06 September 2005

It's Time To Be Honest About Katrina

The blame game is fully rolling now and it is time to be completely honest about it. There are set procedures entrenched in federal law that dictates when the federal authorities can act. The mayor of a city, commissioner(s) of a county (or in this case Parish), must request the Governor for assistance. Then the Governor must then declare a "State of Emergency" and request federal assistance. The President of the United States then must declare a "State of Emergency for the affected area(s)" and dispatch FEMA to respond. Now, President Bush declared a "State of Emergency for the entire Gulf Coast" based upon storm track models from the National Hurricane Center. The Mayor of New Orleans issued a Voluntary Evacuation Order on Saturday. President Bush Saturday night called the Mayor and pleaded with him to issue Mandatory Evacuation Order. Which the Mayor did, the following morning. His excuse was that he had to research his authority to do so. The Governor sat on her hands about issuing the "State of Emergency Declaration" and signing the necessary appeal for federal aid until Wednesday. The public transit system in New Orleans and the School buses were only used to evacuate individuals to the Super Dome which was poorly equipped and had no emergency provisions. The busses sat outside the Dome in a couple of feet of water for days instead of removing people to safer areas. The people and local government of Huston, Texas and the Republic of Texas as a whole, are the big heroes here. The Astrodome was fully equipped and provisions were available not only for this emergency, but as a contingency for a hurricane striking the Gulf Coast of Texas. Detroit, Denver, Nashville, and other US cities have opened their cities to the affected evacuated people of the Gulf Coast. Boston Red Sox Pitcher Curt Schilling has even flown at his own expense a family of 9 to Boston and pledged to support them for a year. Why did I include these heroes? To show that the answer isn't always what is the federal government going to do. It is a fact, that when everything runs right, it takes up to 3 days for the federal government to respond. Logistics is the barrier that must be overcome there. There is no way of knowing exactly where a hurricane is going to make land fall. And FEMA must locate relief supplies in a central location in order to be able to deliver them to the affected areas as soon as possible. It is a fact, that the military forces of the United States are handcuffed by a law written in 1878 called Posse Comitatus which prevents military forces from being used in a law enforcement capacity.
The Secretary of Defense shall prescribe such regulations as may be necessary to ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment or facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel) under this chapter does not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law. 18 USC Section 375 Source
New Orleans in particular wasn't a secure area for days following the storm. Wide spread looting, gun fire, gang wars, raping, ravaging, and pillaging were the rule and not the exception. If the President could have dispatched active military troops to help secure the area, this would not have been an impediment to the relief efforts. But Posse Comitatus stands in the way. Now, if the Mayor of New Orleans would have issued the Mandatory Evacuation Order on Saturday and requested the Governor to request federal assistance, perhaps the Super Dome would have been more secure and provisioned in time. If the Governor would have signed the order establishing the Southern Parishes of Louisiana as a disaster area, the President could have dispatched relief directly to New Orleans and flown supplies to the Super Dome. But they didn't. FEMA has been the media scapegoat in all the post Katrina emergency reporting. FEMA works hard to help those affected. The security situation in New Orleans hindered their ability to do their jobs. And who is to blame for that? The blame starts at the Mayor's office. Mississippi was more directly affected by the storm itself. The emergency is just as wide spread as the flooding in New Orleans. BUT, the difference is that the Governor took steps to secure his state. And the relief in Mississippi went forward more quickly. The bottom line here is the Emergency Management Plan for the state of Louisiana is inferior. The levee system could have been shored up long ago by the federal government, but even so, there should not have been anyone remaining in the city. Congress failed the people of the city of New Orleans by not improving the levee system. President Bush has done his job. Secretary Rumsfeld has done his job. Governor Barber has done his job. Governor Blanco didn't do her job. Mayor Nagin didn't do his job either. And the people of New Orleans have suffered because of that. That is where the blame belongs. National Guard Troops from around the country are on the scene. Police Officers from as far away as Canada are on the scene. The NYPD is on the scene. And members of the media have broadcast stories of individuals in need which have facilitated rescues. Churches and faith based organizations have been helping with food, water, shelter, and clothing. The help was and is available. And thank GOD for these people who have made their selves available for this effort. So if you want to blame anyone, blame those who are primarily responsible for the security and safety of the city and the state first. Because they were elected to insure the safety and security.
So yes, there are some shortcomings in the federal system. But more so at the local and state levels. Blogger's 1st Amendment Pledge If the FEC makes rules that limit my First Amendment right to express my opinion on core political issues, I will not obey those rules. Gribbit is a contributing writer at Stop The ACLU and the co-founder and administrator of Stop The ACLU BlogBurst.

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