CommunityEngagementFGCU 360 Now
March 8, 2018

Katrina response leader shares lessons learned

Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré hopes to help communities, families create a “culture of preparedness” for disasters

“You’re stuck on stupid,” Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré shouted at a reporter during a 2005 Hurricane Rita press briefing. The commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina arrived in the New Orleans area less than a month prior, and the death toll from the historic storm was nearing 1,000. He didn’t have time to talk about the past; he needed to inform the public before another storm hit.

Honoré brings what his website calls a “no-nonsense approach to getting the job done” to Florida Gulf Coast University Thursday, March 22.

Photo show Russel Honore
Retired Lt. General Russel Honore / AP Photo

The “stuck on stupid” response to a question about recovery efforts following Katrina helped catapult the man The Washington Post dubbed “The Category 5 General” into the national conversation. It also established the now retired lieutenant general as an expert in preparedness and leadership. Called “a soldier’s soldier” by The Palm Beach Post, Honoré continues to speak his mind when it comes to disasters and the response.

“[Katrina] has been linked to just about everywhere I go and everything I do,” said Honoré, who retired in 2008 after 37 years of service. “I think that the people [impacted by Katrina] believed over time that we were there to help them, not to intimidate anyone, but to help facilitate getting the job done.”

Writing for The Times-Picayune in 2010, Jarvis DeBerry called Honoré’s Katrina recovery leadership “remarkable.” The lieutenant general believes being from Louisiana helped him understand the culture. But the foundation of his method lies in a lesson he learned as a graduate student studying human resources.

“The most important resource we’ve got is people. How [do] we get the right people in the right place to take care of the problem? The most important thing we do is people. It’s not about me or them; it’s about us,” Honoré added.

Referring to Katrina victims, DeBerry wrote, “They’d probably want somebody in power to understand their predicament, to put down their guns and help them get out. Honoré remains beloved here because that’s exactly what he did.”

In addition to his work in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, Honoré has played a role in the recovery and response for many storms – Hurricanes Floyd, Lilli, Isidore, Isabel, Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. His fingerprints are also on the response plans for floods in Venezuela and Mozambique, Y2K, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion and the Washington, D.C. sniper shootings. With that kind of experience, it’s easy to see why he is often tapped by organizations and the national news media to discuss disaster preparedness and recovery.

“In a disaster, a real disaster, you’re going to lose control. On the other hand, if it’s a hurricane [and] you maintain control, then it wasn’t a disaster; it was an inconvenience,” Honoré said.

Honoré is the author of “Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family from Disasters,” “Leadership in the New Normal” and his newest book, released in fall 2017, “Don’t Get Stuck on Stupid.” His lecture – “Leadership, Resilience, Preparedness in the New Normal” – is slated for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 22, in the Cohen Center Ballroom at Florida Gulf Coast University. The retired lieutenant general said he plans to expound upon these ideas:

  • Lesson No. 1: “On any given day, Mother Nature can break anything built by man.”
  • Lesson No. 2: “Be prepared to be your own first responder and take care of yourself and your family. And when you have that done, be prepared to take care of your neighbor.”
  • Lesson No. 3: “[This] will be about leadership: Do the routine things well. Don’t be afraid of the impossible, look for the impossible, because all the future opportunities are on the other side of impossible. And third, if you’re going to lead, be prepared to be criticized.”

This free event is open to the public and made possible by SWFL Family Businesses Foundation, Inc. and Northern Trust. Please RSVP by Monday, March 19, to [email protected] or call (239) 590-7400.