Haiti’s Fatal Flaw

Once again, the fatal flaw that is normally present in every disaster management plan has been revealed in Haiti.  This flaw is always revealed during every major disaster that occurs around the world.  However, whenever disaster management plans are updated to include the lessons learnt from the last incident, for some strange reason, the writers of the plans always ensure that this fatal flaw remains.

Over the past decade, I have spoken with disaster management representatives from most Caribbean countries, and explained how this fatal flaw can be effectively resolved.  However, despite there being general or unanimous agreement during our meetings, an examination of the revised plans shows that the fatal flaw remained.

There has been over one billion US dollars invested in Haiti over the past decade, and much of this was spent to ensure that Haiti had an effective disaster management response.  Yet, despite the advice and oversight provided by US, European, and UN disaster management consultants, the fatal flaw remained.  This flaw ensured that the monetary investment made in Haiti over the past decade was utterly wasted.

 Haitian shop owner, Edner Baptiste, described the effect of this fatal flaw in a Reuters news item dated 14 Jan 2009:

“There is no one in our country capable of sorting this out. Everyone is looking after their own families. Only the world can come to our rescue”.

 The fatal flaw in every national disaster management plan, is the assumption that the personnel who are trained to perform critical functions during a major disaster, will report to, or remain at their posts, and carry out their duties during a major national disaster.

 Whenever this assumption has been tested during a major national disaster, it normally fails.  Yet, this unverified assumption continues to be the principal foundation upon which all national disaster management responses are based.

 The trained personnel’s typical response during a national disaster is to abandon their posts to look after their families.  It is a normal response that appears to be supported by the Bible:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)

 It must be noted that a localised disaster, or a relatively low intensity national disaster, where the trained personnel can still contact their families while at their posts, is vastly different to a major national disaster where establishing such contact while on-duty is difficult.  

 How can this fatal flaw be resolved.  One effective solution would be to upgrade the houses of those expected to remain at their posts and perform critical functions during a major national disaster.  An alternative solution would be to relocate the family members to a functioning shelter.

 The US military understands that their soldiers on critical missions function better when they do not have to worry about the welfare of their families.  However, this principle appears to be completely ignored by US and UN disaster management consultants who include this fatal flaw in the disaster management plans that they write for other countries, including Haiti.

One response to “Haiti’s Fatal Flaw

  1. John Jackson

    I agree completely with your opinion! The technology exists to build homes or buildings that can withstand any hurricanes and earthquakes above 8.O. The ironic part is that it is not much more expensive to employ this technology! How much faster could things have gotten done in Haiti if the UN had a seismic safe building with water purification and communications center already in place. They say hindsight is 20/20 but disaster after disaster has shown us the flaws and nothing is ever done. There are always talks and what ifs and the next time we will… The billions that flow to countries like Haiti should first be spent on developing an operational infrastructure that can remain in use when disater strikes, not just before! The simple economics of it boils down to spend a few million up front or spend hundreds of millions when it is to late. I feel terrible for the people of Haiti and know that there would still be many dead even if the UN headquarters had not fallen, but wonder how many more could have been saved and how much quiker the aid could have been organized if it had been seismically upgraded prior to this tragic event! I truly hope that you are successful in getting your point across someday, perhaps this loss will be the wake up call for those in the position to act!!

    Hi John:

    Regrettably, major loss of life during an extreme event is normally the catalyst that drives the public demand for higher building standards. However, the next problem becomes the effective enforcement of those standards, which appears to require a similar catalyst. The attendant misery is all so unnecessary.


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