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After the Storm

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Well-known member
Feb 14, 2005
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East north east of Soapweed
Subject: [187th] A less-biased look at who's to blame in Louisiana

> Blame Amid the Tragedy
> Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin failed their constituents.
> Wednesday, September 7, 2005 12:01 a.m.
> As the devastation of Hurricane Katrina continues to shock and sadden the
> nation, the question on many lips is, Who is to blame for the inadequate
> response? As a former state legislator who represented the legislative
> district most impacted by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, I can
> fully understand and empathize with the people and public officials over
> the loss of life and property.
> Many in the media are turning their eyes toward the federal government,
> rather than considering the culpability of city and state officials. I am
> fully aware of the challenges of having a quick and responsive emergency
> response to a major disaster. And there is definitely a time for
> accountability; but what isn't fair is to dump on the federal officials
> and avoid those most responsible--local and state officials who failed to
> do their job as the first responders. The plain fact is, lives were
> needlessly lost in New Orleans due to the failure of Louisiana's governor,
> Kathleen Blanco, and the city's mayor, Ray Nagin.
> The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to
> the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are
> charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to
> disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state
> emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and his
> emergency operations center.
> The actions and inactions of Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin are a national
> disgrace due to their failure to implement the previously established
> evacuation plans of the state and city. Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin cannot
> claim that they were surprised by the extent of the damage and the need to
> evacuate so many people. Detailed written plans were already in place to
> evacuate more than a million people. The plans projected that 300,000
> people would need transportation in the event of a hurricane like Katrina.
> If the plans had been implemented, thousands of lives would likely have
> been saved.
> In addition to the plans, local, state and federal officials held a
> simulated hurricane drill 13 months ago, in which widespread flooding
> supposedly trapped 300,000 people inside New Orleans. The exercise
> simulated the evacuation of more than a million residents. The problems
> identified in the simulation apparently were not solved.
> A year ago, as Hurricane Ivan approached, New Orleans ordered an
> evacuation but did not use city or school buses to help people evacuate.
> As a result many of the poorest citizens were unable to evacuate.
> Fortunately, the hurricane changed course and did not hit New Orleans, but
> both Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin acknowledged the need for a better
> evacuation plan. Again, they did not take corrective actions. In 1998,
> during a threat by Hurricane George, 14,000 people were sent to the
> Superdome and theft and vandalism were rampant due to inadequate security.
> Again, these problems were not corrected. The New Orleans contingency plan
> is still, as of this writing, on the city's Web site, and states: "The
> safe evacuation of threatened populations is one of the principle [sic]
> reasons for developing a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan." But the
> plan was apparently ignored.
> Mayor Nagin was responsible for giving the order for mandatory evacuation
> and supervising the actual evacuation: His Office of Emergency
> Preparedness (not the federal government) must coordinate with the state
> on elements of evacuation and assist in directing the transportation of
> evacuees to staging areas. Mayor Nagin had to be encouraged by the
> governor to contact the National Hurricane Center before he finally,
> belatedly, issued the order for mandatory evacuation. And sadly, it
> apparently took a personal call from the president to urge the governor to
> order the mandatory evacuation.
> The city's evacuation plan states: "The city of New Orleans will utilize
> all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas."
> But even though the city has enough school and transit buses to evacuate
> 12,000 citizens per fleet run, the mayor did not use them. To compound the
> problem, the buses were not moved to high ground and were flooded. The
> plan also states that "special arrangements will be made to evacuate
> persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific lifesaving
> assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation
> procedures as needed." This was not done.
> The evacuation plan warned that "if an evacuation order is issued without
> the mechanisms needed to disseminate the information to the affected
> persons, then we face the possibility of having large numbers of people
> either stranded and left to the mercy of a storm, or left in an area
> impacted by toxic materials." That is precisely what happened because of
> the mayor's failure.
> Instead of evacuating the people, the mayor ordered the refugees to the
> Superdome and Convention Center without adequate security and no
> provisions for food, water and sanitary conditions. As a result people
> died, and there was even rape committed, in these facilities. Mayor Nagin
> failed in his responsibility to provide public safety and to manage the
> orderly evacuation of the citizens of New Orleans. Now he wants to blame
> Gov. Blanco and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In an emergency
> the first requirement is for the city's emergency center to be linked to
> the state emergency operations center. This was not done.
> The federal government does not have the authority to intervene in a state
> emergency without the request of a governor. President Bush declared an
> emergency prior to Katrina hitting New Orleans, so the only action needed
> for federal assistance was for Gov. Blanco to request the specific type of
> assistance she needed. She failed to send a timely request for specific
> aid. In addition, unlike the governors of New York, Oklahoma and
> California in past disasters, Gov. Blanco failed to take charge of the
> situation and ensure that the state emergency operation facility was in
> constant contact with Mayor Nagin and FEMA. It is likely that thousands of
> people died because of the failure of Gov. Blanco to implement the state
> plan, which mentions the possible need to evacuate up to one million
> people. The plan clearly gives the governor the authority for declaring an
> emergency, sending in state resources to the disaster area and requesting
> necessary federal assistance.
> State legislators and governors nationwide need to update their
> contingency plans and the operation procedures for state emergency
> centers. Hurricane Katrina had been forecast for days, but that will not
> always be the case with a disaster (think of terrorist attacks). It must
> be made clear that the governor and locally elected officials are in
> charge of the "first response."
> I am not attempting to excuse some of the delays in FEMA's response.
> Congress and the president need to take corrective action there, also.
> However, if citizens expect FEMA to be a first responder to terrorist
> attacks or other local emergencies (earthquakes, forest fires, volcanoes),
> they will be disappointed. The federal government's role is to offer aid
> upon request.
> The Louisiana Legislature should conduct an immediate investigation into
> the failures of state and local officials to implement the written
> emergency plans. The tragedy is not over, and real leadership in the state
> and local government are essential in the months to come. More
> importantly, the hurricane season is still upon us, and local and state
> officials must stay focused on the jobs for which they were elected--and
> not on the deadly game of passing the emergency buck.
> Mr. Williams is president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a free
> market public policy research organization in Olympia, Wash.
> Copyright © 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.