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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Exploiting Katrina for Political Gain

I have found this to be one of the most difficult posts I have made. The reason is simple: there is so much conflicting information in the aftermath of Katrina that to be 100% certain of the facts at this point is nearly impossible. However, I have become increasingly incensed at liberals who, intending to gain political ground, have automatically pointed the finger at George W. Bush. Of course, that has been their standard game plan for the past 4½ years, so it should not surprise anyone. I guess I was hoping that in the case of a natural disaster the magnitude of Katrina, politics would be set aside. I was wrong.

There are those on the left who will say that, with this post, I am playing the blame game. To them, I can only say that when accusations are being launched in a hate-fill, partisan manner, without facts to back up those accusations, I have a hard time remaining silent.

I would prefer not to point a finger. I would prefer that government officials on both sides of the aisle work together to fix whatever went wrong. However, it has become obvious that this is not happening, and if a finger must pointed, it should be pointed in the direction of those most responsible.

Emergency management is the primary responsibility of the local government, followed by the state, and finally by the federal government. So, let's start with the local government.

It is the responsibility of the local government to have an emergency plan in place. The city of New Orleans did, in fact, have such a plan. The problem is that it wasn’t followed.

The New Orleans’ Emergency Guide for Citizens begins with a message from Mayor Ray Nagin to parish residents. The first line of the message states, “The safety and well-being of the citizens of New Orleans is my greatest priority.” In this message, Mayor Nagin states to residents that as they read the emergency guide, they should "pay particular attention to the section on Evacuation. Knowing the routes of egress during situations such as hurricanes, can avoid needless injury and loss of life.”

So what does the section on evacuation tell residents? It tells them, among other things, that the local government will assist in getting them out of the city. Here is the relevant section of the “Hurricane Evacuation Guidelines”:

During the Recommended Phase of Evacuation:

1. The City of New Orleans Emergency Operating Center (EOC) is staffed for 24-hour operation.
2. Local transportation will be mobilized to assist persons who lack transportation. (Emphasis added)
3. Bus routes and locations of staging areas for those needing transportation to shelters in or out of the Parish, will be announced via radio and television.
4. Relatives and neighbors should help family and friends who need transportation and other assistance.

One of the complaints heard from the early moments of this crisis is that the poor in New Orleans had no cars and no way to evacuate the city. That may be true, but as you can plainly see, according to Mayor Nagin's own emergency plan, the city was responsible for using local transportation to evacuate those citizens. That obviously didn't happen. Why not?

Here is an September 1 Associated Press photo, now widely circulated on the internet.

The picture shows over 200 school buses sitting in water. Could those buses have been used to evacuate people from the city prior to Katrina making landfall?

Here is a tight satellite view of the same bus lot. In the upper left is a freeway leading to the Superdome in one direction and out of the city in the other direction.

As B. Preston of JunkYardBlog points out, "If the city's emergency planners couldn't figure out that the bus lot, the freeway and the dome make a pretty tight emergency staging and evacuation system all by themselves, those planners are beyond incompetent."

I must note here that in at least one report it was stated that the school buses are not under Nagin’s control; they are under Governor Blanco’s control because they are owned by the State Board of Education. If that’s true, then the responsibility for the fact that those buses are sitting in water right now rests with Blanco, or perhaps with both Blanco and Nagin for not coordinating how those buses would be used in an emergency evacuation. Any way you look at it, the responsibility here lies with the state and local government.

The school buses are only part of the story. According to the 2002 National Transit Database, the New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority (NORTA) operated 364 buses. More recent data from the NORTA website is not currently available, so let's go with the 2002 numbers. These buses are definitely under Mayor Nagin's control. If we add the 364 public transit buses to the 200 plus available school buses, New Orleans had over 564 buses available in which those without their own transportation could have been evacuated prior to the storm!

In the aftermath of his failure to do what his emergency plan required him to do, Nagin had the gall to lash out at state and federal authorities proclaiming, "I need reinforcements. I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. This is a national disaster… Get every Greyhound bus in the country and get them moving… I don't know whether it's the governor's problem, or it's the president's problem, but somebody needs to get ... on a plane and sit down, the two of them, and figure this out right now... They're thinking small, man, and this is a major, major deal… Get off your asses and let's do something."

Did he just blame everyone but himself?

What about the responsibilities of Governor Blanco in this crisis? In addition to whatever accountability she has for the school bus fiasco, she has some other issues to answer for as well.

President Bush declared a Federal State of Emergency in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana on Sunday before Katrina even made landfall . He also appealed on August 27th for a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. However, Blanco did not issue the order until the 28th.

FOX News’ reporter Major Garrett reports that immediately after the storm, the Red Cross was prepared with water, food, blankets and hygiene items, but were prevented by the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security from entering the city. According to Garret, the Red Cross was told they could not enter because “A) it's not safe, because the water is dangerous. And we're now learning how toxic the water is. B) there's a security situation, because they didn't have a handle on the violence on the ground. And C) and I think this is most importantly, they wanted to evacuate out. They didn't want people to stay.” So while people were sitting in the Superdome and the Convention Center without water, food, and personal hygiene items, Red Cross trucks full of these items were sitting on the freeway, not allowed to bring the items to the people who needed them!

Who directs the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security? Governor Blanco.

For all of Blanco’s crying about not receiving federal assistance during the chaos, she refused a request by President Bush on September 2nd to place all evacuation efforts under federal command. Evacuation efforts under state control had been largely ineffective and even riotous; still, for whatever her reasons, Blanco refused the President’s offer.

The next day, President Bush did order active military troops into the city to take over evacuation efforts and to restore order. Whether Blanco finally acquiesced or whether Bush circumvented her authority is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the situation quickly and dramatically improved.

What about all the criticism of FEMA and its supposed slow response? One FEMA pilot responded by saying, "I think they're (the critics) wrong. They had C-130s on the tarmac [in New Orleans] Wednesday morning, which came in sometime during the evening on Tuesday…They had the Chinooks on the tarmac Wednesday morning. They had the Blackhawks Wednesday morning. Everything was there." However, according to the same pilot, “Shortly thereafter, however, the mission ground to a halt…We were being shot at by various snipers around the city…"

The New York Post reports that, according to Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan, "Hospitals are trying to evacuate. At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in, people are shooting at them."

The same article reports that Acadian Ambulance suspended its flights after a shot was fired at a military helicopter. Richard Zuschlag, chief of Acadian Ambulance, said it was too dangerous for his pilots.

Whose responsibility was it for law enforcement? The Louisiana National Guard, under state authority, and the New Orleans Police Department, under local authority.

Did President Bush make any mistakes in his handling of this emergency? Probably. Did FEMA make any mistakes? Again, probably. Should mistakes that might have been made by the federal government, including FEMA and the President himself, be studied so that improvements can be made? Absolutely. But that's not what we're hearing. What we are hearing is venomous rancor being spewed by liberal politicians who want to regain power, and repeated by a liberal media anxious to finally find something they can pin on this President.

It's not going to work. The American people are too smart. No one but the left-wing partisan crowd is listening.


Blogger Malott said...

This is the best and most concise treatments of the New Orleans situation that I've seen anywhere. Have you offered this to the Kokomo Tribune or the Perspective?

Thanks Bryan. I appreciate your thoughtful sanity.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Pat Munsey said...

Nice piece. It demonstrates the position I think everyone should adopt, which is that mistakes were made at every level by people of both political persuasions. It's a disaster, and in a disaster, mistakes will happen.

Bush, Blanco and Nagin hold the ultimate responsibility for the shortcomings and successes at their respective levels of government. And those shortcomings and successes eventually will balance out.

It's easy to point the finger, and our society does it every day. It isn't the exclusive domain of Republicans or Democrats. And it's rarely fair or truly justified.

At least this shows that there is plenty of blame to go around.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Pat Munsey said...

And, give us a call over at teh Perspective. Perhaps we can work out something to get you published, if that is your desire. No promises, but I think it should be considered at least.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Bryan Alexander said...

Have you offered this to the Kokomo Tribune or the Perspective?
The Tribune limits letters to either 250 or 500 words, I forget which. I don't know about the Perspective, but it's probably similar.

Thanks for the good word!

10:07 AM  
Blogger Bryan Alexander said...

Thanks Pat, I may do that.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Peter W. Heck said...

Wow. You articulated these points perfectly. This is excellent stuff, Bryan...I'd love to see it published...and soon.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous C. Lowe said...

Thank you, Mr. Alexander, for a thoughtful, accurate and articulate analysis of this situation. I heartily agree with everyone else here that this information should be published elsewhere and that it is an excellent summary of the situation. It is refreshing to see an article that is written with logic and research rather than simply an emotional response or repetition of biased talking points.

C. Lowe

5:50 PM  
Blogger Gunny said...

Great job, Bryan. You pretty much ran the gamut. The only other site I've seen that has gone into more detail is maybe Protein Wisdom.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Nice Job Bryan. Best prespective ive ever seen.

11:53 PM  

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