Lessons learned at Oso disaster | Jerry Cornfield

That venerable adage ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’ came to mind Tuesday as President Barack Obama departed the Oso firehouse.


That venerable adage ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’ came to mind Tuesday as President Barack Obama departed the Oso firehouse.

Not because the communicator-in-chief had just provided three cringe-worthy moments with his tortured pronunciation of the town’s name.

Rather it was Obama’s subtle acknowledgement the emergency response to the deadly mudslide did not get carried out in letter-perfect fashion. Families and neighbors of the deceased and missing encountered frustrations with first responders during those first days after the earth moved.

“Some terrific lessons were learned in the midst of very hard times during this process, because almost uniquely, we had not just coordination between state, local and federal officials, but also coordination between volunteers and those officials,” Obama said to the crowd at the firehouse.

“And I know that it required some improvisation and some kinks getting worked out, but it was important for the family members themselves and the community themselves to be hands-on and participate in this process — particularly a community like this one where folks are hearty and know how to do things, and take great pride in being self-reliant.

“It was important that they weren’t just bystanders in this process, they were involved every step of the way,” he said.

Rep. Elizabeth Scott, R-Monroe might feel validated by his words; she made much the same point a month ago.

But the freshman lawmaker, among those who met with the president Tuesday, expressed it far less diplomatically, and perhaps too soon, to be effective.

Only four days had passed before she unloaded about a lack of common sense in aspects of the rescue and recovery efforts. She spoke of how residents embraced Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin’s “Get ‘er done” ethic to spring into action in the face of what sometimes seemed a slow and jumbled response from official quarters.

She expressed particular pique with the decisions to bar Darrington residents from joining the search for victims and restoring a private road for emergency vehicles to access the site – prohibitions the hometown folks promptly ignored and officialdom eventually welcomed.

Those were probably the kind of “kinks getting worked out” that Obama had in mind.

“It’s not a time for armchair quarterbacking, but for heaven’s sake, listen to the people on the ground,” she said March 27. “People of Darrington feel really dismissed and put down.”

There would be a time to discuss what didn’t go right and what to do about it, she said.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect response. We can learn from this and going forward we can think about how we have a better plan,” she said.

When that time comes — if Scott picked up any tips from Obama — it will be to make sure what she says gets the attention, rather than how she says it.


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