T Nation

What Was The Plan?

Some good points here, namely what exactly was the disaster plan?

Four years after 9/11, what’s our disaster plan?

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/news_columnists/article/0,1299,DRMN_86_4070382,00.html

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.

Mark

They are all good questions.

The plan, as I understand it, as a NGO responder is as follows.

The Local responders provide first coverage. If necessary the State backs them up. Following a disaster they may call on the force of the Federal govt. FEMA never had more then 2500 people working for it in total. They generally administer the recovery not the initial response. That’s my understanding and a complete summary of a very lengthy national response plan.

What you have to understand is all plans are fluid and dynamic and nobody expected Katrina to do what it did. Understand NO survived the hurricane, then the Leveees broke. Then the populace became hostile and started shooting at the responders. That wasn’t anticipated because it was never experienced before. Not even in NYC. The local response effort fell apart.

Again unlike NYC, which most of us used as a benchmark. The only group that can move as quickly as Katrina demanded was the military. They did. A veritable armada appeared off of NO. I saw more helicopters hovering over this city then I did in Desert Storm.

So going forward expect to see the military take the lead on these events. This may offend some but they have proven themselves capable. That will be the new plan.

Don’t discount the necessity of the local people to take the lead. I’ll give you an example. The USCG and NAVY were never called by the City of NO for help. They showed up and were of course welcomed. That’s what I hear. Who knows.

Contrast that with the response after 9/11. Commisioner Kerik realized he was under attack, from the air. Lacking air power or air defense capability he called JFK airport and asked “how do I call the air force for fighter support” the air traffic contoller called NORAD and worked it out. Within 30 minutes NYC had f-15’s overhead. That’s the difference. He thought on his feet and got it done. Those in NO did not. You can’t teach that.

The plan relies on a coordinated response. Perhaps it will change to a top down response going forward.

One thing you have to keep in mind when comparing Katrina to 9/11 is that a hurricane is a local and/or state problem unless they request that the federal government take over.

In response to a terrorist attack the federal gonernment is in charge of the from the start no matter where it happens.

[quote]dcb wrote:
One thing you have to keep in mind when comparing Katrina to 9/11 is that a hurricane is a local and/or state problem unless they request that the federal government take over. [/quote]

That’s true in some circumstances, but in this case it’s absolutely and completely false. When Bush declared a federal disaster on Aug 29 it became a federal problem. And the DHS National Response Plan makes it pretty clear that in the event of a catastrophe the federal government is to step in and take charge.

"Standard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the immediate aftermath of an event of catastrophic magnitude.

"Identified Federal response resources will deploy and begin necessary operations as required to commence life-safety activities.

“Notification and full coordination with States will occur, but the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources. States are urged to notify and coordinate with local governments regarding a proactive Federal response.”

Please check with Fox News and the latest Talking Points Spin Memo on this and get back to us.

[quote]mark57 wrote:
dcb wrote:
One thing you have to keep in mind when comparing Katrina to 9/11 is that a hurricane is a local and/or state problem unless they request that the federal government take over.

That’s true in some circumstances, but in this case it’s absolutely and completely false. When Bush declared a federal disaster on Aug 29 it became a federal problem. And the DHS National Response Plan makes it pretty clear that in the event of a catastrophe the federal government is to step in and take charge.

"Standard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the immediate aftermath of an event of catastrophic magnitude.

"Identified Federal response resources will deploy and begin necessary operations as required to commence life-safety activities.

“Notification and full coordination with States will occur, but the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources. States are urged to notify and coordinate with local governments regarding a proactive Federal response.”

Please check with Fox News and the latest Talking Points Spin Memo on this and get back to us.

[/quote]

It may have been declared on 8/29 but that doesn’t mean the Fed simply makes the problem go away instantly.

The FED began to muster resources before federalization of the response. The hurricane and flooding itself prevented much of it getting there. Serveral were hurt or killed getting there, including a FEMA employee.

This is the fastest and largest build up and response on record. It’s the biggest I have ever seen and the biggest that anyone I have talked to has seen. The public and private sector is pretty good at this but you can only do what you can do. By Friday, three days after the flood this thing was getting under control. By Sat./Sun it was well under control. Considering the size that is amazing. Again, remember, that was with little local support.

I’ve tried to answer your questions from a technical perspective. The politics are a seperate issue and should be noted as such. Most of the political issues I have heard raised, by both sides, are a lot of hyperbole.

[quote]mark57 wrote:
Please check with Fox News and the latest Talking Points Spin Memo on this and get back to us.
[/quote]

Easy there Trigger. I think you have me confused with someone else.

I was mainly talking about the military response which I gathered in part from a CBS News interview with the General in charge of the situation (sorry, I can’t remember his name), and a five page article in today’s addition of the Washington Post.

I guess from your comment that you think I meant to defend the federal response and blast the local response. You are wrong. In my opinion they all performed poorly at least in the beginning. It’s pretty sad, but the truth is that if Katrina had hit while a Democratic President was in office, and the local and state governments in/around New Orleans, LA were Republicans, there would be a complete role reversal in this forum in regard to who people are blaming most.

The federal government does not automatically take over for disater relief when there is a federal strate of emergency.

It just basically means the federal government will foot the bill for the clean up.

Locals must always be the first repsonders.

It is easy to see who the partisan phonies are with this issue. They are the ones that blame the President for the first few rough days after the hurricane.

Congratulations on turning human tragedy into shameless politics.

As I understand it, the Federal gov’t cannot take control unless the President invokes the Insurection Act, which has some VERY serious constitional implications.