The Blame Game: Hurricane Katrina
The Hurricane Katrina crisis has raised a lot of issues to the American forefront... lots of politicizing going on. And I am, at heart, a politician. So what does your future President-elect think of this?
Well, I have to say my first reaction is disappointment. Disappointment in society and disappointment in the government. The area hit by Hurricane Katrina was hit hard, Mississippi and Alabama were particularly devastated. However, there the crisis was coped with in a more organized fashion. The total breakdown in New Orleans made it a crisis of interest well after the storm passed, due to the total devastation left behind.
So immediately, people started pointing fingers. The Governor and Mayor pointed fingers at the federal government. The federal agencies like FEMA pointed their finger at the President. The President, well, Bush actually didn't point his fingers too many places, he was essentially screwed. No positive PR can come out of being a bumbling southerner hick President during a crisis, and following in kind, there was no shortage of Bush-bashing. Amidst the situation, the race card became a strong political factor, since about 67% of New Orleans was black, anyone who didn't react (in the media's eye this tended to be Bush) was racist and inaction was likewise seen as tantamount to open racism (bringing about statements like "George Bush doesn't care about black people").
So, what really went wrong? Well, I figured I'd take my own look at it, and describe what I saw as the fault.
Katrina - One Big, Bad Motha'
One of the first and biggest problems was the fault of no one - there was simply not enough time to prepare for a full evacuation in the face of such a massive storm. The Mayor gave mandatory evacuation orders the Sunday before the storm hit (10 AM) giving them 20 hours (the hurricane made landfall at 6 am Monday morning). This was less than half the time contingency specialists stated was necessary to fully evacuate the city. The Mayor had been told at 8 pm by National Hurricane Center the scale of the potential crisis, and could have made the call then - widening the evacuation preparation procedures - but felt there were too many legal issues to make the decision immediately. The legal question for the Mayor was one that bogged down his entire effort over the course of the disaster, as he seemed concerned that he might not legally be able to force people out of their homes, and feared post-crisis legal reprisal if he made the call to move people out of their homes. Governor Blanco declared a state of emergency on that Friday, although we'll talk about that shortly... and the President issued a Federal state of emergency for Louisiana on Saturday (Sunday he would add Mississippi and Alabama), which activated the powers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Who is responsible for dealing with a hurricane emergency? In a situation like this, it's always the local and state officials who must prepare the city in advance, while federal resources have always been backup (the cavalry) to come in and assist post-crisis aftermath. Local and state officials take precedence in this because they are the ones who have primary knowledge of emergency evacuation procedures for a given region and they are the first responders. It would be silly to expect the Federal government catalogue and keep all this in order when they are hardly even in those areas. Florida, probably our most hit hurricane state, has had excellent disaster relief from the direction of Governor Jeb Bush (this is probably the only compliment I'd ever pay Jeb), who often supervises the efforts largely unaided by federal authorities, sometimes getting hands-on involved (though most of that is just a photo-op opportunity). Too, in Mississippi and Alabama, we did not see the breakdown we did in Louisiana... state and local officials took charge. It took two weeks, for instance, for the military to be involved in the Hurricane Andrew situation, which - prior to Katrina - was the most costly hurricane in American history. New Orleans is supposed to have the safety shelters and relief supplies ready before any such crisis hits, it's even in its legislation. When it came to actual preparation, most people in the New Orleans region neglected the obvious crisis that was brewing. It has been known for years the threat of a potential hurricane on the city, yet urban sprawl and development has continued well into the cheap low-lying areas. So, before we blame anyone, we should blame some of those people in previous local and state administrations who allowed the city to develop so far into beneath-sea-level territory in an area which borders a giant lake and one of the nation's biggest rivers, and which also is nearby to the biggest hurricane refueling station, the Gulf of Mexico. That is a recipe for disaster.
Yeah, they built a city in what would otherwise be a LAKE. Why, you ask? Oh, it was cheap land! Wonder why...
Many saw it coming, one of those organizations was FEMA. FEMA made plans to study and take preventative steps to stop the widespread damage from such a hurricane, and was the source of many of the media's citations of the apocalypse that was to come. FEMA, however, plays another role in the blame game, and they were hardly the only ones who knew in advance the scale of the problem.
Basically, days before the storm hit, people knew this was going to be bad. Except, of course, for a few partying drunks on Bourbon street. As Sunday closed, poor Shepard Smith stood on the balcony of his hotel in the French Quarter, and pointed out some businesses that were still open, commenting on how many of the population that remained in his area simply weren't serious about the looming crisis. His sentiment turned out not only to be a reflection on the people of New Orleans, but the local, state and federal officials who would later find themselves stumped and pointing fingers at each other. Government officials who would later turn out to be the proverbial drunks on the street in this tragedy.
Landfall was coming on the early morning of Monday the 29th of August. The crisis in New Orleans at the time of this writing, Sept. 11th, is getting better but life still has not returned to normal... nearly two weeks later. What went wrong?
Preparation, or Lack Thereof
So, on the 26th, the state of Louisiana declared a state of emergency, the 27th saw the federal government declare a federal state of emergency, and the 28th saw the city of New Orleans declare it's own state of emergency and mandatory evacuation. As stated above officials knew it would not be enough time to evacuate everyone, so this crisis was going to happen with officials knowing full well there would be people stuck in the city. Estimates at the time were 100,000-150,000 would be stuck in the city.
Let's start at the top, where most of the blame is actually going. FEMA and the federal government abide by the National Response Plan (NRP). This plan, adopted post 9-11, was to allow federal agencies to take a more pro-active role in major disasters, mostly geared towards terrorism, this also includes catastrophes like the New Orleans crisis. One of the big failures of the NRP is it's lack of authority to take authority. On the one hand, it tries to make sure there is federal oversight of everything, yet on the other hand it states "Nothing in this plan alters or impedes the ability of Federal, State, Local or tribal departments and agencies to carry out their specific authorities or perform responsibilities under all applicable laws." So what this means is, it is supposed to grant an infrastructure to improve the seamless working of Federal, State, Local (and "tribal") authorities, but it does not aleve any single one of those institutions of their responsibilities to their own duties. Even according to NRP documentation, State and Local authorities are the first responders and most often the last to leave, so even NRP gives the State and Local authorities heavy duties and responsibilities, although it does not state that these efforts should or are subordinate to Federal responders (the popular misconception of NRP is that it creates a single-cell top-down crisis pecking order, when in fact all it does is create a cooperation system that is bulky and ineffective in actual practice). The NRP also does not describe the President's role, by it's own admission, but states it's Federal initiatives are compatible with the Presidential response, leaving the role of the President vaguely assumed to be doing something leader-ish.
One of the significant problems I saw when thumbing through the NRP documents was that its plans were vague and for the most part, nonsense. There was no clear-cut chain of command besides those that already existed, no methodology by which incident responses were coordinated, to rely on it is sheer stupidity. Sure, there were diagrams and several fun acronyms, but few, had they been employed, would have done anything other than slow the already slow response. After all, waiting for a JFO local office to be set up would be very time consuming, to get the right mixture of teams deployed into an area of local relevance to the situation, given the many subdepartments and different delegations that must be made. Of course, this very well could be why the federal response was so slow, assuming that these coordinate groups were used as they were supposed to be (it's really hard to say if NRP was enacted right). Federal officials can't be delegated to these outposts to coordinate relief efforts but still are expected to hold up their current responsibilities. The NRP, in short, is little to no actual help. The NRP may be more effective in a situation of a terrorist attack, it certainly doesn't mobilize new resources that a big crisis needs. Because of NRP, local and state officials don't feel they need to act, even though they are, as the document very well says in clear terms, the first and last who need to respond. In short, the NRP seems like a fairly unfinished work, but why don't you read it yourself and come to your own conclusions?
It is worth noting that the Governor did request the federal involvement on the 28th, the Sunday before the hurricane. FEMA director Michael Brown waited until sometime mid-morning Monday (about 5 hours after landfall) to ask Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for 1,000 homeland security officers. On Tuesday, the day the levees broke, Chertoff activated the NRP into action, but as we discussed already, the results were a crapshoot at best. Most analysts assume this meant Chertoff was the absolute arbiter of the New Orleans crisis. If this was true, then Chertoff was clearly unprepared - in a litany of easily refutable public statements, he denied anyone had any knowledge of the situation, and had clear misunderstandings of the history behind the issue. Planning at this level was so formulative in nature that once NRP was activated, it poofed into virtual nonexistence. By Tuesday, the federal end of the response was in the NRP quagmire of Chertoff's management and silly plans to hyperorganized relief bodies...
So, while this was going on, what did the state and local officials do? By Tuesday it was clear that they had not fallen into line with NRP plans, and by Tuesday it was also clear that the Governor and Mayor would not lead them into a coherent plan to recover the city. Well before the plan fell apart federally, it fell apart locally. Hell, it fell apart locally before the storm even hit.
Governor Blanco had at her disposal the Louisiana section of the national guard. While 3,000 were in Iraq, 8,000 guardsmen were still available for duty. She rallied hardly half for active duty in the two days she had to prepare. Federal support came in a day after landfall, bolstering those numbers steadily over time. According to figures, going into the crisis Blanco had 6,500 troops available, but only mobilized 3,500 for the first day (Monday the 29th) of the crisis. None of this action seemed to take place prior to the hurricane. National Guard seemed to have been going into rescue efforts or helping at shelters of last resort, like the Superdome, over the course of Monday. Now, this means that before the levees even broke, there was little preparation besides maintaining a semblance of order at some of the evacuation shelters. State of emergency plans for the state of Louisiana certainly cover more than just that, however, Blanco did not seem to have a good sense of direction and simply did not follow evacuation plans very closely.
One of the most unforgivable uses of National Guardsmen in history was on Governor Blanco's order, and that was the denial of Red Cross emergency relief and support from entering the city of New Orleans, which is easily the most idiotic thing I've ever heard a government official do. Most of the Red Cross help was forwarded to outlaying cities which housed evacuation shelters (which were considerably small), most of which did not need the emergency supplies and aid anywhere nearly as badly as the inner city area of New Orleans. The reasoning for this has yet to be fully divulged. Blanco also made another terrible mistake by not opening any emergency relief shelters prior to the storm actually making landfall. The state's Southeast Emergency Evacuation Plan Supplement states the Governor's responsibility is to "Authorize and direct the authorities of non-risk parishes to coordinate the opening and operation of shelters with DSS in conjunction with ARC, and to lend all possible assistance to the evacuation and shelter effort." This also was not acted on by Governor Blanco, who literally made no such preparations. Some of the blame Blanco originally had for the situation fell down a level to Mayor Ray Nagin, especially regarding evacuation efforts, but later Blanco and other state officials joined Nagin in passing the buck up a level to President Bush and the federal government.
Mayor Ray Nagin played a larger role inside the city, and if anyone held direct blame over the chaos to happen, it was Ray Nagin. While Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation on the 28th, it wasn't until September 7th that the mandatory evacuation was enforced, and even then, there was a period after that where much of the evacuation was treated voluntarily. This however, is amongst the fewest of the things Nagin did wrong.
Mayor Nagin was responsible for the 1,500 local police, to direct rescue and emergency operations. State police also offered aid. There were a number of issues that affected the city situation (sometimes talked about in emergency plans and sometimes not) that played a factor in the overall outcome of the New Orleans security and safety situation post-storm, all of which were Nagin's responsibility, so let's break them down:
1. Special Needs & Hospitals
On the list of evacuated areas, hospitals were virtually ignored. Most of the effort focused moving poor and confused inner-city people to "last resort shelters", which was by far a favorable solution, leaving most of the people still stranded inside the city. Hospitals, many of them not up to flood standards, suffered massive electrical outages and required their maximum staff to keep the situation in order, which meant that as resources dwindled over the coming days, they made ripe targets for looters. This would later prove to be a problem during rescue efforts, when several incidents of sniper fire on rescue workers were reported, and at least one case of a hospital being raided.
2. Buses & Mass Transit
Most mass transit utilized by the city bus system were used to shuttle people to "shelters of last resort", instead of evacuate them from the city. Most of the people who escaped town had to do so under their own power. Literally hundreds of inactive school buses were ignored by Nagin's crews, letting them become waterlogged in the storm... the lack of buses to move evacuees later became a point of hurt, as Convention Center refugees sat in line waiting for buses to pick them up. Buses were not mobilized in a coordinated way to plan for evacuation of people to take them outside of the city, something that would eventually become needed. Nagin did little to nothing to make sure these assets were secured and used in effective ways.
The police on site were mostly cut up and lost had they attempted to go anywhere within the city. There was little thinking ahead, as it was not foreseen (somehow) by local officials supervised by Nagin that cell phones and phone lines would be inoperable after the storm. Police did not even have simple radio handsets or walkie-talkies to communicate during the storm. Most emergency communications later required access to amateur radio stations. It was virtually impossible to direct any action in this environment where there was no communication. Communication assets were not procured by Nagin's police prior to the storm hitting.
4. The Shelters of "Last Resort"
The shelters of last resort had next to no special needs facilities and were very inadequately stocked. Disaster preparation plans on city books required not only there be more of these, but they be better stocked than they were. The use of the Superdome, for instance, should illustrate how "on the fly" these plans were prepared and enacted on.
5. Loose Guns
While not a typical concern for evacuation security, gun stores were unguarded and became ripe targets for looters and gangs who intended to exploit the disaster situation for their own gain. These stores were broken into sometimes at the watch of National Guardsmen, and Nagin did not make an effort prior to the storm to even think of where these trouble spots might be, nor did he figure out a way to secure or prevent gun stock from getting into the hands of the general public. Likewise, Nagin did not ensure his police were staffed with superior arms, meaning gangs in New Orleans quickly held a position of authority over the local law enforcement, by having arms superiority. This was a problem that really needed to be addressed for long-term civil stability in New Orleans, but it was not even thought of by Nagin's crews.
6. Supermarkets & Other Available Resources
Knowing the goods would be needed and knowing full well that otherwise the stores would be raided by looters, Nagin made no conscious efforts to secure any supply point from local businesses. Anything his stock shelters didn't have, they did without during the crisis. This is insanity considering that without some form of security brought over these areas, the produce will be destroyed anyways, or hoarded by local looters. Locals having to loot for supplies breeds inter-city conflicts between gangs and scavengers. As we saw, many of the gangs went door to door with the guns they got from the gun stores, taking the supplies of victims, feeling they had been out-hoarded by many of their neighbors.
7. Looting & Shoot To Kill
Many of the points the Mayor and the Governor's responsibilities overlapped, but this was one of them that was poorly mismanaged. It was no secret that by August 30th looting had become widespread, with no one really on guard for looters, and by September 1st gangs had begun a take-over process across the city, essentially establishing total anarchy. Rapes, murders, you name it. Martial law was enacted early but next to no police or national guard force was established in the city for any reason besides rescue efforts... meaning martial law wasn't even enforced. Very few people were arrested, since there was a total lack for a while of any place to hold criminals. Calls for a "shoot to kill" policy didn't surface until September 3rd, and it's unknown just how many people actually acted on that policy, sent down by the Governor to deal with the situation.
Shoot to kill is the only effective way to stop violence in an emergency situation, people not thinking rationally will ignore most deterrents besides violent response in kind. Gangs would not have been so bold if they thought they were going to be shot at. Instead, many of the crimes happened in front of police and national guardsmen, who could do nothing. Looting was also escalated by the fact that most of the law enforcement was outgunned, as stated in point 5.
Law enforcement response was even weak at the last resort shelters. There was constant violence at the Superdome. When two children are repeatedly raped openly in the Superdome, and security does nothing, it's a sign to all criminals to start victimizing the masses. Rapes were common, but occasionally civilians did the right things, with several stories of murdered rapists being amongst the many dead. The lack of any law enforcement control was not only a lack of preparation but a lack of willingness to act. Shoot to kill was declared 4 days into the crisis, far too late, but it was never actually acted upon... despite rapper Kanye West's comments about them "shooting at us", there was little fighting over New Orleans. Nagin and Blanco made sure New Orleans was owned by violent gangs for the first week of the disaster - looters and those out for profit or senseless chaos.
8. The Convention Center
One of the most visible points during the media coverage has been the problems at the Convention Center. Ray Nagin ordered evacuees being rescued by guardsmen and police in the city to be taken to the Convention Center... only he told no one else. It wasn't until 10-20,000 people had been collected there, and a CNN reporter randomly stumbled on the situation, that officials at any level higher than Nagin were alerted to the Convention Center problems. Evacuations were not scheduled for the Convention Center victims, and supplies were even in shorter order there than the Superdome. This led to mass feelings of abandonment, probably justified, as buses and supplies rolled past the Convention Center to other locations. Mayor Nagin continually botched supply routes, security and evacuation efforts for these areas that he knew the most about... more importantly, he failed to communicate those needs. Just how little the communication from Nagin to state and federal officials was made clear in many of his press releases where he cried about not knowing what those officials were doing. He did not take responsibility for making sure he knew what was going on... the Convention Center is perhaps the best example of his inability to establish communication with the outside world about the situations in his city of which he was aware. It took CNN to get anything done about that one, and FOX News spearheaded alerts of victims stuck on various overpasses.
These factors made the city's civil disorder descend into total anarchy. Nagin was more concerned about making emotional appeals on television to save his reputation than ensuring any of these number of situations were addressed within his city. As a result, over the course of the tragedy, city and state police officers, fed up with the situation, turned in their badges and mass deserted, complicating matters greatly. Another fault only attributable to Nagin's leadership (or lack thereof).
The problems eventually escalated over the course of that Tuesday, when the levees broke, and Wednesday, when fear gripped the city.
Let's just take a brief look then, and see where the blame falls.
President George W. Bush
Most of the blame laid by media is on the President. Seen as not really caring, not coming back quick enough from his vacation, and not being seen at the disaster site, has definitely hurt the President's image. The President did appoint most of the officials who on the federal level botched things, so he does share some responsibility.
To say the National Guard deployment in Iraq was the primary reason the Governor sucked at acting is short-sighted and ignores the Governor's actions completely. The Governor did not follow contingency plans or do a good job of even getting National Guard rallied, so it's hard to say the 3,000 troops gone would have been the difference-maker here. The second point of blame on Bush, his budget cuts of FEMA, deserve to be commented on as well.
Bush cut FEMA's budget and rededicated it to the new Department of Homeland Security. The cause of this is the long-held criticism that FEMA's duties could be performed better privately - this is actually the case. FEMA is not a proven government entity, after all. From naive in the Carter years, to downright scary during the Reagan years, to "maybe promising someday" during the Clinton years and then back to "mediocre waste of cash" during the Bush years, FEMA has been a poor example of a government program. A part of the FEMA budget that was cut in half was crisis mitigation, one of the issues it covered was helping prepare New Orleans for the "big one". This does not mean that FEMA planned to rebuild levees. In fact, FEMA's plans with the money seemed to be little less than what it does elsewhere, provide "mitigation" for getting ready for big disasters. Cutting FEMA funds, in this case, did not directly impact New Orleans crisis management. Even if something had been done - like shoring up the levees - nothing short of complete replacement of the system would have prevented the disaster, even then, that is not really known. The levee system is simply not capable of stopping mass flooding, like the kind Katrina brought. The entire levee situation needs to be rethought.
Unfortunately, people who want to be naive and think FEMA is actually an effective support alternative, will just blame Bush for leaving it weak. Today, I will not fault Bush for realizing it is not, and cutting that funding. Likewise, FEMA's actual response with the resources it did have does not demonstrate it is worthy of additional funding. The government would be better off providing grants directly to states with troubles sooner than passing that money through FEMA, I think Bush and other Republicans realized that. They also realized having private institutions to deal with these problems is also a necessity, given the bad government response on all levels to this crisis, that seems increasingly true. Hurricane Andrew was a similar situation with again, similar results, 13 years ago... the response was just as slow and just as inadequate. If things can't improve in 13 years, there is something fatally wrong. Of course, the partisan battle wages and I doubt a Democrat has the balls to admit that. Less is more, when it comes to bureaucracy and positive outcomes, respectively.
While President Bush shares some blame, the blame on Bush is more an indirect criticism of how he runs the federal government in general. He personally should take no blame for this situation going as badly as it did, besides his appointments of people who are, by and large, dipshits.
FEMA Director Michael Brown
Former director of FEMA Joe Allbaugh had political connections with George Bush (Jr.). He was Bush's chief of staff and later his national campaign manager for the 2000 election. Along with Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, Allbaugh was a close person to Bush who was rewarded with a nice government job, appointed to direct FEMA in 2001. FEMA, in the past, was often considered by Republicans to be little less than an oversized entitlement program, which is an okay way to classify it, since one of the primary groups FEMA absorbed when it was created was the Federal Insurance Administration, which provided for extra insurance payments to compensate for areas lacking flood insurance, to benefit hurricane victims. So already FEMA was in a position for downsizing, and when Bush performed his much decried coming-into-office budget cuts, significant budget restrictions came to pass.
As a Libertarian, my thoughts on FEMA are that there are better ways to do without it, most of it's functions could be completed by private bodies, both in charitable and for-profit ways. However, in a position of authority, it would not be one of the first things I get rid of, in fact, it would be amongst the last government programs I would meddle with. There are so many other parts of government that require action that an agency that only acts in terms of great emergencies is almost ignorable. However, that's not where I was going with the story...
You see, Allbaugh had no real disaster experience. Allbaugh's close friend, Michael Brown, was tapped to be his successor to direct the agency. He even had to heavily pad his resume to make it sound like he had emergency situation experience, and he was just as unfit to head a disaster organization as Allbaugh. Under Brown, FEMA became more specialized to deal with terrorist attacks, and the disaster relief aspects trimmed down.
Ever since Carter established the organization by Executive order, FEMA has been on a fairly up and down track. It is a political dumping ground, and a money well. For a number of years it was for quiet appointments and got it's political sway by the occasional disaster. It was best during the Clinton years, actually, although that's not saying much. Clinton appointed James Lee Witt as director, who was the first and only director appointed who actually had emergency management experience, from his role in Arkansas where he served Clinton as governor (again, an example of a friend of the President getting a bump up, although this was a more fitting bump). I agree with the Cato Institute assertion that FEMA encourages overdevelopment in danger-prone areas, like New Orleans, by providing free insurance, thus making development in dangerous areas cheap (the land is cheap to buy because it's a danger zone, yet there is no extra cost to insure it, since FEMA provides that), and general criticism that it's a turkey farm for political friends to have easy high-paying jobs.
All in all, modern mismanagement and it's past nature should show you that FEMA is not all it's cracked up to be, proven by it's response to Hurricane Katrina. It's not quite the organization that runs in with the supplies and troops to shore up the disaster, and it never was. It spends most of it's time providing relief and merely preparing for future disasters, mostly by helping with drills and setting up evacuation routines. When Ray Nagin asked what FEMA was doing, he probably had no idea what they are or how they work.
That their capacities were diminished because of poor leadership from Michael Brown was without doubt. It was not good in any era except the Clinton years, and that general statement even includes Carter. Under Clinton year FEMA was not exactly the most exemplary case of a government agency doing good, it has always stood as mediocre. For an agency with the vision of "A Nation Prepared", it has been pretty lackluster. Nothing it has done has warranted the furthered funding that it used the Katrina crisis to beg for.
As for the blame FEMA and it's director takes, well, most of the blame should not be assigned to it. It's duties were to prepare places like New Orleans for crisis. It did not do that (obviously). It's response afterwards was typical but not adequate, it did not have the tools necessary to make a very adequate reply. It requested 1,000 Homeland security officers on the day the hurricane landed, which certainly helps, but the state of Louisiana started with at least 3,500 National Guard, a number which steadily grew to 40,000 over the days ahead. FEMA wasn't going to make a huge difference in that. Looking back at the history of FEMA, you'll find that it reacted the same way during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, leaving the Dade county emergency relief manager to ask, "Where the hell is the cavalry?" News flash: in the history of FEMA, the cavalry never had horses. During the good years they barely had muskets.
Perhaps the biggest blame we should lay on FEMA is that FEMA's insurance program will help pay to rebuild New Orleans, keeping it in a geographically flood-prone and dangerous environment. Redevelopment of areas prone to danger is simply against common sense. Anyone with sense would rebuild the city off-site on higher ground. FEMA will make sure that the same mistake is made again, once this crisis is over.
The popular outcry was first very apologetic of FEMA, but seems to have also turned heavily against FEMA. Brown is now former director of FEMA because of this crisis. Did he deserve to get the boot? Let me answer the question with another question: did he deserve to have that job in the first place?
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco
Ms. Blanco's biggest problem was perhaps that she was fairly inept with actually engaging the National Guard to secure the resources needed for the evacuation. Like Mayor Ray Nagin, she shares that blame. She was a factor in the slow response of the guard to deal with the crisis environment inside the city. She knew she had few resources going into the crisis... yet her bureaucratic practices slowed down. She did little to follow the emergency protocols of the state of Louisiana.
What she did by blocking the Red Cross and by preventing other private aid is reprehensible, and alone reason enough not to support her in office again. When it comes to the larger scale of what actually happened in New Orleans, Governor Blanco shares most of the responsibility, since most of the authorities rested with her at the time of the crisis. Even being the first to declare a state of emergency, she was really the last to provide for any meaningful action or leadership.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin
Last but not least, the crying case, Ray Nagin. Ray Nagin passed most of the buck for this situation on to his superiors. But when I think of who really angers me, whose response was so thoroughly inefficient that it warrants outright hatred, Nagin is the first to come to mind. Nagin's poor direction of the evacuation effort stranded entire hospitals, kept people locked inside the city in hectic and out of control "shelters of last resort", and contributed to the waste of resources and loss of civil order. Nagin failed to control the police, couldn't even prevent masses of cops turning in their badges and going AWOL. While many walked out before the storm hit (Nagin made no protest if they wanted to leave), many more left after seeing how bad Nagin directed them. It was Nagin's police and law enforcement officials who directed National Guard efforts once inside the city, as state and local officials tentatively worked together, but Nagin and Blanco where nowhere to be found in terms of leadership. With no communications, no resources to evacuate the city, no secure zones since the gun stores loaded up local gangs to the teeth... the rescue effort was spread out, disoriented, and at the mercy of violent hooligans.
This was, primarily, Ray Nagin's fault. Putting the relocation of healthy and able inner city families above evacuation of those people on respirators that would fail as soon as the backup generators got flooded out (or in one case, stolen), above evacuation of premature born maternity wards, and other numbers of dying special needs? This man should not be re-elected.
State/Local or Federal?
Part of the quagmire was caused by officials who decided they didn't want to belong to any chain of command where they took responsibility for the crisis, and they fell along partisan divisions. Democrats wanted the federal government to take more responsibility, primarily because the federal government was a Republican administration they would love to blame for the problem. The Republicans, on the other hand, diffused blame to state and local officials - mostly Democrat in the case of the New Orleans tragedy - and that too fell mostly along party lines. I, however, have laid out a pretty good case for blame on virtually everyone... but in the struggle of state/local vs. federal in terms of responsibility, where do I side?
One system or the other must be adopted. Given that no federal system currently coherently makes for an effective plan (demonstrated by the NRP failure to handle this catastrophe), there is little reason to believe it's anything other than a bureaucratic failure by nature. Democrats, of course, don't want to accept that, when they can blame instead Republican federal officials who they want to dethrone (namely, Bush). Facts are, the body of legislation, emergency planning and first response are all in the hands of state and local officials... the NRP documentation even says so. This means yes, the blame game is played mostly on the home court.
The real problem here was that there was no leadership or chain of command. While people expect leadership from the President in this situation, he had semi-valid reasons to not be too directly involved. After all, he doesn't have same competence his brother Jeb Bush has in dealing with crisis situations. Likewise, there is no plan by which he centrally direct state and local efforts. Chertoff got stuck in the situation of handling the problem from a federal level, and he wasn't too bright either. While this happened, local and state officials ran amok instead of doing their jobs. Civil disorder ruled the day and this impeded the crisis situation. The local and state officials, being politicians, spent most of their time politicizing the situation rather than actually coordinating efforts. The Convention Center is a good example of this. This is part of the reason why I must stand with those pointing fingers at the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of the State of Louisiana in blaming local and state officials primarily for their lack of leadership and response, as they were the only coordinated bodies, and they knew it going in. Mississippi and Alabama did not have similar problems in leadership, neither did Florida. The lack of federal leadership did not hurt the city nearly as much as Mayor Ray Nagin giving up and doing nothing but whining on television for federal leadership to act and do his job of managing the city for him.
To say state and local officials shouldn't be expected to have plans and to act on them is idiotic and ignorant of the great body of work they have both put into planning for such a crisis. Louisiana has plans for these situations, the city of New Orleans has plans, these plans were not followed. To say state and local officials knew nothing of the levee situation and only FEMA was prepared to do anything is also stupidity. Despite this preparation existing, no action was taken place prior to the crisis, causing the extension of it, and the general chaos and anarchy. To say the NRP response was the best option is to ignore that previous administrations had greater success without it. The idiocy in response to this tragedy is all across the board.
It's just a pity that amidst this partisan blame game, so many people had to suffer.
- Good ol' PA