Says it all

The Times-Picayune posts an excellent summary of the tragedy-turned-scandal of inadequate response to Katrina:

His frequent public pronouncements notwithstanding, Brown clearly saw himself in a supporting role in the disaster drama. He issued a directive to FEMA employees Monday not to respond to hurricane-ravaged areas “without being requested and lawfully dispatched by state and local authorities.”

The directive revealed an allegiance to bureaucratic processes that proved maddening to some as FEMA demanded written requests for food, troops and fuel. A Florida congressman said the agency turned down an offer for flat-bottomed air boats because it didn’t want to sign a contract with the supplier.

Save for the Coast Guard’s dramatic air rescues, a detached, legalistic approach set the tone for the federal government’s response. Brown is a lawyer as is his boss, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. And the founding document of U.S. disaster planning reads like a legal brief.

The National Response Plan is chock full of legalese, case law and statutes, but it doesn’t clearly spell out something as basic as who is responsible for getting food and water to flood victims. The 426-page plan was supposed to have remedied the command-and-control problems that plagued the response to the terrorist attacks in New York City. But it’s hardly a model of clarity. Its authors thought it necessary to attach an 11-page glossary of “key terms” and a three-page explanation of acronyms. On the seminal question – Who’s in charge? – the Federal Response Plan is murky.

It says incidents are “typically” managed at the lowest levels of government. On the same page, however, it says that “Incidents of National Significance” put the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in charge. The next page seems to reverse course again. It says that “Incidents of National Significance,” emergencies declared by the president, puts the federal government in a supporting role to protect state sovereignty. That is, unless the president decides he wants to be in charge, in which case the governor is secondary. Under those circumstances, the plan says, the president will consult with the governor, “if practicable.”

: And here’s the Washington Post on the red tape that continues to hamper relief efforts for evacuees.

  • I still wonder how much any one can expect government to do for you. I’ve never lived with the idea that when disaster strikes, the government will come get me and take care of me. Like, how big of a disaster? It’s a disaster if my house burns down, but the government doesn’t help. How about my house and three others? What if a tornado takes out my neighborhood?

    I pay taxes so the fire department will come put out the fire, but honestly, I know that if the whole town goes up in flames there’s no one who will rescue me. It’s just too big.

  • We do want a few rules here and there, especially considering the latest push to “fix” “archaic” laws like Posse Comitatus.

  • tonynoboloney

    Katrina probably represents the biggest exodus of people in this country since the dust bowl. That we were not “totally” prepared for a disaster of this magnitude is not surprising. It is easy for those of us not in decision making positions, or not directly effected by the devastation to sit back and make judgements. Finger pointing, charges of deriliction of duties, and bias in the press do nothing to further the the Hurculian task of righting what went wrong.

    It is my belief, (and hope & prayer) that within a reasonable period of time most victims will be taken care of. Our Government will live to fight another day. That steps will be taken to correct our response time to such a disaster. That new and better leaders with new and better ideas will be elected. After all this is the American way, to learn from our mistakes and move on. I also believe that in some way we are all responsible to the aftermath of this tragedy, What are our own plans for disaster in our own homes? in our own communities? Are we scouring the internet to find out what the evacuation plans, the relief efforts, the chain of commands will be if something like this would happen to us? Would we not be negligent if we were to allow such a tragedy to occur again in our own backyard?

    Many of lifes most important lessons are taught through our greatest losses.

  • Ric Locke

    So Brown’s real offense was that he wasn’t a hysterical autocrat, emoting on Teevee between bouts of micromanagement? That he actually considered himself a real manager, whose job was to enable the workers on the ground and settle snarls when they arose, staying out of the way otherwise? I suppose I ought to consider that normal and typical from people who think Bill Clinton is a Great Man, but as a sometime member of the “workers on the ground” class it makes my teeth itch.

    This, by the way, from someone who supported Brown’s ouster. We should, IMO, adopt vis-a-vis bureaucrats the now-discarded British policy regarding admirals, that is, one should be shot occasionally pour ecourager les autres.

    As for the niggling regulations and CYA bureaucratese, curb your ACLU, sir. I expect, sometime next week at the latest, a major, above the fold, just-after-the-lead-ads story castigating the Bush Administration because some Guardsman shot a looter, and the guy survived and bitterly complains about it. Major embarrassment for Bush, which is the point — but the side effect will be that, in a future situation, the Guard will stand by until the looters are done picking over the wreckage, and a lot of non-looters will die during the wait; that’s how most of those nitpicking regs and assbackwards policies arose in the first place. If you aren’t going to oppose sexual harassment suits arising from when some rescuer grabbed the wrong part of someone’s anatomy while trying to arrange the helicopter sling, you’ve got no business snarking about “cultural awareness class” requirements.


  • Blogged it

    I would’ve suggested proofreaders, but when you’re dealing with the likes of legislation and regulations you need the heavy guns.

  • Barry Bullington

    Even with all his faults, Mr. Brown was the best administrator on site early.

    With the mayor and governor inept at best, he at least had a plan to follow and was following it. Given he was the onsite FEMA rep for four 2004 Florida hurricanes, it safe to assume LA officials did not follow protocol, did not know protocol and did not care what the protocol was.

    As he said in his press conference, no solid chain of command existed in LA.