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Harvey’s public-private partnerships.

August 30, 2017

Although you don’t hear many government officials mentioning it, a small army, or rather navy of private citizens deserve a lot of credit for lives saved during Harvey.

Specifically, both impromptu and loosely organized citizen volunteers providing boats, transport vehicles and manpower to rescue people from flooded neighborhoods.

Receiving the most press is the “Cajun Navy” which first surfaced in the aftermath of Katrina, but countless other unaffiliated citizens are in evidence too.

In fact, initially there were no or very few government boats even in evidence, and it still looks like for every government-operated watercraft there are 20 civilian boats. Although hard-and-fast numbers will probably never be known, one estimate says there were at least 400 privately owned watercraft in use.

And that doesn’t even touch on all the groups and individuals from across the U.S. that saw a need and filled it on their own, providing everything from clothes to air ambulances.

The government is uniquely equipped to do some things well, particularly as regards quickly standing up emergency infrastructure like mobile medical facilities or moving large quantities of goods or effecting aerial rescues.

It’s when help has to be given on a person-to-person level in real time, or when innovative solutions are needed that the real shortcomings of large bureaucratic institutions stand out.

The Fortune.com article linked above makes an interesting comparison of how the two ends of the spectrum solve problems.

The article, written by David Z. Morris on August 20,  contrasts the government’s failure to produce a tech-connected communications solution that connects responders and victims efficiently.

The government’s $47 billion communications boondoggle isn’t even operational yet, despite being in development since shortly after 9/11.

In contrast, the aforementioned Cajun Navy uses two existing commercial apps to coordinate rescue efforts and maintain field communications.

And yes, even the much-maligned social media channels have proven that they can be used for something more useful than commenting on the height of someone’s stiletto heels.

So yes, we do know how to meld the public and the private infrastructure for the common good.

Now if we could just figure out how to do it consistently.

From → op-ed

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