Washington Monument

Katrina – Observations from the Political Middle

I'm sure that I will get email from either Liberals or Conservatives howling that I am schilling for the other side, but after 5 days of coverage, this is how I see it.

 

Environmental Issues: Culpability Factor: 6

G.W. didn’t cause this storm and it is ridiculous to even suggest it. Even if he had followed the most extreme environmentalist path, the sum total of his actions would have been negligible. This is a catastrophe decades if not centuries in the making.

This being said, the budget cuts related to the Army Core of Engineers work on the levees could have played a significant role, assuming that the work would have be completed by this time. I have no definitive proof that this is the case. Policies relating to the wetlands would not have been a factor for decades.

It has to be said though. If you build a city below sea level, this is going to happen. I am concerned that once all this is back together, that a terrorist might realize the potential for a few well placed explosives on the levees. New Orleans is probably the most indefensible city on the planet now.

 

Local Government Preparedness: Culpability Factor: 8

While the budget cuts during the Bush administration obviously affected the ability of the state government to conduct the disaster preparedness drills in recent years, I have to ask, “Why now?” Why didn’t they perform these drills years ago during the Clinton administration when funding was adequate?

It is not the purpose of the Federal Government to resolve all disaster issues, but to provide relief when the states are overwhelmed during a crisis. Why weren’t there reciprocal agreements in effect with Texas and other border states to provide transportation, housing and other logistical support before the storm? Yes, 30% of New Orleans is below the poverty line and may not be able to get out without assistance, but if you have sufficient recourses to draw upon, these problems can be reduced. And Texas knows a thing or two about hurricanes.

 

Media Response: Culpability Factor: 2

There are a lot of people stating that relief was there and the liberal media didn’t cover it. I’m getting a little sick of the liberal bias thing. If the media is anything, it is libertarian. As any conservative should know, the media is a market driven economy much like anything else in the country. They play what the people want to see. If they didn’t they would be off the air. Disaster sells and they covered it. Rescues are dramatic as well and they were covered.

If anything the media was important as they were the key source of information for many of the agencies. The FEMA director Michael Brown stated that he didn’t know that there were people in the convention center until well after it was broadcast. I will deal with statement later.

However, the media did sensationalize the spike in gas prices and the herd followed. I know, I paid $75 for a fill-up. (Moo)

 

Troop Levels: Culpability Factor: ?

I can’t comment on this except to say that more troops mean more relief, but I can’t judge to what extent this is a factor. I do feel like a token presence early would have stabilized the situation and reduced looting. But whatever forces we had weren’t deployed for whatever reason, so the troop levels in this case are irrelevant. As time goes along, this may no longer be the case.

 

Affected Populace: Culpability Factor: 2

Two factors prevent this from being a 0. First, we know some people rode out the storm just because. Testosterone, stupidity, opportunism, or whatever; the reasons vary. Common sense tells us that the less people that are hanging out, the less that have to be rescued. Don’t apologize for them. They are idiots. This might have been a larger factor, but the numbers are still coming it and I have no real way to gauge the percentage of people that couldn’t get out.

Second, we have the looters. Yes, some people had a legitimate need for food, water and pharmaceuticals, but I don’t remember a life ever being saved by a plasma TV. Shooting at the rescue vehicles is incredibly bad form. I can only hope that their brazenness in performing some of these acts before the media results in solid evidence and long sentences. Fortunately, criminals are stupid.

 

Federal Response Time: Culpability Factor: 10

FEMA stated that “the three most likely catastrophic disasters facing America [are]: a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans.” This scenario was known well in advance, although the direct cause was predicted to be a levee breach due to the storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain. I wonder if the powers that be relaxed when they realized that exact scenario wouldn’t happen?

I believe that it was Hurricane Andrew when then President Bush (The Elder) ordered relief ships to follow the storm so that they would arrive immediately as the conditions allowed. You can make the argument that is expensive and potentially unnecessary, but the downside is what we have seen. This is the type of response that was needed and we had plenty of time. It just wasn’t done.

While the argument could be made that it is up to the states to react in these types of disasters, that is not really practical. This is a multi-state disaster. That’s federal. It’s probably the largest in the nation’s history. That is definitely federal. The resources needed ( Mobile hospitals, amphibious vehicles, etc) are not really in the state inventory. Therefore the job falls to the federal government.

We had warning and we knew the scenario. I shudder to think what would have happened if we were lacking in either.

 

Leadership - Culpability Factor: 10

Perception is reality. Whether Bush was working on the problem or not, his actions didn’t show it. And that is his largest failure. Leadership provides direction, stability, organization and comfort. The situation had none of the above. While it isn’t practical for him to enter the truly devastated areas, a massive show of relief early would have done much to satisfy the public. Instead we got photo ops of him hugging a few victims and praising the federal disaster relief teams. Combine that with the mixed messages that he was putting out in press conferences, “The response is not acceptable” and then thanking the FEMA director for good job. Then the “response is adequate but the results are unacceptable”. Eh?

And while we are on the subject of the Mr. Brown, let’s discuss the fact that he had no knowledge of people in the convention center. How is this not known? Why was the convention center, an obvious large structure capable of holding many people, not designated a relief center? Why was it a day later until he responded to these victims even after a there was a national broadcast showing pictures of them and their conditions?

You could argue with all that is going on, he didn’t have time to watch TV. And I say WHY THE HELL NOT? Your communications are obviously down. You have a live feed to the worst parts of the disaster. They will show you the greatest points of the suffering because it’s news. And the best part is you don’t have to spend time directing them. It’s just like having little human ROV’s. Use every resource at your command. Maybe he didn’t have time personally. DELEGATE! That’s leadership. And the responsibility of hiring Mr. Brown falls directly on President Bush.

 

Conclusion

Katrina showed us we have a serious problem and lives were lost because of it. Since FEMA is now part of Homeland Security (Anyone else hate that name?) the question is raised “How prepared are we for a terrorist attack?” Hopefully we will learn from these mistakes and form stronger disaster plans for the future. But troubling questions remain of our true capabilities and the fragility of our infrastructure.

 

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