Katrina: State and the Feds

As witness by the response to Katrina, there needs to be a review not of blame but how things can be done better the next time. The state alone cannot be expected to handle such crisis and there is where the federal government should enter the picture. The question is how the feds enter the equation, at the call of the local/state government who best know the terrain devastated, or should the feds intervene as it sees fit. This last option seems rather presumptuous (having the available resources does not mean having the knowledge necessary to act) and smacks of big government and big brother.

A nice companion piece of the capability of the feds by Daniel Hanninger:
The popular impression left the past week-- that the government was wholly unprepared for Katrina--is not true. Significant U.S. military assistance was on alert throughout the week prior to Katrina's landfall. Why those highly trained and drilled assets did not move into New Orleans sooner is a question that should now sit at the center of a debate over who should have the authority--the states or the federal government--to be the "first mover."

According to accounts provided by several sources involved with preparations for Katrina, the Pentagon began tracking the storm when it was still just a number in the ocean on Aug. 23, some five days before landfall in Buras, La. As the storm approached, senior Pentagon officials told staff to conduct an inventory of resources available should it grow into a severe hurricane. Their template for these plans was the assistance DoD provided Florida last year for its four hurricanes.

And a week earlier than this, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued an executive order delegating hurricane decision authority to the head of the Northern Command, Adm. Timothy J. Keating. Four days later, as the tropical storm soon to be named Katrina gathered force, Adm. Keating acted on that order.

Before the hurricane arrived in New Orleans, Adm. Keating approved the use of the bases in Meridien, Miss., and Barksdale, La., to position emergency meals and some medical equipment; eventually the number of emergency-use bases grew to six. And before landfall, Adm. Keating sent military officers to Mississippi and Louisiana to set up traditional coordination with their counterparts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As well, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England ordered the movement of ships into the Gulf.

By the Pentagon's account, it carried out these preparations without any formal Katrina-related request from FEMA or other authorities. The personnel behind the massive military effort now on display in Louisiana--airlift evacuation, medical, supply, and the National Guard--was on alert a week before the hurricane. According to Assistant Secretary McHale, "The U.S. military has never deployed a larger, better-resourced civil support capability so rapidly in the history of our country."

So where were they on the two days of globally televised horror? Why, for instance, didn't DoD fly all this help close to New Orleans as soon as it saw Katrina coming? The answer, in military argot, is that you don't deploy troops beneath a bombing run; Katrina predictably would have wiped out any help put in her uncertain path, just as she rolled over the Big Easy's wholly unprotected "first responders."

Then there's American history, tradition and law. Once disaster arrives, several federal laws designed to protect state sovereignty from being swept aside by a Latin-American-style national police force dictate that a state's officials, specifically the governor, is supposed to phone the federal government and describe what they need. If asked by Homeland Security, DoD will send in the cavalry. But this is one audible at the line even Don Rumsfeld doesn't get to call.

And the limitation of the local/state government by Adrienne McPhail:
Once home to 500,000 people, with more than one-fourth living in poverty, New Orleans the city and Louisiana the state, failed their people long before the rains and winds of Hurricane Katrina tore through their state.

The murder rate in New Orleans is 10 times the national average. To test the response of the poor living in their numerous projects, last year researchers had police fire 700 blank rounds in a city neighborhood one afternoon. No one called to report the gunfire.

The city’s school system went broke this past year, as they were unable to pay their teachers. Meanwhile, dozens of school employees are under indictment for corruption.

Fifty-five of the state’s 78worst schools are in New Orleans. Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin was once the general manager for Cox Communications in southeast Louisiana. Prior to holding this position he had no experience in public office.

While there will be plenty of blame to go around in this tragedy, there can be no denying that the first line of defense in such disasters is the mayor, then the governor, then the federal agencies. The US Army Corps of Engineers have been building levees along the Mississippi River since the late 1800s and it was no secret in New Orleans that they were not built to withstand anything stronger than a Category 3 storm.

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