Security Lessons of the Response to Hurricane Katrina
There are many, large and small, but I want to mention two that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere.
1. The aftermath of this tragedy reflects on how poorly we’ve been spending our homeland security dollars. Again and again, I’ve said that we need to invest in 1) intelligence gathering, and 2) emergency response. These two things will help us regardless of what the terrorists are plotting, and the second helps in the event of a natural disaster. (In general, the only difference between a manmade disaster and a natural one is the cause. After a disaster occurs, it doesn’t matter.) The response by DHS and FEMA was abysmal, and demonstrated how little we’ve been getting for all our security spending. It’s unconscionable that we’re wasting our money on national ID cards, airline passenger profiling, and foreign invasions rather than emergency response at home: communications, training, transportation, coordination.
2. Redundancy, and to a lesser extent, inefficiency, are good for security. Efficiency is brittle. Redundancy results in less-brittle systems, and provides defense in depth. We need multiple organizations with overlapping capabilities, all helping in their own way: FEMA, DHS, the military, the Red Cross, etc. We need overcapacity, in water pumping capabilities, communications, emergency supplies, and so on. I wrote about this back in 2001, in opposition to the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. The government’s response to Katrina demonstrates this yet again.