Some good points here, namely what exactly was the disaster plan?
Four years after 9/11, what’s our disaster plan?
September 10, 2005
The question is simple really: What exactly was the plan?
The question is not whether Brownie was doing a heck of a job handling Hurricane Katrina. Everyone now agrees: He wasn’t.
In fact, Brownie - that’s Michael Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to you - was doing such a swell job that he is being recalled to Washington, D.C., like a Ford with a bad carburetor being recalled to Detroit.
The country may be shocked to learn that a patronage hire - one who couldn’t run a horse show - was running the country’s emergency management team. But the dumping of a Bush loyalist, while real news, is not the real issue.
Here’s the real issue:
It’s four years after 9/11, and a disaster hits - a disaster, in Newt Gingrich’s words, “unprecedented” but “entirely predictable” - and you could hardly detect even a trace of a plan in place to handle it.
It’s four years of color-coded warnings. It’s four years of homeland security money used, as just one example, for the Colorado Department of Agriculture to simulate the deliberate transmission of foot-and-mouth disease.
And when the disaster comes, a disaster with warning, we watch first in sadness and then in stunned disbelief - hand over mouth.
We saw the faces of those left behind. We watched as the rescued spent days on the interstate. We heard about the atrocities in the Superdome. The entire world watched, and even Sri Lanka is offering to send aid.
This couldn’t have been the plan.
When people complain that a disaster shouldn’t be politicized - and Democrats are falling over themselves to see who can politicize it the most - you wonder if they’ve been paying attention.
The ability to handle such a disaster - and this, as some have said, was a terror event without terrorists - is the political issue of our day. It was the issue that won Bush his second term.
Of course, no one had heard of Michael Brown then. No one was saying then, as Trent Lott is saying now, that Brownie “has been acting like a private, instead of a general.”
Now, Brownie is a symbol of government incoherence.
It was Brownie, of course, who went on CNN to say he didn’t know there was a problem at the New Orleans Convention Center, which alerted the rest of us that there was definitely a problem somewhere.
Look, I’m just back from New Orleans, where, believe me, it’s harder to hear the political bickering. What you hear, even over the sound of choppers circling the city and of pumps pumping contaminated water, is a million hearts breaking.
When I took I-10 from Baton Rouge to Houston, there was a steady line of cars and trailers heading to Texas. They were full of people looking for jobs in a new place. You wonder how many will return.
And while much of the blame belongs to geographic inevitability and to the fury of this particular hurricane, you can’t blame either for the lack of any kind of coherent reaction.
Here was the plan, as it played out. You let the mayor handle the crisis. Mayors, we know, lose their jobs because they can’t handle snowstorms.
If the mayor failed, maybe the governor could take care of it. The governor, whatever else she did, sent a letter to the president the day before the storm hit saying the problem was “beyond the capabilities of the state and local affected governments.”
And when it became clear that only the federal government could handle a crisis of this scope - as someone asked: How many helicopters are in the mayor’s fleet? - Bush ended his vacation and said no one could have anticipated the levees being breached, when anyone who had ever studied the situation had anticipated exactly that.
The country kept waiting for Bush to have a 9/11 moment, to understand the urgency that everyone with a TV set seemed to feel.
Instead, we got the inexplicable flyover on the way back from San Diego. We got the joke about Bush’s youth in New Orleans.
And as a nation was transfixed by the crisis facing the poor and now homeless from New Orleans, Bush said he wanted to sit someday on Trent Lott’s rebuilt porch. Barbara Bush, meanwhile, said that since so many sheltered at the Astrodome were “underprivileged” that “this is working very well for them.”
But Brownie is gone. A vice admiral has taken his place. The cleanup continues. And now, the immediate plan seems to be to try to limit media footage of recovered bodies, which unpleasantly remind everyone, of course, that people died.
What was the plan? It relied on local first-responders to be reinforced. And there was no plan if the first-responders couldn’t respond.
There’s a fascinating article in The New York Times on Friday about the debate among presidential advisers, as the crisis grew, over whether the president should take control of the relief effort - and the barriers that our federal system presents.
It’s an important argument.
It’s the kind of argument you might think to have before the hurricane hits.