A lot of people are talking about the newly leaked Hurricane Katrina video, but no one’s really saying anything. We all know it shows disaster officials emphatically warning President Bush that the category four storm posed a catastrophic threat to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, while Bush asked no questions and simply recited rehearsed statements. We all know government officials knew what might happen, what to do if that happened, and that it simply fell on its face. The video confirms all of these facts, but is it really news to anyone outside of Wyoming? We all knew this anyway.
But what we didn’t know is that the government still knows how to run a damn good meeting. Damn good. Dr. Strangelove would be so proud. I for one was worried that this may have been a lost art due to Bill Clinton’s easy going, laissez-faire manner. But all of those fears have been assuaged thanks to this video. I’m glad to see some good order and discipline has been restored to administration meetings. I’m proud to see that our great leaders, like our founding fathers, still know how to give a good meeting.
After all, this great country was built on the solid structure of good meetings—from the Sons of Liberty in the taverns of Boston all the way to modern, clandestine affairs in Nixon’s Oval Office. I’m proud to see that our current leaders still have it in them.
By all appearances this meeting was smooth, well-organized, and even included teleconferencing. Everyone had microphones and laptops and sat around a nice expensive table with the briefer—in this case Michael Brown—at the head. Expert opinion was asked for and received. Even the President of the United States dialed in to offer his support, his image appearing on a sharp LCD screen on the wall.
Sure, critics will point out that the meeting did not accomplish anything. But those people are under the assumption that meetings are supposed to produce something or solve some problem. Those people have obviously never spent a day in their lives in a world where meetings are set-up solely for the purpose of giving managers something to do, brown nosers a chance to brown their noses, and know-it-alls a stage to perform on. When is the last time you ever walked out of a meeting with a clear sense of what to do, or how to do anything? This is America, people. We practically invented red tape.
And, as it is in our private businesses, so it is in the government that represents us. President Bush, like any good figure-head, sat at the meeting and gave canned words of encouragement and support. He is the out of touch CEO, playing the role to perfection. Michael Chertoff, like upper management, sat in a polo shirt, very relaxed and unscathed, while the fate of thousands was being decided. The only one who seemed to have a grip on the situation was Michael Brown, who warned that maybe the below sea level Superdome wasn’t the best place to send people in case of a flood. Unfortunately he was stuck in middle management and largely ignored. Experts, people in the field gave warnings that would prove to be correct, but their words, like those from any low-level worker, feel on deaf ears.
However, it is good to see that the government knows how to conduct a well-run meeting, and the video certainly featured this. Everyone spoke one at a time, and clearly and precisely. There was no shouting, no confusion. Concerns were raised, support was pledged, and the result was 1300 people died because nothing actually happened. It was a showcase management and those who hold meetings will study for years: how to talk a good game for the troops, but do as little as possible and still keep your job.
If I’ve learned anything from working in corporate America it’s that if you don’t have a good meeting you have nothing. And, that’s exactly what thousands of people in New Orleans were left with too.