Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Final Thoughts On Katrina

I have been unable to post anything over the past couple of days because the disaster in New Orleans has refused to leave the forefront of my thinking. After posting about "Mayor Sleepy and Governor incompetent" below, I took a little criticism in the comments section for being one sided and suffering from an unfortunate case of poor nasal hygiene. Oh, and there was also the suggestion that my post represented "everything that is wrong with this country". So I guess I really covered the bases!

Despite the fact that I have led disaster responses, albeit on a much smaller scale than Katrina, and despite the fact that my experience and training suggested to me that this was primarily a local problem, I took this criticism to heart and I have refrained from posting any further until more facts came to light. While this site does not get a significant amount of traffic, it is instructive that those that did not like my "Mayor Sleepy" bit really didn't critique the post on fact or focus, but I think more on terms of tenor. I wasn't very nice to Mayor Sleepy or Governor incompetent, and that rubbed good people the wrong way.

Fair enough. My extreme disdain for these two fools (oops there I go again) was born of my disgust not only for the way they not only abandoned their responsibilities in the midst of an ongoing disaster, but also for their pathetic attempt to transfer responsibility for the disaster to those who did not have primary responsibility as first responders in an emergency. It seemed clear to me at the time that the Mayor and the Governor were in violation not only of their roles in a disaster scenario according to traditional command and control structure, but most likely of these roles as per formal guidelines that their governments most have established. Evidence that has developed since my posting on Friday has shown that my hunch was correct and that if anything I under emphasized the degree to which these two abdicated responsibility.

We now know the following:
1. No local command and control structure was in place to serve as a coordination point
2. The State command center was not in touch with anyone locally or at FEMA
3. The city and state violated their own plans on several provisions
4. The city did not order an evacuation until a direct plea was given by President Bush
5. Evacuation was too late, with highway lane direction being changed only as of noon Sunday, less than 12 hours prior to the storm.
6. The Mayor knew that he could not evacuate the city
7. The Mayor had planned to release a DVD telling citizens "they were on their own in evacuation"
8. The city had run a practice exercise 13 months earlier that highlighted these issues, and nothing was done to improve the situation
9. Previous evacs to the Superdome during much smaller storms had resulted in crime, attacks and squalor, yet nothing was done to prevent the same from occurring.
10. The city had a significant public bus capability that was not planned for, utilized or protected.
11. Two third's of the city's police force abandoned their post. This was in part due to the failure of the city to provide for the protection of the policemen's families while they worked to save lives.
12. The Governor failed to deploy the National Guard troops at her disposal in a timely manner.
13. The Governor failed to request FEMA aid in a timely basis.
14. State and local plans did not include any storing of food, water, or medical supplies as a first response source of relief while federal assets were moving into the area.
15. Despite the example of New York's communication problems on 9/11 no precautions were taken to maintain disaster communication.
16. As of last night, the Red Cross was still not allowed to move into New Orleans by the State Homeland security agency.

There is no question that the feds failed to act quickly enough in this scenario. Most accounts estimate that their delay cost the citizens of New Orleans a critical 12 to 24 hours of additional suffering before relief could be provided in any sufficient manner. I find it very difficult to quantify exactly how to criticism FEMA in any specific manner because of the failings of local officials that I've listed above. How, for example, do you quantify the exact delay in providing aid that is the result of poor FEMA management when there was no local infrastructure for the agency to access in New Orleans. One way might be to compare the results in Mississippi to those in New Orleans. Doing this provides an indication of just how important local planning is to the relief effort.

Mississippi, which has almost been treated as an after thought in media reporting, fared much better than New Orleans inspite of the fact that it was hit much harder by the hurricane. The difference, in my view, is two-fold. First, the New Orleans flood presented a much more complex relief challenge than the ruined buildings and blocked roads of Mississippi. Second, and more importantly, the state of Mississippi clearly benefited from superior preparations, and better leadership. Compare Haley Barbour's work to Kathleen Blanco's complaints and you get a pretty clear picture of one of the complicating factors in this disaster.

Yet what about FEMA and its director Mike Brown? Brown's resume does not suggest that he is qualified to head the agency, and his agency's performance this past week has not been above criticism. I will be very interested in the post mortem of this exercise, and I suspect he must go.

As for President Bush there is also room for criticism. Clearly he appointed a man to head FEMA who was not the best possible choice. This appointment is all the worse since FEMA was moved under the control of the Department of Homeland Security which added a layer of management between the President and his disaster head. This combination of increased bureaucracy and weak leadership had a direct impact on the fed's responsiveness in my view.

Should Bush have moved faster to federalize the recovery effort? This was probably impossible given the legality of the relationship between the federal government and the state. While the feds had to be aware of the utter incompetence of the Louisiana authorities, it is not their job to usurp the wisdom of the local electorate. In fact, it is largely illegal for the fed's to do anything until the proper requests come from state authorities, and as we've established these requests were slow in coming from Gov. Blanco.

So that's it. I've purged myself of this whole Katrina disaster and hopefully can now think about something else. To those that disagreed with me in my Mayor Sleepy post, I say thanks and assure you I took your thoughts to heart. I guess I also ended up disagreeing with you, but I suppose that is no real surprise.

Oh, and one more thing. For some reason I seem to attract a fairly balanced group of readers representing both the left and the right views in this country. I am quite proud of this fact and I hope to be able to continue this. So I do have a question for my valued readers from the left end of the spectrum and I ask this with completely snark free intentions. Are you proud of the response of the left and the Democratic Party? Personally I have found myself stunned that so many would jump on the back of a disaster to accuse the President of disinterest, guitar playing, golfing, classism and outright racism. I may be wrong, but I find it hard to come up with anytime the Clinton haters politicized the suffering of others to attack their target. So I 'm kind of curious about your thoughts if you care to share them.

UPDATE: Remarkably ignorant of disaster preparation and action, the media has been unsurprisingly inept in its rush to assign blame to the feds. Now it seems they may be getting a clue as to what really happened. Here is a report from ABC which finally provides a little balance in the reporting.

UPDATE 2: Good Lord, I just can't take much more of this. Is everyone on the left insane, or is it just the nut jobs that get TV time? I was working out today and I know I should just watch AMC, but "McCarthur" was on and while it is a very good flick, I've seen it and really the ending isn't a huge surprise so I popped over to FoxNews. My friends on the left, when they aren't quoting it to bolster their point, tell me that its reliably conservative. So, I'm watching some flood news, some Rehnquist funeral and quite suddenly the horrible apparition of a bloated Naomi Wolf appears on my screen.

Unsurprisingly, dear Naomi, who really should stay off the doughnuts for a while (not to mention do SOMETHING with that hair), believes that the whole disaster was Bush's responsibility. She bolsters her thoughts with statements that approximate "its a sad day when a nation can't turn to its president to take charge of a disaster", fully ignoring things like laws and constitutions. She then goes on to say something like, "Even Hollywood gets it. Harrison Ford would be holding meetings." I'm not making this up!

On to "debate" her if that is what you can call this was Ward Connerly who tried in vain to point out that first response is a local issue and we have things like laws that prevent the feds from barging in. Connerly looked utterly befuddled that he would have to explain something like this to a liberal, and the whole scene took on a sort of SNL look to it, not unlike the Mike Myers/Kanye skit from Friday night. Perhaps the only difference was that Naomi, unlike Kanye, is able to coherently string an incoherent argument together. Where are the Moynihans?

UPDATE 3: Further detail is now available on my point number 16 above. Major Garrett of FoxNews is reporting that the Red Cross had supplies prepositioned that could have been delivered to the Superdome and presumably the Convention Center. The Red Cross was barred by State Homeland Security because the felt if people were fed, they wouldn't leave. Read more in this Hugh Hewitt post.

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