Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Joshua Michah Marshall puts some perspective on the spin already coming out of the White House, to cover their you-know-whats regarding their response to the flood in New Orleans. I thought these people were all for personal responsibility.

It's almost awe-inspiring to see the level of energy and coordination the Bush White House can bring to bear in a genuine crisis. Not hurricane Katrina, of course, but the political crisis they now find rising around them.

As we noted yesterday, the storyline and the outlines of the attack are now clear: pin the blame for the debacle on state and local authorities.

So, let's get all the facts out on the table now. And let's not be afraid to let them all fall where they may. There's no need to make saints of Gov. Blanco or Mayor Nagin. In such a storm of error as this, it would not surprise me if they made a number of them too. But the reason you have a federal government and particularly a FEMA in cases like this is that it is in the nature of local and state authorities to be at least partly overwhelmed in disasters of this magnitude. Read what Ed Kilgore wrote a couple days ago at TPMCafe ...

Anyone who's been involved in a disaster response episode will tell you the first few days are characterized by absolute chaos. Basic logistics are fouled up; communications systems are paralyzed; a thousand urgent needs must be triaged; a vast welter of well-meaning but tunnel-visioned federal, state and local agencies, plus private charitable organizations and volunteers, rush in; local elected officials are forced in front of cameras to inform and reassure the affected population. Somebody has to be in charge of the chaos, and that's FEMA's job.

This is just one of the many reasons why the White House's main excuse -- that the locals didn't tell us what to do -- is such a grim joke.


Chris said...
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Chris said...

"Basic logistics are fouled up; communications systems are paralyzed."

This betrays his entire argument. Because logistics are fouled, the local officials have to take charge for a day or so; they are the one's there who can see what is happening. They are, of course, still in charge. If FEMA places its people and supplies right there before the disaster, there's a great chance that all will be destroyed, too. So, there would be nothing. It has to be up to local officials,like the NOPD, to keep control, and to have done some planning beforehand so that they can run things until the logistics get back on hand.

If we had a comparable disaster, it would be a lot easier for me to blame FEMA (and, of course, Bush) as much as you do, but what are we comparing this with? FEMA in a lesser disaster in the past? Or with our imagined ideal of FEMA in a disaster of comparable size that hasn't happened? Neither works.

Elaine said...

It doesn't betray his argument. Of course supplies should be brought in before the flood, and they can be brought in. Even Chertoff claims that they "had actually prestaged a tremendous number of supplies, meals, shelter, water." However, these supplies, if there, weren't at the right places. They weren't at the Superdome. There are reports that FEMA turned away water from a Walmart truck, cut emergency communication lines.

Fortunately, we don't have a comparable situation from recent years to this flood. However, we've seen blatant cluelessness throughout the relief effort on the part of the Administration: Brown's unawareness of the thousands in the Superdome, Bush's claims that there was no indication the levees could be breached, Chertoff not knowing the levees had been broken until Tuesday afternoon. We saw the dramatic increase in the military presence once troops were finally sent down to New Orleans. A much better response could have been achieved. Even Bush conceded the response was "not acceptable."

There also should have been a strong level of preparedness that was blatantly lacking here. September 11th revealed our vulnerability, and as a result, our country was supposed to prepare for another disaster. This means there should be a transportation network already in place to evacuate people, for instance. This is exactly what Homeland Security and FEMA is supposed to do: prepare for emergencies.

I can only think the Bush administration did not anticipate the level of devastation that would befall New Orleans, and they have no excuse for that.

william t nelson said...

Brown looked like a blithering idiot on television, and from how things transpired on the ground, it appears this is an accurate reflection of his actual nature. His total lack of experience in disaster relief has been documented elsewhere. It is sad that he was confirmed by the Senate.

Chris said...

"I can only think the Bush administration did not anticipate the level of devastation that would befall New Orleans."

Do you honestly think anyone in any level of government did...I would think Ragin would have mandated the evacuation of the city earlier and followed through with the city's disaster plan or that Blanco would have forced him. That's where they clearly failed; and then the domino effect proceeded from there. It's debatable who should have been responsible for conditions at the Superdome, but ultimately, if the city of New Orleans designates that as the place of last resort, they better be prepared. "Prestaged," I believe, means supplies were in the region -the problem was transport. You can't move massive trucks loaded with supplies over damaged roads and bridges - and helicopters were being used for rescue.

I've actually changed my position in the past few days. Brown should resign because he clearly can't handlt his job under fire. In fairness, though, Brown didn't know about the Convention Center, not the Superdome, and I have yet to find out why people ended up going to the Convention Center to begin with. It seems to be a result of massive hearsay.

I agree that FEMA and Homeland Security should be preparing for such emergencies, but I honestly don't think it's possible for entities that vast to be able to get the job done quickly. It's going to require an entire rethinking of that department - but it won't get done because too many toes would get stepped on and, honestly, most politicians of both parties can't help but produce bureaucracy.

This is one case where I actually want to see what the "Katrina Commission" comes up with, so we can see what the actual timeline was and what, in fact, actually happened between the various levels of government that produced this chaos.