Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Amazing Story About Katrina (non)Response

This article, Chertoff delayed federal response, memo shows, sheds some new light on what happened at the executive level after Katrina hit. But before we get into it we all must remember that FEMA was lessened in importance and put under Homeland Security after its creation. Putting FEMA at the direction of Homeland Security. The article starts this way:
The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.
Which leads us to believe that Brownie was a Lee Harvey type patsy in this situation. "You've got the wrong guy fella". Next we learn about a little thing called the National Response Plan:
But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.
Chertoff didn't shift power to FEMA until 36 hours after the storm made landfall but we also find out that the President may have confused Chertoff:
"As you know, the President has established the `White House Task Force on Hurricane Katrina Response.' He will meet with us tomorrow to launch this effort. The Department of Homeland Security, along with other Departments, will be part of the task force and will assist the Administration with its response to Hurricane Katrina," Chertoff said in the memo to the secretaries of defense, health and human services and other key federal agencies.

On the day that Chertoff wrote the memo, Bush was in San Diego presiding over a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
And also in the memo it is made an "Incident of National Significane", I guess that about sums it up!?
Chertoff's Aug. 30 memo for the first time declared Katrina an "Incident of National Significance," a key designation that triggers swift federal coordination. The following afternoon, Bush met with his Cabinet, then appeared before TV cameras in the White House Rose Garden to announce the government's planned action.
But what the article starts to tell us next is that the actions not taken by Chertoff and those taken by the President interfered with the National Response Plan that should have already been in operation:
Chertoff's hesitation and Bush's creation of a task force both appear to contradict the National Response Plan and previous presidential directives that specify what the secretary of homeland security is assigned to do without further presidential orders. The goal of the National Response Plan is to provide a streamlined framework for swiftly delivering federal assistance when a disaster - caused by terrorists or Mother Nature - is too big for local officials to handle.
After about ten paragraphs of doublespeak from the Homeland Security and White House Ministries of Truth we read this:
The Chertoff memo indicates that the response to Katrina wasn't left to disaster professionals, but was run out of the White House, said George Haddow, a former deputy chief of staff at FEMA during the Clinton administration and the co-author of an emergency management textbook.

"It shows that the president is running the disaster, the White House is running it as opposed to Brown or Chertoff," Haddow said. Brown "is a convenient fall guy. He's not the problem really. The problem is a system that was marginalized."
Well, well, well the White House was running this thing from the beginning, what do you know!? Don't forget they had a plan all along. The article ends like this:
According to the National Response Plan, which was unveiled in January by Chertoff's predecessor, Tom Ridge, the secretary of homeland security is supposed to declare an Incident of National Significance when a catastrophic event occurs.

"Standard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the immediate aftermath of an event of catastrophic magnitude," according to the plan, which evolved from earlier plans and lessons learned after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Notification and full coordination with the States will occur, but the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources."

Should Chertoff have declared Katrina an Incident of National Significance sooner - even before the storm struck? Did his delay slow the quick delivery of the massive federal response that was needed? Would it have made a difference?

"You raise good questions," said Frank J. Cilluffo, the director of George Washington University's Homeland Security Planning Institute. It's too early to tell, he said, whether unfamiliarity with or glitches in the new National Response Plan were factors in the poor early response to Katrina.

"Clearly this is the first test. It certainly did not pass with flying colors," Cilluffo said of the National Response Plan.

Mike Byrne, a former senior homeland security official under Ridge who worked on the plan, said he doesn't think the new National Response Plan caused the confusion that plagued the early response to Katrina.

Something else went wrong, he suspects. The new National Response Plan isn't all that different from the previous plan, called the Federal Response Plan.

"Our history of responding to major disasters has been one where we've done it well," Byrne said. "We need to figure out why this one didn't go as well as the others did. It's shocking to me."
Hmm? Let me see. The "new" plan didn't cause the confusion. Something else went wrong. I think it should be someone, or two someone's went wrong. Without inaction by Chertoff and interference by the President it looks like everything would have gone ahead just like the National Response Plan would have had it go. That definitely sheds some new light on this.

For more on what didn't get to New Orleans on time check this out, Can FEMA Do Anything Right?


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