I have the time and equipment to do so. I'm not about to sign up and attend year-round training or drills on disaster response, as I have other things to do. Instead, I'm going to fire up my chainsaw or snowblower as/when/if I see it's needed to help someone who can't reasonably help themself and when I'm not reasonably needed at work anyway due to the scale of the event.
I'm on a volunteer fire department, and have had the same concerns, although on a more local level.
There were even wings from New York and other states who went to Texas just to assist: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2017/08/31/harvey-helicopter-res...
According to the first article, "We haven’t deployed this many people since World War I. So, this is literally the most we have deployed in 100 years."
It's impossible (or, at least, not anywhere near feasible) to plan for disasters on this scale, and there will probably always be a level of response from people who aren't professionals.
Try to direct development to less vulnerable areas, require flood control planning ahead of building construction, stuff like that.
Professionals train and plan to coordinate the work of other professionals. Volunteers from outside that process can supplement their work or serve in other roles entirely.
Your questions imply that there is something wrong with more chaotically organized volunteers supplementing the work of those professionals without close supervision. You couldn't be more wrong. There are plenty of people in need of help to go around, and volunteers might easily reach people who are overlooked or triaged by the professionals during the early stages of recovery.
> What are FEMA and the Red Cross doing if not helping coordinate emergency response when the normal channels are overwhelmed?
I am sure they are all just sitting around since there's basically nothing going on to demand their attention.
> Don't the people who do this deserve to get paid and have resources for dealing with PTSD?
It's the middle of an ongoing disaster. Thank God people are acting and helping rather than pondering these questions...
> And don't the victims deserve organized, professional response?
Limiting the response to organized professionals would be stupid. Turning volunteers into professionals in the midst of a disaster is impossible. It's hard to know what you're on about here.
My question is, what would have happened if the author hadn't stepped up to do dispatch? You would have had people searching blindly street by street, not knowing where they were needed. I am not for one second advocating that neighbors (or strangers) don't step up to help when needed, even at great personal risk.
By all reports the disorganized response ended up working well in difficult circumstances. But when (not if) there is an earthquake in a major city, this level of response is going to cost many lives. You will have a million people in need of food, water, and medical attention. There will be no power (let alone cellular service or Internet needed to run an app). There will be no gasoline because the pipelines will be out of service and a good number of the refineries are near fault lines. And you will have no warning.
We spend a trillion dollars a year on the Defense Department (and before anyone asks, I support that, too) that can, as noted elsewhere, project military force almost anywhere in the world, within hours. It's justifiably marveled at for its capability. Why can't we make it a national goal to get 911 up and running in a disaster zone in our own country within a similar time period?
I used the word heroes to describe the volunteers, your interpretation that I could possibly have been opposed them contributing is uncharitable at best.
Some other solution would have emerged, or the volunteers would have proceeded with a lower level of coordination.
> You would have had people searching blindly street by street, not knowing where they were needed.
I expect you saw plenty of this in the last week, even with a relatively good communication network in place. It's not necessarily a big problem. It would be a mistake for rescuers on the ground to assume that their dispatchers are omnipotent and to only proceed based on what they're told via radio. You would miss everyone in need of help who was unable to communicate out.
> Why can't we make it a national goal to get 911 up and running in a disaster zone in our own country within a similar time period?
I feel your comments are grounded in an overestimation of the importance of universally available centralized realtime control in disaster response. That is something we've never had in a genuinely large disaster that takes out a lot of infrastructure.
The closest we have to universally available communications is actually Amateur Radio networks. I'm all for spreading that hobby among high school students and encouraging more people to volunteer.
We could also do the 911 whatever technological thing you have in mind, but we should proceed with the understanding that we will encounter disasters big enough to knock it over.
The Red Cross is a different story altogether. During the last few crisises they were caught asking for money but never spending it but kept up asking for it. Charity hording for lack of a better term means other smaller locally based charities don't receive the support they really need.
Frankly, there is never enough money to hire enough people to do all the work. This is the US and we have a long tradition of neighbor helping neighbor. Many of the "amateur" responses are professional grade people. Many areas of the country are covered by volunteer fire departments.
The Red Cross often banks the money, and people should really read the authorizing legislation for FEMA since it is a more limited organization than many think.
Not that the pros are necessarily in good shape themselves. On 9/11 the NYC emergency command center was located in the towers and there was extensive compatibility problems with radio communication. Or the firefighters after the Loma Prieta quake who rushed to help only to find they couldn't use the hydrants. But shouldn't we, as a country, resolve that in a major disaster we'll at least have enough people and communications infrastructure on the ground to coordinate the local resources? Especially one like Harvey where you have a 48-hour forecast with a small error.
Why DoD? You might as well double train all the Fish & Wildlife people. The US has a long tradition of volunteers and they are enthusiastic and fairly effective. Single point of dispatches fail, badly. Its in the national character of the US. Having the government do everything isn't.
We do, but what this showed was that the different levels have different uses.
Local levels are distributed and have better latency--they can get to the most immediate problem fastest. National levels are centralized and a little slower but have way better throughput--they can help massive amounts of people over time.
I get that local organizations deal with some situations better than some large, clumsy bureaucracy but I tend to agree with wnissen, if this continues as trend relying on a patchwork of individuals (heroic as they may be).
I wish there was a non-military or less-military domestic version of this, I've considered joining the national guard for this reason but I'm don't trust that I wouldn't end up fighting and dying in a pointless war. If there was another volunteer force that was devoted to humanitarian issues and search and rescue I would be all for it.
Or the Civil Air Patrol? Or (less military, not non-military) US Coast Guard?
Not entirely non-military, but typically IIRC military aspects are almost entirely defense only.. so for example barring a USA invasion, or perhaps a complete depletion of the entire national guard system, you're not going to war.
clearly involved in this case.
You're basically describing the Coast Guard. I believe they do hire reservists.
It seems like its size may have been supplemented by serving as an alternative to conscription, however.
There's no conscription anymore though, and given the short serving time of 9 months at the end of "civil-service" (the alternative to conscription), that shouldn't play a role anymore.
I actually think this is pretty reasonable. We're too used to thinking that bad things are Someone Else's Responsibility. Maybe general-purpose tools (internet, walkie-talkie apps) combined with a sense of civic duty are the solution we should embrace, perhaps with a bit more public training (ala volunteer fire departments).
I would be all for stopping volunteers from trying to do rescues (and coordination) if there is evidence that they don't really improve outcomes. For instance, in the article the author helps get information to the Coast Guard, but the better solution there is to make people more aware of the Coast Guard having call centers and to make sure those call centers have capacity, not to have random people passing info along.
Clean up and restoration, not so much, if people want to help with that, whatever.
Would it be better to quadruple the size of FEMA or train more Americans in CPR, hypothermia, how to react in a flood, how to prioritize casualties, how to interact with others and coordinate, etc...
This is the difference between Americans and many other cultures — there is a sense of self-reliance that often doesn’t exist in other places. Many people would prefer to let the government handle it as if the government was some omnipotent force with infinite resources that are positioned exactly in the right place: like battalions of Rangers sitting in a C130 at Hunter Army Airfield just waiting to drop into action. People underestimate the logistics of massive rescue operations.
Also, a practical question: how do you deploy 1000 boats instantly? Air drops? Does the government just have thousands of boats staged across the country with thousand of qualified operators ready to jump into action?
Americans as a culture are different — they don’t sit around waiting for “official” help — they jump into action. I’d personally rather count on some redneck with a boat than just hope government comes through. While bureaucrats are figuring out what to do, old Jimbo with his swamp boat is already in the water en route.
That’s America. You don’t have to agree with it, you don’t have to like it, but Harvey was a great example of the American spirit in action: neighbors helping neighbors — even local businesses, like Houston’s largest furniture store, opening their doors to help. In France, you would never see an IKEA or Auchan opening their doors to those in need during a disaster, you’d never see a virtual armada of volunteers ready to jump into action. During the great Europe flood of 2016, people died in their homes — wouldn't they have loved to have the Cajun Navy? In Triftern, Germany, 250 students were trapped in a school for 24 hours — I bet they would have liked to have some rednecks with swamp boats.
I am not arguing against government disaster response, I am arguing that in times of disaster, Americans, especially in the South, are proud to jump into action. Lives were saved because a whole bunch of people decided to act.
Likewise in London, a waiter held a door to keep terrorists out  and people again opened their doors to let visitors to the city stay . The US does not have a monopoly on "the people" looking after themselves.
I'm always amazed at how willing some Americans are to attribute basic human traits to "American Exceptionalism" and then deny those traits to peoples from other countries.
Hundreds of people opened their home on July 14 2016 after the terrorist attack in Nice. Same in Paris before that. And same in Barcelona this summer.
While it's true that American people jump into action, it's just wrong, and immensely disrespectful of the people who helped, to say the same doesn't happen in France or in other countries.
as for 'the south':
see also sandy recovery efforts
see also people getting shot when they shouldn't have in nola for being in the wrong neighborhood and having the wrong skin color..
that said, we do have more boats, monster trucks, jetskis, and guns, and arent afraid to use them (even to rescue national guard trucks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAvNd7eH9MA)