We all watched in shock and horror as CNN and the other news channels brought us live picture of Katrina and Ike building up toward landfall. Intrepid reporters clad in foul weather gear leaning at precarious angles to demonstrate just how powerful a 100mph wind was, the rain seemed to falling almost horizontal, debris falling off buildings, objects tumbling down streets and sidewalks. This was mother nature at her most violent.

My wife and I watched these events unfold from our nice safe apartment 1500 miles away. I found the images disturbing, but in reality they did not mean much to me, the New Orleans area was one that I had never lived in, in fact I had never even visited it. My wife was a different case, this was her home, this was where the majority of her family lived, her parents, her sons, her brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends.

The communications infrastructure was non existent, and even if it had survived, who could she call? Most people had evacuated the area. The one glimmer of hope believe it or not was the internet. As she searched the chatrooms and instant messenger services, scoured the community social sites, and sent many emails, a picture of the destruction became clearer.

The days dragged on, and little by little we started to locate people. Miraculously everyone had survived the carnage, they were scattered from Florida to Texas, some had even fled northwards, but everyone was safe.

A couple of weeks after the hurricanes had hit the TV coverage all but ceased, CNN moved on to the next global catastrophe, and too many viewers the stories of Katrina. Gustav and Ike were relegated to the history books. That was unfortunate, because in actuality the story was just beginning. And it is a story that continues today, years after the events.

There is still much malcontent in the area, and the favorite target for criticism is the Federal Government, more specifically FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Few locals that I talk to have kind words for this agency. Often though their venom is misplaced much of what went wrong was not caused by FEMA themselves but rather the subcontractors that they employed. FEMA as their name implies if in the business of managing the emergency and co-ordinating the recovery process. The cleanup, the repairs, all of the actual work is performed by contractors, and these contracts are highly lucrative and much sought after.

Unfortunately many of the companies are not on site for compassionate reasons, merely financial ones. With FEMA personnel stretched to the limits there is little oversight of the feet on the ground.

With human nature being what it is the temptation of easy money is too great for some to avoid. Fraud can take many forms, and fraud within sections of the subcontractor world was rampant. Some might be viewed as fraud through incompetence, but much of it was premeditated and systematic. This was not a situation on a rogue one man operation cheating on his time sheet, or overestimating the number of loads of debris he had hauled, this was full blown corporations doing it!

I oversimplified my explanation earlier on how FEMA operates, I forgot to add the third component. A disaster of the magnitude of Ike and Katrina requires the services of so many different subcontractors that FEMA themselves are overwhelmed, to rectify this situation they themselves employ management companies to act as overseers of the actual work.

It does not take a huge leap of faith to see the weaknesses in this management structure. We now have a case of the fox guarding the hen house. What if that management company itself wanted to commit fraud?

That is the question that Keifer Bonvillain asks, and answers in his book The Broken Road To Disaster Recovery. This book gave me pause for thought, and is the reason that I decided to investigate the subject for myself.

I was not ‘inside’ the story as Keifer was, however I have uncovered some some information that smacks of incompetence at best. What I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears leads me to believe that Keifer is not out to make it rich off the backs of a couple of large companies, but rather is a concerned citizen who wants change in the way that disasters are responded to. Yes, he is a whistle blower, and has made some powerful enemies in his quest. The spin doctors have been hard at work.

Can he win this fight? It is a David vs Goliath battle. The simple answer is that I don’t know. But I do know that he is committed to the cause, and it is a worthwhile cause.

In Part Two of this article I will be exploring a couple of examples of possible mismanagement of the Katrina aftermath that I have personal knowledge of.

Stay tuned, this story is just getting started. I cannot discuss the developments yet, but there are some interesting ones.

Simon Barrett

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