A Basic Misunderstanding of Human Nature
The sad truth is now emerging that there actually was a plan ahead of time to evacuate the people of New Orleans...it just wasn't followed. But even if it had been, it suffered from the same basic failure to understand human nature that so much of the rescue effort has.
1) When the wolf finally comes, after being warned about so many times, people are not likely to respond. The way the media, especially the cable news networks, hype every hurricane builds a complacency toward the really big ones. Those insane shots of reporters leaning into the wind as the rain blows sideways and the palm trees whip in the wind further reinforce the notion that it really isn't that bad. People tend to shrug when they hear an evacuation order when they've left before and nothing happened.
2) People worry about their stuff. This one will be an even bigger problem next time after all the looting that following Katrina. They don't want to leave their homes and businesses. Those places represent a sanctuary to them, even if that's a false hope of security. Further, homes that have been in the family for generations are not easy to leave behind.
3) People love their pets. Many people, especially older people, will not leave if it means leaving their pets behind. Any evacuation plan that doesn't work in either separate shelters for pets and owners, or at least for pets is going to leave a lot of people behind.
4) People worry about their incomes. One of the most heartbreaking things I've seen in the last two weeks are the elderly people who want to stay in their homes because they worry about their Social Security checks finding them if they leave. Of course this amount of rain is "staying these carriers from their appointed rounds" and no checks are going to be delivered there any time soon. But to people clinging to that check as a lifeline, evacuation is not something they will consider.
5) People who rode out a "big one" are at great risk. I don't know how many people I've heard say "We made it through Camille, and nothing could be worse than that." Most of the people who lived to say that (and not all who would have said it did) know now, but...
All of the plans that we put together (and I fervently hope somebody somewhere is learning some lessons from this travesty) for the future need to take these considerations into account. If we don't, we'll be suffering the same chaos again next time.