(by Steve Eaton deseretnews.com 11-11-14)
In 2005, Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré was faced with leading the military rescue effort in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina, a fierce storm that hit near New Orleans and took the lives of more than 1,800 people and caught thousands unprepared.
Last month, the former three-star general, who was once dubbed the “Category 5 General” and the “John Wayne Dude,” saw firsthand how an organization prepares so it can be ready when such disasters strike. Lonny and Susan Gleed, missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave him a tour of the LDS Bishops’ Central Storehouse, Welfare Square and Temple Square.
Honoré, who now spends much of his time teaching organizations and people how to be prepared, called what he saw “absolutely phenomenal.”
For many, their first exposure to Honoré, the commanding general of the 1st U.S. Army, was when he was assigned to lead the Department of Defense’s Joint Task-Force Katrina. He was given the mission to head up the military’s rescue efforts late in the evening on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005, the day after Katrina hit the southeast Louisiana coast. When he arrived the next morning, hundreds of people were waiting for help on rooftops and in attics. More than 16,000 people were stranded at New Orleans' Superdome along with a similar number at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. By Saturday, thousands of victims had been moved to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport so they could be evacuated, Honoré said.
The storm caused, by some estimates, $100 billion in damages, in part because levees failed, flooding 80 percent of the city. According to FEMA, it was the “single most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history.”
The New Orleans mayor at the time, Ray Nagin, was pleased with Honoré's unconventional, take-charge style and called him this “John Wayne Dude,” and the Washington Post dubbed him the “Category 5 General.” CNN cameras caught Honoré defusing tensions by angrily ordering National Guard troops to lower their weapons when he arrived on the scene. He is still considered by many in New Orleans to be a hero because his direct approach that cut through red tape, accomplishing his mission’s objectives.
Honoré has since retired and now spends much of his time speaking to groups about preparedness. He has authored two books, “Leadership in the New Normal” and “Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family From Disasters.”
He was in Salt Lake City as a guest of Logan, Utah-based company Muscle Wall, which makes hollow flood barriers that can be moved, locked together and filled with water to protect communities. Honoré serves as a consultant for the firm.
Honoré said that he was impressed with the global reach of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ humanitarian efforts, the comprehensive nature of its preparedness work and the commitment of the church to be good Samaritans.
“For a long time I have talked about being individually prepared,” he said. “I have talked about community preparedness and government preparedness because we know on any given day Mother Nature can break anything built by man. I think what the church has demonstrated and what it continues to demonstrate is what happens when you create a culture of preparedness within an organization.”
Honoré said that when disasters hit it is the poor and vulnerable who often suffer because they have a tendency to live in less-secure shelters. He cited a quote he saw mounted on the wall in Welfare Square from the Prophet Joseph Smith that reads:
We are “to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or any other, or no church at all.”
Honoré said he was impressed to see the commitment of the church to serving the poor with, not a “hand out,” but instead a “hand up.” He said seeing the church’s operation on television would be nothing compared to seeing it in person.
“This is real,” he said. “This is the commitment of a people who know how to grow the food, process it, can it, distribute it and put it in the hands of the people who need it. This is phenomenal.”
He said the depth and breadth of the operation and the church’s “commitment to excellence in transportation” was “most impressive.”
“I’ve been to many a factory where food and personal things are kept,” he said. “The cleanliness was beyond anything I’d ever seen before. You’ve got people dusting in warehouses; I’ve never seen that before.”
Honoré, who also had a role in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, said that he witnessed the help the LDS Church offered hurricane victims and how it worked through a Catholic relief organization to offer assistance for those in need. He said he wanted to visit the church facilities in Salt Lake City so he could personally thank them for the donations and the work church members did for the victims of those storms.