Tuesday, September 06, 2005

"The memo politely ended, 'Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities.'"

I’ve been trying to hold back, but the more I read about the failures of Michael Brown and FEMA the angrier I get, especially after reading this about a Michael Brown memo documenting FEMA’s slow response:



“The government’s disaster chief waited until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security employees to the region — and gave them two days to arrive, according to internal documents.”


Why the hell, with a Category 5 Hurricane about to slam into New Orleans, where these people not dispatched BEFORE the hurricane hit. These people should have been in Houston, Memphis, Oxford, MS, Baton Rouge – any number of cities out of the direct path of Katrina but within striking distance so they could be on the scene as soon as possible. Instead, they weren’t deployed until several hours AFTER a PREDICTED category 5 hurricane, and then given two days to get there. This was set up to fail before it got started.



“Brown said that among duties of these employees was to ‘convey a positive image’ about the government’s response for victims.”

Where they just supposed to be PR flacks or where they suppose to manage recovery and rescue efforts?



“Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. "


Where were they positioned? Was anyone positioned in New Orleans’ designated emergency shelters? Where they communicating information to FEMA? Because FEMA chief Michael Brown didn’t seem to know what was going on.



“He [Brown] proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days.

Knocke [Homeland Security spokesman] said the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. 'They were training to help the life-savers,' Knocke said.

Employees required a supervisor’s approval and at least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland, Florida or Georgia. 'You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day,' Brown wrote.

What the f*%K? These people weren’t trained yet? In post 9/11 America, Homeland Security employees assigned to respond quickly to either a terrorist attack or a natural disaster are trained and cleared for medical conditions AFTER the emergency occurs. Shouldn’t this have been done as a normal course of business, and then shouldn’t people be assigned to their duties instead of asking for a supervisor’s approval? Who runs an organization like this?

This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of competence vs. incompetence, an issue of being prepared for a major emergency, man-made or natural, vs. being unprepared, an issue of national security. And the cabinet-level agency charged with domestic national security, the Department of Homeland Security, has failed.

One federal agency deserves praise for their fast, brave, can-do response the United States Coast Guard. Let’s put the Coast Guard in charge of FEMA – maybe something would get done right (at least they have training).

OK enough with the finger pointing, which accomplishes little at this point, but when I see what happened I just get angry.

3 Comments:

At 10:57 AM, Blogger The Iconic Midwesterner said...

FEMA isn't designed to be a "first response" asset. I haven't read word one that proves that this effort differed in any way from previous FEMA efforts. (I'm not saying it didn't, I'm saying I don't know. That information does not seem to be in the press at the moment. If you have seen it please post it. I'd love to add something on TIM about it.)

Given that FEMA doesn't have a "first responder" mission, given the scope of the relief effort needed, one might claim that they needed to do more. But large governmental bureaucracies dont work well "on the fly." That is simply a fact.

Now, a seperate division set up to handle "first response" emergencies that might overwhelm local and state authorities might be a great idea. No one was advocating that two weeks ago. Complaining that FEMA didn't do what it isn't set up to do doesn't seem all that helpful.

Now, did FEMA do what it WAS meant to do well. That is an open question. They very well may not have, but I will wait until all the dust has settled (or water receeded) before passing judgement.

 
At 12:07 PM, Blogger David Leftwich said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 12:14 PM, Blogger David Leftwich said...

I'm not talking about first response. Getting basic food and water to folks 2-3 days after the emergency is not a first response.

Homeland Security's mission as laid out in their own plan is:

Implementation of Proactive Federal Response Protocols

Protocols for proactive Federal response are most likely to be implemented for catastrophic events involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive weapons of mass destruction, or large magnitude earthquakes or other natural or technological disasters in or near heavily populated areas.

Guiding Principles for Proactive Federal Response Guiding principles for proactive Federal response include the following:
 The primary mission is to save lives; protect critical infrastructure, property, and the environment; contain the event; and preserve national security.
 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.
 State and local governments are encouraged to conduct collaborative planning with the Federal Government as a part of "steady-state" preparedness for catastrophic incidents.

Notice the word "proactive." I'm sure when all the hearings are done we will know more, but at this point it is pretty clear that FEMA's response was too slow given that we did have warning and had a good forecast of the potential scope of the catastrophe . This is probably partly due to the Department of Homeland Security being a bureaucratic behemoth, something we should probably look at.

Also, my post above about a separate military division was meant as a solution going forward, since our current system is unable to handle the crisis.

For a rational, clear-headed take from a conservative blogger:

http://www.belgraviadispatch.com/archives/004742.html

 

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