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Ragin' Cajun general shares message of disaster survival learned from Hurricane Katrina

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, seen here as the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, was a media celebrity for his no-nonsense style. He has a book on disaster survival.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2005)

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, seen here as the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, was a media celebrity for his no-nonsense style. He has a book on disaster survival.

LARGO — Have a disaster plan for Granny.

Make sure she has an emergency evacuation kit that includes her insurance information and plenty of cash (because ATMs will fail when the power does).

Get her a weather radio and put it in her bedroom.

And by the way, teach her how to text. Text messages often get through faster than a cell phone call when a network is overloaded.

Then do the same for yourself.

"Be prepared to be your own first responder," said Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, who commanded Joint Task Force Katrina in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane.

The 63-year-old retired in 2008 after 37 years of active service in the Army. He now lives in his home state of Louisiana, but he's still got our backs.

Tuesday, the day before the official start of hurricane season, he spoke at the Largo-Mid Pinellas Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Luncheon, held at the Largo Public Library, telling an audience of about 200 that disasters are a certainty and we must stay ahead of them with common-sense preparedness.

Many will recall that this is the stogie-smoking three-star general with a pencil-thin mustache and pit bull attitude who brought in the cavalry and restored calm and hope to Katrina-affected victims.

As he cuddled babies and barked "Weapons down, damn it!" he became a media celebrity earning nicknames like the "John Wayne dude," "the Ragin' Cajun," and the "Category 5 General."

Now his mission is to create a "culture of preparedness." He's traveling the country telling people how to do it. His book Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family from Disasters outlines the details.

His message on Tuesday was that disasters — hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, power outages, industrial accidents, terrorist attacks — will always be with us, whether they are natural or man-made.

And they will only grow in size and intensity as our population grows.

"As we become more urban, the impacts become more significant," he said. "This is our new normal."

He noted that as populations swell, targeted evacuations become necessary and those left behind will need help — lots of it.

He urged leaders and business owners to take charge now.

"Forty percent of businesses fail after a disaster," he cautioned.

Those who prepare will be a critical part of the response and a part of the recovery.

He said one of the best things businesses can do is purchase generators, because the power supply is so fragile.

"If we lose power, we are set back to the way we lived 80 years ago," he said.

Then there's the question of having enough clean water on hand. That, too, will be harder to come by as the populations boom.

"I participated in two wars fought over oil," he said. "Our next war will be about water."

Ragin' Cajun general shares message of disaster survival learned from Hurricane Katrina 05/31/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 5:17pm]
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