New Orleans set up its own citizens alert network after Hurricane Katrina. In a city under assault of hurricanes and toxic oil disasters, federal and local authorities have reasoned the system could save lives and help conserve emergency responder resources.
Living downstream from cancer alley's many toxic and volatile refineries, and in a region that frequently experiences deadly and freakish weather, having such a system in place is wise. New Orleanians might be surprised, however, to learn what the system is actually being used for. On October 13, for example, a NOLAReady alert landed in the inboxes and cellular devices of thousands across Orleans Parish.
Was it life-threatening weather?
A highly disruptive road shutdown?
Evacuation or Shelter in Place information?
A boil water notice?
Did the Shell Oil plant blow up? Had the river crevassed? Did a chemical tanker spill its cargo near the French Market?
The grave threat to public safety on October 13 was none other than two women stealing baby formula. According NOPD Officer Gary Flot's alert message sent far and wide at 2:46 pm;
"Members of The New Orleans Police Department are requesting the public’s assistance in locating and identifying two female suspects wanted in connection with a shoplifting. The offense occurred October 8, 2010, approximately 6:30 P.M., in the Ideal Market in the 200 block of South Broad Street.
According to investigators, the suspects entered the store and concealed 18 cans of Enfamil baby formula under a baby blanket and exited the store. Both suspects entered a dark green Dodge Intrepid and fled south on Palmyra Street then unknown."
This dire warning to the people ends with the assurance that "First District Detective Kris Vilen is actively working the case and following up on leads given by our citizens."
Please forgive me for proposing a different kind of alert for New Orleans. Maybe the NOPD would kindly send it out through NOLAReady? It goes like this:
Warning: The people of New Orleans are suffering after five years of failed and misguided reconstruction policies. The poverty rate remains 1 in 4 for the general population. 35 percent of our children endure poverty. The city lacks affordable housing, and yet the politicians and real estate companies barrel ahead to demolish public housing. A quarter of our homes are vacant, while 1 in 25 of us is homeless. The public hospital remains shuttered. Lower-Mid City is evicted. The city has lost 20% of its pre-Katrina population. Some neighborhoods never came back at all. Half of workers in New Orleans earn less than $35,000 a year, and many earn considerably less, enduring frequent spells of un and underemployment. Government remains corrupt. The cops still brutalize, and now apparently have nothing better to do than chase impoverished mothers who are just trying to feed their kids. Displaced and dispossessed after the flood, now the people of New Orleans struggle through the Great Recession. Interpersonal violence has worsened. Women and children suffer from family and institutional abuse. Young men are killing each other in the streets. Trauma and mental illness have worsened and there are few resources to help one another. The people of New Orleans have caught hell.
I'd be interested in hearing from others what you might write as an alert for the city of New Orleans.