Katrina - Lessons Learned
1. The planning, command, logistics and communications failures associated with Katrina should be required reading for anyone involved with emergencies (especially security officers). Many of the lessons learned are directly or indirectly applicable to non-development NGO activities and operations.
2. For most NGOs that strive to be transparent, this level of public self-scrutiny, analysis and disclosure rarely happens with security or safety related incidents. After action reports and critiques are remarkable learning tools for avoiding similar events in the future. But there is little sharing of information about security incidents, especially the big ones, within the NGO community. Information about an incident is usually kept internal or perhaps shared at the InterAction council level. Quite often it never reaches the field where it is needed the most. Yes, organizational reputation (especially with donors) can be put at risk if say it was revealed an international staff member who was kidnapped did everything wrong in terms of personal security and that the office security policies and procedures were woefully inadequate. But when widely communicated, that type of information is incredibly powerful in decreasing the chances that such an incident happens again. People relate much better to real life events that demonstrate consequences.
As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Off the soapbox and back to Katrina. From being on the ground in New Orleans immediately following the storm as part of the relief efforts, I can categorically state that if NGO staff with experience in international emergency and IDP situations had been involved in managing the incident (with their advice heeded), a fair amount of the suffering could have been reduced.
Note: (2/23/06) - The White House just released their lessons learned report. Not nearly as comprehensive or self-reflective as the House version, but still useful to read.