September 26, 2005

Capt. Ed on the gun registry: um... okay

"Some [Canadian] Conservatives will say that this was the entire point of the Gun Registry all along. The RCMP, which administers the Gun Registry, has the only law-enforcement portfolio to independently investigate the Canadian executive... However, burdened by an underfunded mandate in the Gun Registry and the loss of high-ranking professionals over the last few years, the RCMP no longer has the resources nor the clout to exercise that check on executive power."

--Capt. Ed, on the Canadian gun registry report

Okay, I admit I don't get out as much as I used to, but I don't know anyone... ANYONE... in Canada who believes anything remotely close to this theory. I mean, I know some nutjobs who are about one tin foil hat away from being committed, but even they would think that theory was far out. The Liberals created a gun registry solely to keep cops too busy to investigate the government... wow. Jeez. That's nuts. (It's not even factually correct: the Canadian Firearms Centre administers the registry, not the Mounties.)

Note to any Americans reading this blog... if all you're reading is Capt. Ed on Canadian politics, you really have no idea what's going on. I recommend to you Colby Cosh and Paul Wells for starters, even if they don't normally violate court bans. I can only wonder at the value of the fellow's insights into countries I don't happen to live in.

Posted by BruceR at 05:49 PM

Basra development worth watching

An Iraqi judge yesterday issued arrest warrants for two British soldiers, presumed to be SAS men, whose detention by Iraqi police and subsequent rescue by British forces in Basra last week has thrown an unprecedented spotlight on Britain's role in Iraq...

But Judge Mudhafar says he is not convinced the two men are British - possibly because one of them was said to have been carrying a Canadian-made weapon - and they may not be entitled to immunity.

--The Independent, Sept. 26

Probable explanation: Special operations troops of all countries generally use the kit they trust, not necessarily their national standards. I'm naturally interested what kind of weapon they're talking about here, but there's absolutely nothing probative as to the freed soldiers' nationality in this kind of information. British SAS troops in the Falklands used American M-16s, 40mm grenade launchers, and Stinger missiles... none of which were standard British Army issue at the time.

Posted by BruceR at 10:46 AM

September 23, 2005

Iraq: coalition casualties by province

In his attempted refutation of the Lancet study of Iraq excess fatalities, Seixon made an interesting argument. The Lancet study's claim, you'll recall, was that there had been an estimated 100,000 excess deaths in Iraq between March 2003 and September 2004, the period of war and early U.S. occupation.

The survey method involved, for a couple of reasons, the pairing off of two-thirds of Iraq's 18 provinces, and the transfer of survey clusters from one province in each pair, randomly chosen... allowing the survey to get something like a national representation while only working in 12 provinces. (Ultimately, this became 10, as Muthanna province had insufficient population to warrant a survey cluster, and the one cluster in Anbar province, in Fallujah, was dismissed as an outlier).

I won't get into the probability theory, but it should be intuitive that this will only work if the province-pairs are correctly paired, in terms of relative violence levels... otherwise the pairing process could unintentionally exclude six provinces with a greater than average violence level, and queer the casualties estimate for the whole country down, or vice versa.

Seixon is focussed on the probability stuff, where he's mostly out of his depth, I'm afraid. But he did strike on one useful idea, of running through the publicly available database of Coalition fatalities, and see if it justified his suspicion that non-violent provinces had been sampled out of the Lancet survey. If his numbers bore out, and the violent provinces had been incorrectly paired with non-violent provinces, and the non-violent ones then excluded by random chance, it would provide a statistical challenge to the Lancet paper of sorts.

So I decided to check his numbers.

The database Seixon is using is generally considered authoritative. It has the downside that it doesn't have a specific data field for province, but only location. Also, because that location is the place of death, it does not track very well deaths that occurred in hospital outside Iraq.

From the start, I couldn't replicate Seixon's numbers. Up to Sept. 30, 2004, there were exactly 1,200 Iraq war fatalities listed, combat and non-combat. Of those 1,200, 905 are listed as "hostile" and 295 as "non-hostile." I don't see any point in including non-combat fatalities, which would follow a different distribution less related to violence levels.

Of the 905 hostile deaths in that period, 864 are located by the database in Iraq. Of those 864, a number were not at locations that could be placed provincially, including 20 "not reporteds", a number in the "southern part," etc.

Of those that did have a place name, I spent some time with a gazetteer, and came up with the following (alternate spellings in parentheses):

Baghdad Prov. (incl Log Base Seitz, Camp Cuervo, Baghdad Airport): 207
Anbar Prov. (incl Al Asad, Al Asad AB, (Al) Habbaniyah, Al Qaim, Fallujah, Hadithah, Hamamiyat, Hit, Husaybah, Khaldiyah, Khutaylah, Mahahma, Qusayba, Ramadi, Haditha Dam): 150
Salah Ed Din Prov. (incl Ad Duluiyah, Ad Dwar, Al Ouja, Albu Shukur, Balad, Bayji, Camp Cooke, FOB Summerall, Samarra(h), Taji, Tarmiya, Tikrit): 79
Dhi Qar Prov. (An Nasiriyah): 50
Basra Prov. (incl. Umm Qasr, Khawr Al Amaya, Al Zubayr, Al Madinah): 36
Diyalah Prov. (incl. Al Ghalibiyah, As Suaydat, Baqubah, Balad Ruz/Belaruz, Buhri(t)z, Jalyula, Khalis, Khan Bani Saad, Muqdadiyah, Sadiyah): 33
Babil Prov. (incl. Al Haswah, Al Hillah, (Al) Iskandariyah, Al Mahmudiyah, Al Mussayib, Latifiya, Madlul): 29
Ninawa Prov. (incl Ash Sharqat, Mahmudiyah, Mosul, Qarrayah/Qayyarah, Shumayt, Tall Afar): 29
Najaf Prov. (incl. Ayyub, Kufa): 21
Karbala Prov.: 12
Wasit Prov. (incl As Suwayrah, Ali Aziziyal): 11
Tamim Prov. (incl. Hawijah, Kirkuk, Kirkuk AB, Taza): 11
Maysan Prov. (incl. Al Amarah, Ali As Sharqi, Majar-al-Kabir): 9
Qadisiyah Prov. (incl. Ad Diwaniyah, Scania): 4
Muthanna Prov. (incl. Ar Rumaythah, As Samawah): 3

I could find no records of casualties in Arbil, Dahuk or Sulaymaniyah provinces in the period prior to the Lancet survey.

What would these changes do to Seixon's numbers, which he gives in the form of Coalition deaths per million Iraqis? Well, here's the province, with Seixon's number in brackets, next to my matching figure. Provinces where field work was conducted by the Lancet and the results contributed to the 100K excess fatalities estimate are asterisked:

Anbar: 119 (417)
Salah Ed Din: 72 (148)*
Baghdad: 40 (69)*
Dhi Qar: 33 (35)*
Basra: 27 (36)
Diyala: 23 (38)*
Najaf: 21 (23)
Babil: 16 (48)*
Tamim: 16 (24)
Wasit: 13 (40)*
Missan: 13 (17)*
Ninawa: 12 (52)*
Karbala: 11 (26)*
Muthanna: 6 (8)
Qadisiyah: 5 (14)
Arbil: 0 (1)
Dahuk: 0 (0)
Sulaymaniyah: 0 (0)*

All the numbers of deaths per province from my calculation are smaller than Seixon's figures, which is what one would have expected due to my excluding the non-combat deaths. The remaining difference seems to be mostly due to Seixon using deaths from outside the Lancet survey period. Provinces where fighting flared up after the Lancet study was completed and published in October of 2004 have much larger numbers in Seixon's figures. For provinces which have been relatively quiet in the last year (such as Najaf) his numbers and mine are comparable, whereas provinces that continued to be "hot" after September 2004 show a wider discrepancy.

I think it should be obvious that using U.S. coalition fatalities as a baseline to check Iraqi population fatalities, if you're going to use significantly different chronological periods, could never hope to be statistically sound. If there's any value to this stat at all, it's got to be based on the anti-Coalition violence levels in the same period the Lancet actually surveyed, not including deaths later on in the insurgency.

Bottom line: overall in Iraq during the period the Lancet surveyed, with an estimated population of 24.4 million (The Lancet study's figure), there were 684 Coalition combat fatalities with a traceable location: 28 Coalition deaths per million occupied people in the first year-and-a-half of occupation, in other words.* In the 10 provinces the Lancet actually did usable fieldwork in (excluding the Fallujah/Anbar cluster), with 17.0 million people, there were 459 traceable combat fatalities in the same period... 27 deaths per million. Paradoxically, the provinces the Lancet used for its survey were just slightly safer for Coalition troops on average than the nation as a whole. So I'm afraid Seixon's inference based on this evidence that the Lancet's pairing process was incorrectly done falls apart.

There is an extensive thread on this at Tim Lambert's place, which I've contributed to extensively, and to which end I'm posting my data here.

*Caveat: This figure of 28 is for Coalition coalition deaths in all Iraqi provinces for which a point of death can be ascertained. Add in the deaths which occurred in unknown locations, hospitals outside Iraq, etc. and the total number of all occupation combat fatalities is actually 37 per million, or 2.47 combat deaths per year per 100,000 Iraqis occupied. One could probably compare that to other military peacemaking/occupation efforts (or civilian police work) to get some useful data, if one had the time.

Posted by BruceR at 11:55 AM

September 16, 2005

Why the History Channel sucks

Really, the title says everything. Um, except for the why, I suppose. (We interrupt this blog post for yet another commercial break!) Yes, there is a rationally grounded source for the title (Commercial break!) Something about how cutting a quarter of the words out of anything (Commercial!) and breaking it up into little disjointed segments (Break!) doesn't produce much in the way of either enlightenment or enjoyment.

I'd like to watch the Canadian History Channel, I really would, but the commercials have recently gotten completely ludicrous. This is most obvious with the BBC reruns... Tony Robinson's series debunking Dan Brown appeared to have commercials within the commercials, and I estimate fully a quarter of each ep is being cut out in the case of the current reruns of Battlefield Britain. What remained last night was practically incoherent from a narrative point of view... yes I suppose it was artful to excise the entire Harald Hardrada/Stamford Bridge portion of a show on the Battle of Hastings, rather than just cutting random bits out, but without it the whole historical episode makes no sense whatsoever... at the start Saxon King Harold's waiting with his army for Duke William in the south of England... then he's suddenly wearing his troops out marching rapidly back TO the south from the north of England. I'd say you get some nice ideas for stuff you could buy in the place of a coherent story, but I'll be damned if I can remember what any of the commercials were actually for.

I actually stopped watching Simpsons reruns entirely when I realized how much of some of my favourite shows had been hacked out for extra commercials. I'm afraid I'm going to have to do much the same in the case of History Television... pity.

Posted by BruceR at 06:38 PM

September 11, 2005

Frying pan into fire

This should be interesting: changing a discriminatory provincial law into an unenforceable one.

There is no WAY Dalton's solution is going to work, I'm afraid. You've got to give the guy credit for trying to cut the Gordian knot on the sharia arbitration issue. But there's no way you can ban everybody, including devout Jews and Christians, from letting their religious principles be their guide in resolving a civil dispute by mutual agreement, yet allow them to do so if their principles are NOT religiously derived. Priests and rabbis (and imams) have been solving neighborhood disputes for centuries, and nothing's going to change that. Show me how you construct that legal framework in a way that could possibly be consistently applied, let alone survive a Charter challenge. Prediction: he'll be backpedalling on this in time for the Monday night news.

UPDATE, Monday morning: As predicted there is already considerable confusion, and possible early signs of backpedalling, in regard to the Premier's off-the-cuff statement on prohibiting sharia yesterday.

The Globe quotes McGuinty's statement this way: ""I've come to the conclusion that the debate has gone on long enough. There will be no sharia law in Ontario... There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario... There will be one law for all Ontarians."

But the Star quotes him adding a caveat that didn't make the initial wire stories:

"Ontarians will always have the right to seek advice from anyone in matters of family law, including religious advice. But no longer will religious arbitration be deciding matters of family law."

This is a big difference. While the use of religious codes in family law has been the subject of the most debate, arbitrators also do a lot of business in straight-out civil disputes and property arbitrations, in any jurisdiction. Almost no one minds if these issues continue to be actionable through voluntary religious arbitration. All the controversy has swirled around family law -- divorce, custody, adoption, and inheritance disputes.

Indeed, this would be the logical and most popular position to take... forbid the religiously-based determination of family law issues, particularly those involving children, but continue to allow other civil arbitration.

McGuinty's statements (from the same Canadian Press interview) are mutually contradictory on whether non-family law forms of religious arbitration will still be allowed. I'm pretty sure he meant to restrict his comments to family law arbitrations, and that any legal proposal his government makes will actually focus on restricting the range of arbitrated settlements in this area. His office will likely clarify his position along these lines soon. But his making impromptu remarks which could mean two very different things is no way to introduce a policy change. All he's done so far here is give Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious groups an easy victory when he ultimately partially retracts his own "no religious arbitration in Ontario" statement.

Posted by BruceR at 07:59 PM

September 10, 2005

Pure alarmism

The Toronto Star seems bound and determined today to make Torontonians more worried about emergency preparedness. Which is not at all a bad thing, but not when it's made with dishonest arguments.

First up, columnist Ian Urquhart, questioning the emergency management commissioner's entirely reasonable belief that a total rapid city-destroying catastrophe is not something Toronto needs to plan too much for:

But then Fantino expressed doubt about Ontario's cities having to face a disaster of the scale of what hit New Orleans and environs. Noting that the province is not on an earthquake fault line or in a hurricane zone, he said: "I don't envisage us being in that kind of catastrophe."

What about a major accident at, say, the Pickering nuclear plant?

"There are redundancies and safeguards in there (Pickering) galore," said Fantino. "I don't think that we'll ever have that kind of a problem. But one never says never. We have to revisit everything."

I've been on the periphery of the nuclear industry all my life. Plans for evacuations of immediate local areas in case of an accident should always be on the books, of course. But I have never heard of a plausible scenario where an accident at any Canadian reactor would require the evacuation in a matter of only hours of hundreds of thousands of people, or pose any risk of widespread property loss. Alarmism, pure and simple. Fantino is right... barring nuclear bomb or meteorite strike, the kinds of disasters that can realistically hit Toronto involve localized evacuations of a neighbourhood (river flooding, chemical spill), or widespread loss of essential services city-wide (power outage, ice storm). The kind of catastrophic disaster New Orleans needed to be prepared for (or Vancouver does, for that matter) is simply not plausible here.

There's no doubt everybody's disaster plans should be reviewed post-Katrina. But any time spent planning the mass evacuation of Torontonians today would be wasted time. Better to focus on how to maintain city-wide services in a regional service-loss situation like an ice storm (ie, getting food in, not getting people out) and how to build redundancy and scalability into the first-response services, like the police, to prevent them being overwhelmed the way New Orleans police were.

Then you have Peter Calamai, talking about the 173 tropical storms that have hit Canada in the last 105 years, causing up to 895 deaths. Sounds scary, no? Sure, until you drill into his figures a little and find out that 847 of those deaths and disappearances occurred before 1955, and 678 of those were in boats at sea. In the entire second half of Calamai's survey period, from 1955 on, only 48 Canadians have died in tropical storms, less than one a year, a twentieth of the death rate in the previous five decades. He does however, rightly point out that the greatest difference between 100 years ago and today is accurate weather forecasting, limiting the exposure of fisherman and other boats at sea to these storms. There can be no doubt that the advent of modern meteorology has probably saved hundreds of Canadian lives in this way.

Absolutely, the Atlantic provinces need to be prepared for the worst from tropical storms, but what Calamai elides over is that Ontarians, shielded by the Appalachians, aren't at significant risk here. Calamai doesn't mention it, but his 1900 "worst storm ever" only killed one person in Ontario, although it devastated the Atlantic provinces. With the singular exception of Hurricane Hazel in 1954, which hit Toronto smack on, killing 81 (almost all of them due not to the winds, but the resulting flooding of local rivers due to an unbelievable amount of rainfall), tropical storms have never been a significant mortal threat to Ontarians. As we showed this summer, Toronto-area rivers are still occasionally vulnerable to localized but intense river-flooding even without the involvement of a hurricane... the same measures that are needed to protect riverbank residents from that kind of disaster, combined with a dose of common sense (don't drive or fly in a big storm, and definitely don't go out in a boat) and the hardening of essential services like communications and power delivery, would seem sufficient protection from this threat.

Posted by BruceR at 03:42 PM

Gretna city limits, pt 2

Okay, maybe a graphic can show this more clearly, as Kevin Drum and a couple others are really muddying things up with inaccurate maps. Here's the big picture. neworleans.gif

The flooded area is marked, as are the two downtown collection points, and the Gretna roadblock. The closest point of aid for evacuees was the major collection point that had been established at the junction of the I-10 and the Causeway Road, to the west of New Orleans in Metairie (big green dot), which in turn was supplied from the airport. To help people, they had to get to this point (assuming officials continued to deny relief officials entry into the city proper, but that's another issue).

The yellow solid line is the route, nearly 20 miles by my rough estimate, crossing the Mississippi twice, that was effectively blocked by Gretna police. The dashed route, along the high ground on the north side of the Mississippi, is the route that it appears a significant number of individuals (including the two EMS techs) ultimately ended up taking to get out after it was clear the Gretna bridge was blocked.

On the morning of Thursday, Sept. 1, over two days after the storm cleared, with the arrival of buses at the Convention Center still 48 hours away, and both the Convention Center and Dome closed to new arrivals, if you were in New Orleans you would have basically had three choices, assuming no roadblocks. You could sleep in the street and wait for the buses to show. You could take the longer way out through Gretna if it was open. Or you could take the more direct route out, staying in New Orleans... still a long walk, maybe over 10 miles, but not as long as the alternative.

If I had been in New Orleans, all the other indignities would have been forgettable if just one person in authority had been able to say that morning, "Look, there's problems with the buses, but if you can walk for a few hours heading west, hugging the north bank of the river, you'll be fine." I'd have been sure to have made it out well before nightfall, and could probably have carried someone's small child if I'd needed to, as well, getting that child to medical aid two full days earlier than if they'd been left in the convention center.

I simply don't understand why someone didn't stand up in the Convention Center and tell people the situation, and encourage the able-bodied people there to start hiking west along the river that morning. That would have left whatever resources did make it through to the Centre in the next two days to be shared by the elderly, the infants, and the injured. No, it's true wheelchairs and baby strollers likely couldn't have made it easily along the northern-bank route... but reducing the numbers by letting the able walk out would surely have helped ease the pressure on the collection points and bus arrangements.

All the Gretna policewere blocking, it turns out, was a massive detour, that would only have increased the number of people falling out of the line of march, dropping out of sight even farther from the help they needed than when they set out.

Now, all this would have been greatly alleviated if the rescuers had been allowed by the state to deploy further forward, perhaps even with a staging area in Gretna. Of course, if they had had the buses and resources to deploy further forward at that point, they could have deployed them right to the convention center... since they didn't or couldn't, those stuck in New Orleans had to rely on their own devices. Just a little accurate and truthful information from authorities would have gone a long way here.

Side note: The southern bank of the Mississippi in this picture is called the West Bank, even when, in the case of Gretna, it is to the east of New Orleans. That's why Drum's map is wrong.

Posted by BruceR at 03:20 AM

September 09, 2005

Gretna city limits

The San Francisco EMS techs' and others accounts of the only dry route out of the French Quarter of New Orleans being blocked by cops after Hurricane Katrina has been pretty much confirmed.

At first glance, the whole thing seems kind of appalling. Gretna is over 50% white, and Jefferson Parish, of which Gretna is a part is even whiter than that. As the storm neared, buses transported the poorer folk of the parish (no guesses what colour most of them would have been) to the Superdome. San Francisco Chronicle:

"About 70 percent of the population [of Jefferson Parish] is white, and nearly 23 percent is black, according to the 2000 census...

"Jefferson Parish's divide between races and classes was evident in those who returned to check on their homes -- whites -- and those who were noticeably absent -- blacks.

"Much of Jefferson Parish's black community had been evacuated to the Houston Astrodome on buses and had no means of returning.

"'They bused people out of the city, and now they don't have a way to get back,' said [Journell] Henry, who is black."

How nice for those poor people. Then immediately after the hurricane, police put up a roadblock on the only bridge out of downtown New Orleans.

Then, anyone who managed to sneak past the roadblock and make it into Gretna anyway (4,000) or so were bused BACK AROUND New Orleans into Metairie, to the west. UPI:

"He says that his officers did assist about 4000 people who "arrived at the doorstep of (Gretna City)" either by crossing the bridge before it was closed or approaching from another route.

"'We commandeered public transit buses and we took them to higher and safer ground" at the junction of Interstate-10 and Causeway Boulevard where "there was food and shelter," he said."

Kinda reminds you of Day of the Triffids, doesn't it?

However, in the cops' defence, evacuating people further east when the main relief effort is coming from the west wouldn't really have made much sense. Any callousness they displayed would have been completely beside the point if there had been anything like a feasible evacuation plan, or if the New Orleans city authorities had acted to set up a third collection point once the Convention Centre overflowed, perhaps in one of those nice hotels they'd just ordered emptied out... or, in the final extremis, if the New Orleans cops were able to offer the tourists or others who had as a consequence of these failures, to essentially live on the street, anything like constructive assistance or good advice.

Let's be clear, though: ... it was NEW ORLEANS civil authorities who ordered the hotels emptied, apparently. It was NEW ORLEANS authorities who failed to establish a third collection point after their first two were overflowing (say, in one of those evacuated luxury hotels), leaving people no choice but to sleep in the street. It was NEW ORLEANS authorities who apparently misled the resulting refugees about the Gretna bridge being open. And it would have been NEW ORLEANS POLICE who dispersed first one encampment near their casino headquarters, and another on the freeway near the bridge, in the second case possibly at gunpoint with a helicopter. The "sheriff" who dispersed the camp after dusk and repossessed refugees' food and water would not have been a Gretna cop... the location of the camp described is well within New Orleans city lines.

Some Gretna police may have said some stupid things to people trying to slip past their roadblock that might suggest a racial motivation, but their actions overall were at least logical, if not entirely humane. But I don't know what the hell the New Orleans police thought they were doing by this point.

Posted by BruceR at 05:43 PM

September 08, 2005

New Orleans prediction

It should be obvious by now that reports of gunfire aimed at rescuers, hospitals, etc., will prove in the end to have been no such thing. Oh, I have no doubt there was plenty of gunfire, and that landing evacuation helicopters, etc. with that as your background noise was undoubtedly unnerving, but it will be clear in time that none of it was the result of people deliberately shooting at rescuers.

The real disaster story of New Orleans to me is the apparent determination of local officials, documented in multiple reports, to do anything they could to keep New Orleans refugees from walking themselves out of the stricken city and to safety (or for eager volunteers from outside the stricken region to help and evacuate them) even after both of the city's emergency shelters had been closed and the hotels had locked all their guests out.

PS: You have to love Reynolds' take on this same report... the two writers of the article have been revealed as trade unionists, and therefore we should all "hold our outrage." Well, consider it held, then. But given that this second story by a hotel-survivor would seem to confirm most of the essential details... well...

Posted by BruceR at 12:49 PM

Lessons from the local news

1) This senseless tragedy comes from up in my mother's neck of the woods. I really can't stress this enough: if you are going off deep into the Canadian Shield (and the Missinaibi is about as untamed as you can get in North America these days without using a bush plane), hours from other human help, please, please, have every adult member of the party bring something like a proper knife, and never let them put it out of easy reach. (And one long gun per party, if you can get the necessary permits.) It's not just bears... if you get trapped under a windfall tree and can't hack your way out, you'd be just as dead in the end. And heroics are useless if you've ceded all humanity's natural advantages over the animals (grasping hands, steel, etc.) right from the outset.

2) If you are in a bitter political fight trying to preserve a military institution in downtown Toronto, to enable Torontonians to serve the country, and also to have a ready staging area to help the citizenry in time of natural disaster and emergency, against a pacifist/homeless lobby group that wants the Canadian military disbanded and all its remaining facilities turned over to the poor, just about the worst thing that can happen to your cause is have some of your members get charged with killing a homeless man in his sleeping bag just outside the building.

Posted by BruceR at 10:14 AM

September 07, 2005

Reynolds on Katrina

Instapundit, on the Katrina victims:

"Most poor people in America can afford food (that's why so many poor people are fat). They do have other problems that make preparation less likely, though (if you're the kind of person who thinks ahead and prepares for emergencies, you're much less likely to be poor to begin with)..."

No comment.

Posted by BruceR at 05:12 PM

September 06, 2005

Canadian Katrina updates

The Canadian SAR team ended up moving to Chalmette, Louisiana, east of New Orleans, where they were able to commence rescue activities on Sept. 3. Team leaders report "the devastation is beyond comprehension." They rescued 73 people the first day (Saturday), and another 14 the next. Team leaders report they are beginning to plan for their extraction as FEMA resources have started to flood in.

A 35-man Canadian Forces composite diving unit left by plane on the weekend to join the U.S. 2nd Fleet.

The four-ship naval squadron is due to depart Halifax this afternoon and be in the area by Saturday.

Two Canadian Air Force helicopters have deployed to assist the Boston-area Coast Guard, which has sent all its helos to Louisiana.

Twenty-seven Canadian Red Cross personnel were flown to the stricken area on an Air Force plane, as well.

The combined military/coast guard operation is called Operation Unison... a previous report it was called Operation Union was incorrect.

The University of Windsor joined McGill in offering placements to affected university students. The first one to take up their offer arrived on the weekend.

Four Canadians are still unaccounted for, Foreign Affairs reports.

UPDATES, 3 pm: The University of Toronto is also opening its doors.

Also, the Canadian government has offered everything in the national emergency stockpiles if the American government wants it, the Vancouver Sun is reporting (subscriber-pay link):

"Worth about $300 million and housed in half a dozen strategically placed depots across the country, the stockpile includes hospital beds and blankets, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and 165 field hospitals. Each hospital has 200 beds that can be deployed within 24 hours and set up in schools, community centres, concert halls and other buildings.

"Canada has also offered water purification tablets, gloves, masks, bandages and surgical instruments in "mini clinics" that can be carried in backpacks, federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said Friday."

Posted by BruceR at 10:23 AM

September 02, 2005

Katrina: some thoughts

I believe the Katrina disaster shows us that mass disasters basically scale in two dimensions: both the size of area affected, and the order of immediate property damage and economic dislocation, and the resulting effect that has on the social environment.

In the model I'm stipulating, first-order disasters, for the majority of those affected, are basically about the disruption of essential services: food, water, power. Examples would be the Canadian ice storm of 1999, or the major power outage of two years ago. These rarely seem to result, in Western countries, in extensive vandalism or the loss of social order.

Second-order disasters, as we're seeing in New Orleans, see the outright and rapid destruction of vast swathes of personal property and capital, with the resulting side effects of wage loss, personal mobility, etc: the main natural causes of these today are hurricanes, seismic/volcanic activity, or riverine flooding. If this kind of disaster affects the greater part of an urban area, it seems very difficult for even a fully Western society to keep order for long with local resources.

In the Globe today, Doug Saunders seemed to be leaning toward congratulating the ice storm victims I worked with in a military capacity in 1999 for not rioting in the streets back then. But the effects of that kind of first-order disaster are at a quantum level lower: while property and personal prospects in the affected areas had the potential to degrade over time if a person stayed in place, total sudden loss of everything one owned happened to very few if any of the victims, and the possibility of near-100% restoration at some point in future remained obviously high. As my experience showed, all that was needed to keep everything under control in the case of the ice storm was an effective governmental response focussed on rapid service restoration, plus (particularly in the rural areas) a dash of good old North American individualism. (Some of my colleagues reported trudging through snowdrifts to check in on backwoods house-owners, to see if they were getting through the frigid, power-free nights okay, only to be told, "what power loss?")

In a second-order disaster, that's insufficient. The experience of New Orleans leads one to conclude that the only real hope for a major Western urban centre affected by such a strike to keep any kind of order at all is to have prepositioned massive aid resources as close as was safe, and move immediately into the response mode as soon as the warning sirens stop. This clearly was not done in the case of New Orleans.

The difference between these kinds of disasters and the other kinds is so stark, and the likely areas where second-order disasters could occur so well-defined, one could imagine a map of North America with the likelihood of second-order effects displayed as a percentage gradient, with the Gulf region and earthquake-prone Pacific coast red, and much of the American Northeast an almost entirely safe yellow-white.

My city, for instance, Toronto, has an almost-zero chance of being affected by a second-order type disaster as I'm defining it. Short a nuclear bomb or an asteroid impact, the chance of a second-order strike to Toronto is zero (although we have suffered from occasional localized flash flooding of some city streams in the past, the effects were highly localized, and there has never been a significant earthquake or hurricane in this area). The same is not universally true across Canada... there is a non-zero risk of a tsunami in Halifax, significant earthquake/tsunami risks on the West Coast, and most of the prairie cities carry at least some small risk of major riverine flooding.

(Caveats: Biological/radiological disasters, like a flu epidemic or the Chernobyl disaster, follow somewhat different rules, but they're still closer to first-order disasters than second-order ones in this model... an epidemic left unchecked will gradually overwhelm the local health system and then other essential services, but by comparison to natural disasters, its effects on property salvageability and value tend to be slow-moving, and they are unlikely by themselves to impede flight or destroy most private and public property over a wide area in a matter of only a few hours or minutes. Other kinds of disaster can cause extreme destruction, but only over very localized areas, leaving most infrastructure and civilian response mechanisms in a large urban area unscathed, if overloaded... terrorist attacks like 9/11 or tornadoes in the midwest occupy this category. The one other kind of second-order mass disaster humans have experienced that I can think of, city-wide fires, has not been a risk in Western urban centres for decades. One other, extremely rare possibility for a second-order strike would be a major airborne chemical event, whether natural (Lake Nyos) or man-made (Bhopal).)

Obviously a lot of that success in prepositioning is going to hinge on the locations of military basing within a country, because that's the skeleton on which all mass disaster preparation inevitably rests. On that gradient map pictured above, you want major military bases equipped for relief support somewhere in the orange band... neither in an area likely to be directly affected, nor so far as to be of little use. A military base in Toronto is near useless if Vancouver slides into the sea... but so is one in Vancouver. The argument has been made that the nearest army base to Vancouver, at Wainwright, Alberta, is too far to be effective in this regard, and there's some point to that.

The ideal basing structure for military support in a civil crisis would seem to be large bases on the perimeter of earthquake/hurricane prone regions, and cities generally, and small installations like reservist armouries in the urban cores (to provide rapid staging and emergency shelter capability).

Posted by BruceR at 03:11 PM

McGill to take in Tulane students

From McGill University's press office:

"McGill University is joining other members of the American Association of Universities (AAU) in relief efforts to accommodate students from Tulane University in New Orleans who have been affected by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina."

Posted by BruceR at 02:05 PM

Canadian rescuers in Louisiana: update

The Canadian civilian SAR team in Kenner, Louisiana has been forced to cease operations due to rising disorder. Team leader Brian Inglis:

"It's far too dangerous for even the state troopers and police to wander out. It's absolutely crazy, the devastation is unreal -- the gunfire, the shooting, the looting is like something you see in a movie."

The B.C search-and-rescue team moved rapidly in response to a state-to-province request from the governor of Louisiana. Federal aid, including Canadian military support, is awaiting a similar request from the American government. If only for the irony alone, I'd love to blame shoe-shopping for the delay, but I can't: apparently all foreign offers of support are being personally handled by the Secretary of Defense. Mm hmm.

Anyway, Paul Wells is right: by any objective measure so far our government has moved faster on this to help its friends than after either 9/11 or the tsunami.

UPDATE, Friday: I guess they got that request: Operation Union was announced by the defence minister this afternoon, with 1,000 Canadian personnel apparently leaving for Louisiana by ship on Tuesday.

Posted by BruceR at 09:26 AM

September 01, 2005

Canadian relief assistance to New Orleans

Worth noting:

"British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province, sent a search and rescue team to Louisiana to assist recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast area earlier this week.

"Vancouver's heavy urban search and rescue team flew to Lafayette, Louisiana, following a request from state officials, British Columbia's Public Safety Minister John Les said late yesterday in an e-mailed statement. Other Canadian provincial governments are ready to assist, the Canadian Television Network reported on its Web site."

Posted by BruceR at 07:08 PM

Iraq officer fatality update

Just a quick update on my June post on officer fatalities in Iraq. From June 10 to today, there have been an additional 196 U.S. fatalities in Iraq, of which 10, or 5.1%, were officers. This brings the percentage of officer fatalities in the U.S. military, already at something of a historic low, down even farther to 8.6%.

Interestingly, the same website I'm relying on here has corrected its British officer fatalities up, to 22 out of 93 total deaths, or 23.7%, three times the American percentage.

Another interesting and possibly indicative factoid is that there hasn't been a single fatality among the non-U.S. coalition forces in Iraq, including the British, in the last six weeks. Of the U.S. fatalities since 10 June, 87, or 44%, were reservists (largely due to the large number of Marine reservist deaths in Anbar, but still remarkably high).

Posted by BruceR at 03:01 PM