On Christmas Eve in 1974, Darwin was devastated by Cyclone Tracy, which killed 71 people and left thousands homeless. The city has a population of about 100,000. The Northern Territory, home to Ayers Rock and Kakadu National Park, accounts for one- sixth of Australia's land mass and only 1 percent of the nation's population.
Now, I had the opportunity to speak briefly with the head of the Crisis Corps, the part of the Peace Corps that deploys returned Peace Corps volunteers to humanitarian disasters, last week. We discussed the terrible and haphazard response to Katrina last year, when the Crisis Corps, which normally deploys 100 volunteers around the world in the course of a year after a six-monthish-long process, had to deploy 241 volunteers with a few days notice.
She said it happened just like it looked. The director Gaddi Vasquez turned to her and said, "Let's deploy some Crisis Corps volunteers to Katrina." He saw a way to enhance his agency's reputation in light of FEMA's failure. And, FEMA didn't turn out to be the easiest agency to work with, asking for dozens of volunteers with a few days turn around. So, RPCVs seeking to help in the disaster got shuffled around for a few days and ended up handing out flyers saying how great the government was on streetcorners.
Which is fine. Lack of preparation for a disaster creates more disaster. What disturbed me was her response when I asked her what was going to happen this year. The Crisis Corps is not going to deploy.
I don't believe the Crisis Corps should deploy. Domestic natural disasters are clearly outside of its mandate, and we do have agencies who are supposed to cover this. But, that's almost certainly what she thought last year at this time. FEMA's no better off, and the Pacific Storms suggest we may have another humdinger of a season. The Peace Corp's political situation hasn't changed. I really do think that we may deploy. The pressures and mechanisms are the same. The young woman asserted that the failure of the levies was the big problem, and that'll not have the same impact this year, but I, of course, served in Lake Charles, where there was levee-free devastation.
Lessons learned? 0.