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.

Posted on September 6, 2005 at 12:15 PM • 104 Comments

Comments

ZwackSeptember 6, 2005 12:39 PM


I wrote to Bruce on this topic last week and got a very nice response back. In particular, I asked if he felt that he thought this would make it more likely that people would listen to him about security spending now that he has been shown to have been right. Unfortunately his answer was, in essence, "No."

Thanks for your commentary once again Bruce, and once again, I still think that you are right.

Z.

Nicholas WeaverSeptember 6, 2005 1:00 PM

This also brings an important lesson to those LIVING in mega-castastrophy areas (West coast & earthquakes, the gulf coast/florida in hurricanes, Washington DC and a loose nuke...) as opposed to "micro-catastrophy" areas (eg, the Tornado belt):

You can't count on the calvalry coming for about 3-7 days, therefore you need to plan on you/your group (eg, your neighbors) being self-sufficient for 3-7 days.

FromSeptember 6, 2005 1:01 PM

Yet more left-wing nonsense. There was lots of redundancy, and the mayor didn't use any of it.

If you want to help why don't you get down there and use your "expertise" instead of blaming Bush for a natural event.

digitalprimateSeptember 6, 2005 1:18 PM

First, unless you have access to some secret section of text unavailable to we less privileged readers, I missed the part where Mr. Schneier blamed President Bush for anything, let alone a "natural event."

Next, would you please be so kind as to delineate exactly what redundancies the mayor of New Orleans had at his disposal?

What? You were only trolling? Oh, sorry; never mind.

ARLSeptember 6, 2005 1:20 PM

Considering the scale and issues around the NO disaster the response has been much better than expected.

The disaster was made 48 hours before the storm struck with the inaction of the city and state officials. The national guard should have been activated and the mandatory evacuation enforced before the storm hit.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 1:22 PM

The Financial Times just published a somewhat blistering commentary along the same lines called "Katrina leaves no external enemy to blame".

Another interesting editorial was titled "Tragic costs of Bush’s Iraq obsession", which recalled the same turning point you mention:

"In early 2001, shortly after President George W. Bush was inaugurated and before 9/11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned of the three most devastating disasters that could strike the US: a terrorist attack on New York City, a hurricane flooding New Orleans and a San Francisco earthquake. The Bush administration was focused on its priority: Iraq."

This FEMA report also shows up in the TimesOnline site:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/...

"The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all. In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city’s less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20ft of water."

Given this clear a warning, I am sure there will be serious discussion of why the Corps of Engineers were repeatedly denied funds over the past few years to maintain and enhance the levy system.

For example, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, LA, has been repeatedly quoted from a story in the Times-Picayune on June 8, 2004 'It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.'"

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 1:31 PM

"Considering the scale and issues around the NO disaster the response has been much better than expected."

That's the first time I have heard or seen anything positive about the response timing. Is this a case of lowering expectations to the point where anything can be declared a success?

Before you say that there were reasons for the slow arrival, you might want to read page 15 of the Sept 4th Times-Picayune. The "open letter" to the President directly addresses the issue of access to the city, evacuation plans, and the unfortunate yet inevitable politics. For example:

"Television reporters were doing live reports from downtown New Orleans streets. Harry Connick Jr. brought in some aid Thursday, and his efforts were the focus of a 'Today' show story Friday morning.

Yet, the people trained to protect our nation, the people whose job it is to quickly bring in aid were absent. Those who should have been deploying troops were singing a sad song about how our city was impossible to reach."

Blog SkunkSeptember 6, 2005 1:38 PM

(I found this on Deepak Chopra's blog):

Guess Who Castrated FEMA?
from Henry Breitrose

CHRONOLOGY.... Here's a timeline that outlines the fate of both FEMA and flood control projects in New Orleans under the Bush administration. Read it and weep:

January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.

April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush administration's goal of privatizing much of FEMA's work. In May, Allbaugh confirms that FEMA will be downsized: "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program...." he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

2001: FEMA designates a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the three "likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country."

December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh announces he is leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies seeking to do business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown, who, like Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.

March 2003: FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position and folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused on fighting acts of terrorism.

2003: Under its new organization chart within DHS, FEMA's preparation and planning functions are reassigned to a new Office of Preparedness and Response. FEMA will henceforth focus only on response and recovery.

Summer 2004: FEMA denies Louisiana's pre-disaster mitigation funding requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: "You would think we would get maximum consideration....This is what the grant program called for. We were more than qualified for it."

June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri comments: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay."

June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.

August 2005: While New Orleans is undergoing a slow motion catastrophe, Bush mugs for the cameras, cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the guitar for Mark Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with his vacation. When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the unfolding disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a flat, defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden.

A crony with no relevant experience was installed as head of FEMA. Mitigation budgets for New Orleans were slashed even though it was known to be one of the top three risks in the country. FEMA was deliberately downsized as part of the Bush administration's conservative agenda to reduce the role of government. After DHS was created, FEMA's preparation and planning functions were taken away.

Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell.

Henry Breitrose
Professor of Communication
Department of Communication Stanford University
Stanford, California USA 94305-2050
+650-723-4700

L BuchananSeptember 6, 2005 1:44 PM

@ digitalprimate

Excellent commentary by Bob Williams in today's _Wall Street Journal_ detailing the failings of the New Orleans Mayor and the Governor of Louisiana to adhere to the emergency response and evacuation plans that were already in place. Also, protocols exist for municipalities and states to ask for Federal aid; apparently, they were not followed.

DinirichSeptember 6, 2005 1:48 PM

"In early 2001, shortly after President George W. Bush was inaugurated and before 9/11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned of the three most devastating disasters that could strike the US: a terrorist attack on New York City, a hurricane flooding New Orleans and a San Francisco earthquake. The Bush administration was focused on its priority: Iraq."

Is Nostradamus working for these guys? I sure wouldn't want to be in San Fransisco. Maybe the current adminstration will finally get it right. Third time's the charm as they say.

acSeptember 6, 2005 1:49 PM

Bruce's comparison between natural disasters and terrorist attacks is apt, but incomplete.

Terrorist attacks are largely unpredictable. Natural disasters are much more predictable. For example, earthquakes usually happen in predictable places, but not predictable times. Hurricanes hit in predictable places, at times that can be predicted several days in advance.

Katrina was not a "natural 9/11"--it was "9/11 with a week's advance notice". I shudder to think how ill-prepared we are (at all levels of government) to deal with another 9/11.

Stu SavorySeptember 6, 2005 1:56 PM

Looters broke into gun stores and were armed and shooting at policemen, I read.

Can you imagine how much worse it would have been, had the looters had strong encryption, Bruce ? ;-)

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 2:01 PM

"protocols exist for municipalities and states to ask for Federal aid; apparently, they were not followed"

Uh, ok. That's a rather terse assessment. Maybe next you'll suggest the hurricane did not follow procedure either?

A more in-depth review of the machinations might be called for, such as the one here:

http://www.nola.com/newslogs/tporleans/...

But if you read the TimesOnline article I cited above, I think you'll get a slice of the "leadership crisis" that people are talking about right now:

"The president seemed oblivious to reality. One reason why this event may reverberate is exactly that disconnect. Five days after a hurricane, American citizens were still helpless across the region; and yet the president was 'satisfied'. Over two years after the invasion of Iraq, the road to the airport to the Green Zone is still not secure, and yet the president has pronounced himself pleased with progress."

mjkSeptember 6, 2005 2:04 PM

I would say its more the local government's more fault than anybody elses. They were even forced by the evil bush administration to have a manatory evacuation. But that doesnt matter, its still bushes fault! Its gotta be!

HritzSeptember 6, 2005 2:04 PM

I too think that there is blame to go around. One of the photos on the wire services was of a flooded parking lot full of school buses. One would think that in an emergency management drill, folks would have realized that many residents were unable to leave the city and would need transportation to a temporary shelter and then on to permanent shelter after the hurrican had passed. Those buses should have been used to move citizens and parked on high ground.

Also much was made of the hospitals having to move their emergency rooms above flood stage. Not clear why this wasn't thought of in the original design of the wards.

As for the "three days of water" comments, it did not appear that the Feds started working for three days. They seemed to be tied up in jurisdictional squabbles.

JDSeptember 6, 2005 2:19 PM

It will be some time before the post-mortems sift all the facts of who did what or failed to do what to mitigate the disaster, a reality that has had no effect to deter an instantaneous frenzy of politically-motivated finger-pointing.

Very sad and ugly to see people trying to score political points amid the ongoing heroic efforts of responders and rescuers who, as in the aftermath of 9/11, willingly put their own lives on the line to save others.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 2:30 PM

"Very sad and ugly to see people trying to score political points amid the ongoing heroic efforts of responders and rescuers who, as in the aftermath of 9/11, willingly put their own lives on the line to save others."

Agreed 100%. There were failures at all levels, and caution must be applied going forward to avoid purely political, rather than humanitarian, responses and plans for remediation.

AndrewSeptember 6, 2005 2:39 PM

Not sure about the "redundancy" argument - redundant capabilities are good; redundant chains of command might be a problem. It's too early to say who was at fault, but it's not obvious who had power to order what when. That seems to have been part of the problem.


whattodoSeptember 6, 2005 2:41 PM

"Excellent commentary by Bob Williams in today's _Wall Street Journal_ detailing the failings of the New Orleans Mayor and the Governor of Louisiana to adhere to the emergency response and evacuation plans that were already in place. Also, protocols exist for municipalities and states to ask for Federal aid; apparently, they were not followed."

The consensus of what I have read and and seen reported seems to reinforce this opinion.

An interesting report on one of the news channels compared the action of the NY mayor to the NO mayor, where after 9/11 the NY mayor was visibly seen taking actions to deal with the disaster and provide moral support to the citizens of NY (and the rest of the country), although, there have been no similar reports (direct or indirect) for the NO mayor.

On response resources, it is my understanding that resources like the national guard report to state governors, not the federal government. So, only the LA governor can "call in the troops", in a disaster like this. Also, that most states have laws that restrict the federal government from intervening in a state's "affairs" (i.e. uprisings, natural disasters) until the state's government specifically requests federal assistance (along the lines of declaring "martial law", which is a state-by-state issue and not declared by the federal government).

Getting back to the real issue of security, from the perspective of the federal government and the DHS, it seems the focus should be more on securing the refineries and shipping ports in the NO area. In the end, besides the city of NO being underwater, the _real_ impact to the security of the US seems to have been the loss of critical national infrastructure (refineries and shipping) that has impacted not just the NO area, but the entire country. The DHS should be spending money to secure these critical infrastructure components (i.e. build levies around the refineries first if they are below sea-level) and let the state and city governments worry about making sure the levies around their cities are sufficient. Terrorists around the world were given a good lesson on what little it would take to impact the entire US.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 2:47 PM

@ Andrew

The NOLA article I cited above examines that topic. They actually detail some of the struggle between a State and Federal authority in terms of chain-of-command and dual authorities.

Redundant does not need to mean competitive or disfunctional, since you can use a clear succession plan to avoid the "brittle" efficiency Bruce suggests. I guess it depends on your definition, but disaster recovery plans often cite redundancy as a path to efficiency, as it is intended to reduce down-time for reconfiguration and regrouping.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 2:54 PM

For those continuing to speculate, here is some of the text of the article I cited above:

"Friday night, the White House moved to take charge of all the troops in Louisiana. At home, [LA Governor] Blanco received a memorandum of understanding from the White House asking her to cede control of the National Guard. According to her staff, Blanco was asked to sign and return the document right away. Blanco consulted with her legal counsel, Terry Ryder, and then refused the request.

[...]

When it comes to domestic security, state forces generally take the lead. At a G-8 summit last year in Georgia, state authorities were given control over federal forces, according to John Goheen, a spokesman for the National Guard.

"The reason is that Guard commanders generally have a better working relationship with local authorities," Goheen said. "Guard forces can also perform law enforcement functions. That mission was seen as a harbinger of the future."

[...]

Timothy Keating, commander of active-duty forces in North America, agreed. "From our perspective," he said Monday, "it would not have provided an advantage over the current situation."

John R CampbellSeptember 6, 2005 2:57 PM

I made some comments via e-mail previously, pointing out the Efficiency and Resiliency are, for the most part, at odds with each other; I wrote this up as an "article" last week at http://home.jtan.com/~soup/Essays/Efficiency.html which also refers to a previous article I wrote about CyberDiversity.

I've been learning a lot from this blog over the years, especially w/r/t terminology.

I'm also wondering if the DHS mindset has reduced the tolerance for individual initiative within the military, given some comments about "base closings". If a military base is open but has a commander who sees themselves as shackled to a set of rules that discourage initiative...

We seem to be moving more and more towards a monolithic "central command" mindset-- and this is the mindset that restrains people from acting on their own initiative to carry out a mission.

We'll hear comments about accountability, of course, but...

There's no *one* right answer.

Beryllium Sphere LLCSeptember 6, 2005 3:06 PM

Duplicating capabilities is good for disaster response. Duplicating command is terrible.

People were still squabbling about who was in charge just a few days ago.

The postmortems should dig into why.

the professorSeptember 6, 2005 3:16 PM

I can not believe how off the mark some of you are.

Let us be clear - 9/11 was not Katrina. On 9/11 you had one section of a city go down. For crying out load, they had wall street, which is just around the block from the world trade center, up and running the next Monday. They are talking about 80 days to get the freaking water out. Almost the entire city is underwater, people. The Police have no infrastructure, no communication, they don't even have gas. Everyone knew the levy was going to break and yet nothing was done. Nothing was proactively done, that's for sure. Yet the newspaper was able to predict, in eerie detail, just what would happen if a great than CAT III hurricane came in.

Get real. If someone said "we're going to gas your subway system in two weeks" and then Bush got up and said, "we never thought the gas would spread through the subway system going from one location to the next" - you'd be mad as hell. Well get off your political bend and eat some crow. The FEDERAL government failed and they failed BIG TIME. For sakes the head of FEMA had not a day of emergency management, he was head of some niche horse association. Oh but the mayor didn't fill out the form in triplicate. Get real.

ZwackSeptember 6, 2005 3:20 PM

L Buchanan stated that correct procedures were not followed. I have heard this several times already so I did a little research.
I only have what I can find on publicly accessible websites to go on, but this is what I found.
I started with the FEMA website to find out what it takes for FEMA to step in…
A document on their website contains the following text.

“Whether a disaster strikes without warning, such as a tornado or earthquake, or gives advance warning, such as a hurricane, FEMA moves quickly to position staff and supplies and assess what other federal agencies are needed as well.
FEMA does not respond to every disaster that occurs in the U.S. It responds only when a disaster overwhelms a state’s resources and the governor requests federal help. Once damage assessments are made, the President may issue a federal disaster declaration, opening the way for the federal government to pay for disaster recovery.��?
(http://www.fema.gov/txt/library/thisisfema.txt)

So they are admitting that it is their job to help, but only when a state can’t help itself and a Governor requests help. That seems reasonable enough, provided the Governor is not incapacitated by the disaster. But, never mind the stupidity of the policy, the next question is did the Governor of Louisiana request help? I went to her home page (ahttp://www.gov.state.la.us/) and scrolled down. I came across the following heading “Louisiana Request for Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance��? that sounds about right, I wonder what it says and when it was sent. So, I viewed the PDF linked from that page. It was dated August 28th 2005. Not only that but it requests (under the Stafford Act) a declaration of an “expedited major disaster for the State of Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina, a Category V Hurricane approaches our south coast of New Orleans��?
Given the date on that letter, I can’t see any reason for the Bush administration to claim that “nobody asked them for help��?. Perhaps there is some technicality that wasn't followed, but this looks awfully like they did what was needed for FEMA to step in.

Given that this was an emergency, and that a request for aid was received, stating that "protocols were not followed" is frankly ridiculous. An official request for help should be more than is needed for help to become available. What if the Governor was incapacitated by the catastrophe? Would some petty bureaucrat require their signature on a piece of paper then? Given that a request for aid was sent, aid should have been sent, the technicalities can be dealt with either on the sidelines or after the disaster has been mitigated.

I guess if your house catches fire then you won't want the fire department to do anything to help you until you have agreed on specific actions that they can take and where your liability ends? Or will you call 911 and assume that they will do the right thing?

Z.

PorterSeptember 6, 2005 3:21 PM

My understanding is that the leadership failure finally ended once General Honore arrived.

"(CNN) -- New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin calls Lt. Gen. Russel Honore a "John Wayne dude" who can "get some stuff done."

"He came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving,"..."

It's too bad that the National Guard was not called in sooner.

Old BenjaminSeptember 6, 2005 3:29 PM

> I missed the part where Mr. Schneier blamed President Bush for anything, let alone a "natural event."

Haven't you read _Animal Farm_? In that book, the pigs who ran the farm silenced dissent by giving the sheep slogans to recite over and over to drown out discussion.

Today the sheep have been ordered to bleat "Katrina wasn't Bush's fault".

markSeptember 6, 2005 3:30 PM

From a non US point of view:

We see people dying and all I hear and see on TV/radio/internet is people arguing about whose fault it is. The response has been pitiful and all of those who have responsibility from top to bottom should consider themselves to have blood on their hands.

The US seems to have its priorities badly wrong - you treat visitors like criminals. You treat your own poor like a third world country. If you really want security - then treating people like they are human might be a good start.

Tom ClarkSeptember 6, 2005 3:33 PM

@ Whattodo: I don't know where the WSJ gets their information, but the Governor of Louisiana made a formal request to FEMA for assistance on August 29th. Sorry, this may wrap...

http://gov.louisiana.gov/...

As to protecting the critical infrastructure regarding refineries and shipyards...sure...good future tasks. Learn from mistakes and make adjustments. But without the people of New Orleans to work those facilities they may just as well not exist. Along with Security comes Safety. Not safe, then not secure, and vice versa. The people of New Orleans are the greatest resource of that region. Not the shipyards, not the oil. People come first.

The biggest breakdown in this whole disaster wasn't necessarily the timing of the relief efforts. It was the direction of the relief efforts. Trucks were bringing in food and water, but leaving empty. Busses and gas were needed to evacuate the people...not water, ice, and food to keep them there. Even as FEMA scrambled to send help it was misdirected in bringing aid TO New Orleans instead of focused on taking the survivors OUT. Every single relief effort of any type made this mistake for the first three days of the disaster.

That is the real tragedy...and I hope it is well recalled when all the useless finger pointing and second guessing is over.

Bruce's point at the beginning is well made. Plan for a disaster...man made or natural it makes no difference. Just plan...and make sure your plans are workable. If we don't, San Francisco is in deep trouble...according to Nostradamus anyway.

anonSeptember 6, 2005 3:46 PM

I think the lesson here is don't rely on your govt for your own personal protection. In my opinion the local and state governments botched this starting a few days before the hurricaine and continuing on from there while the feds wasted 24 hours getting organized after the hurricaine hit. I would expect as much from the feds because they are a huge bureacracy but I am really surprised at how bad the state and local people screwed up. Why didn't the mayor of NO use those school buses that got flooded to evacuate people before the hurricaine? Why didn't the governor have the national guard there immediately after the hurricaine hit?

I think the moral of the story is to take personal responsibility for your own safety. Don't trust the government to do that for you. Another more obvious moral is to leave town when there is a cat5 hurricaine heading toward you and you are 6 feet below sea level.

VickiSeptember 6, 2005 4:13 PM

It's easy to tell other people to "take personal responsibility for your own safety," not so easy to do that when you don't have your own vehicle, don't have the money (or credit card) for an out-of-town hotel room, and know that if you evacuate and you're wrong, you'll lose a few crucial days' pay. A lot of people--most of whom lack the money or time to be posting to Weblogs--don't have much spare cash. If you have a car but are living close to the financial edge, evacuating when you don't need to can mean not having money for food next week because you spent it on gas.

Back to Bruce's points--if the funds had been better spent, there'd have been adequate drinking water in the designated hurricane emergency shelter, a.k.a. the Superdome. There might even have been basic medical supplies and MREs.

As far as I can tell, sitting here comfortably in midtown Manhattan, the main difference between terrorists and a Category 5 hurricane is that the hurricane does a lot more damage over a wider area. Yes, four Septembers ago I was flinching at jet fighters overhead, even though I knew they were the US Air Force, and worrying about another attack: but I suspect a lot of people along the Gulf Coast are going to flinch at every tropical storm warning. Either way, you need trained personnel to rescue people and rebuild infrastructure.

As for communications--what kind of disaster response agency can't answer a mayor pleading for help on national television, because he or the governor hasn't filled out the forms and played with the pencils?

Red NeckSeptember 6, 2005 4:22 PM

Why is it that I, as a taxpayer in Wisconsin, should pay to keep the river/ocean out of New Orleans? These people live on coastal land, below sea level. What were they expecting? Perhaps the Federal government has already spent too much maintaining the delicate balance there.

When people place themselves and their property in harms way, whose fault is it?

Why should we pay to rebuild their city when it is wiped out?

Red

loyal_citizenSeptember 6, 2005 4:42 PM

@Red

Why should I, as a taxpayer, pay for your house when it gets hit by a tornado? You live in a tornado zone, what were you expecting?

What exactly is the purpose of government again?

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 4:50 PM

I'm not trying to compare the severity of the disasters, but with all the "we told you so" information starting to percolate, I can't help but review a story from September 12, 2001:

http://www.salon.com/politics/feature/2001/09/12/...

"Two former senators, the bipartisan co-chairs of a Defense Department-chartered commission on national security, spoke with something between frustration and regret about how White House officials failed to embrace any of the recommendations to prevent acts of domestic terrorism delivered earlier this year."

[...]

"The Customs Service, the Border Patrol, and the Coast Guard are all on the verge of being overwhelmed by the mismatch between their growing duties and their mostly static resources," the report stated. Intelligence needed to focus not only on electronic surveillance but a renewed emphasis on human surveillance -- informants and spies -- 'especially on terrorist groups covertly supported by states.' As the threat was imminent, Congress and the president were urged to "start right away on implementing the recommendations put forth here.""

That was the recommendation in January 2001 and it sounds like what Bruce is still saying needs to happen today. In March 2001 Congress started to draft legislation to implement these changes, but the article says the "White House announced in May that it would have Vice President Dick Cheney study the potential problem of domestic terrorism -- which the bipartisan group had already spent two and a half years studying -- while assigning responsibility for dealing with the issue to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, headed by former Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh."

A post above mentions Allbaugh started cutting and downsizing FEMA in May 2001, even though it appears that at the time the Administration was holding FEMA up as the appropriate body for anti-terrorism as well as disaster recovery.

Daniel FeldmanSeptember 6, 2005 4:53 PM

This catastrophe was brought on by many smaller errors, the most obvious being the complete failure of the Federal government to shore up levee defenses in advance. Numerous studies predicted the results of a hurricane hitting New Orleans, and the response of both local and Federal officials seemed to be "but of course that can't happen."

With respect to security and defense: initial hurricane responders fell prey to the same problem that impeded 9/11 rescue efforts: failure of their digital communication systems. Police and fire departments today rely heavily on trunked radios. Each mobile radio uses a low-power signal to communicate with a network of repeaters, which in turn send traffic city-wide via a central computer-controlled station. Trunked radios make extremely efficient use of scarce radio spectrum, but when the repeaters fail (as in New York) or the central station is flooded (as in New Orleans), these critical first responders lose all communication. A military-style radio system, or even a 20-year-old old-fashioned analog radio, would serve emergency officials far better in these worst-case situations. They should be ashamed to not carry such radios as backup.

whattodoSeptember 6, 2005 5:04 PM

@Tom Clark

While the LA governor did ask for federal assistance, as the letter indicates, it does not relieve the state/city government of acting on their own. There is no excuse for taking so long to bring into play the national guard and other local LA resources.

While there is blame to go all around (federal, state, and local), from the NOLA article which Davi provided a link to, the actions of the LA governor are summed up by this statement:
"...Blanco was asked to sign and return the document right away. Blanco consulted with her legal counsel, Terry Ryder, and then refused the request."
The article points out that the federal government tried to step in when it was clear that the state/local government "wasn't getting it done". Why is the LA governor, in the middle of a major crisis/disaster, taking time to meet with lawyers to decide what action to take? Is this acting in the best interests of the citizens of NO or in the best interests of the governor?

Tom, I agree that more should have and should be done to evacuate the citizens of NO that have been impacted by this tragedy. However, I can't understand why they are busing people 350 miles to Houston (with the last I heard they are now turning the buses away). Why isn't the state/local government setting up a massive "tent city" somewhere much closer to NO to house the displaced citizens, so they have someplace to stay until they decide what to do about the city of NO.

Regarding critical infrastructure, you make a good point about ensuring the safety of those that work at these critical infrastructure facilities. My point was that the federal government, and especially the DHS, should have as their priority to secure these areas first (the facilities and the people that work there). Any event (natural or man-made) that can create a nation-wide impact and require the use of US strategic reserves (oil, grain, whatever), as this disaster has, should be considered a serious priority for the DHS.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 5:06 PM

"Why is it that I, as a taxpayer in Wisconsin"

Funny you should ask that since a Disaster Management (and Education) Center is located near you that would probably be more than happy to explain why the "screw everyone else, a disaster will never happen to me" strategy is unsafe and unwise for everyone:

http://dmc.engr.wisc.edu/about/

DonSeptember 6, 2005 5:16 PM

"Why is it that I, as a taxpayer in Wisconsin, should pay to keep the river/ocean out of New Orleans?"

I can't speak for you, but as a taxpayer in Virginia the answer to your question is hung on the signs of every gas station in my town. I'll be happy when one of the busiest ports in the country is back up to speed.

Brent DaxSeptember 6, 2005 5:23 PM

"Also much was made of the hospitals having to move their emergency rooms above flood stage. Not clear why this wasn't thought of in the original design of the wards."

I am not a hospital designer, but most ERs I've seen are on the ground floor, presumably so they can be quickly and easily reached by possibly dying patients.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 5:29 PM

"I am not a hospital designer, but most ERs I've seen are on the ground floor, presumably so they can be quickly and easily reached by possibly dying patients."

Very true, it's for quick ingress/egress, except for patients that come in via helipad or even rooms elsewhere in the hospital. In those cases someone usually has the authority to commandeer the elevator near the ER...

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 6, 2005 5:56 PM

This might just add fuel to the fire, but the Financial Times seems to be on a roll with very pointed reporting on the crisis. Maybe it's a result of the funding issue, but I'm not sure how redundancy helps when you have problems identified like those revealed in the Meet the Press interview of Aaron Broussard. The Financial Times just posted a piece called "Katrina reveals the presidential flaws". Here's the start:

"What is more unbelievable?

Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson parish, reporting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was still blocking relief supplies to this Louisiana district: 'We had Wal-Mart deliver three trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago. We had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said: ‘Come get the fuel right away.’ When we got there with our trucks, they got a word: ‘FEMA says don’t give you the fuel.’ Yesterday, FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines'?

Or FEMA’s decision to keep the Red Cross from sending supplies and medical personnel into New Orleans. The Red Cross reports: 'We simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders...'"

BryanSeptember 6, 2005 7:46 PM

I haven't read all responses yet - promise I'll come back and do that.

But I think the blame spreads from the very lowest levels - you and me - on through the local and state officials who appear to have lost the disaster management playbooks they surely did have, and finally to the very top - our President, who de-prioritized FEMA in favor of terrorism.

I'd also like to note that I don't depend on ANY government to save my ass when the water is rising or some other dire situation approaches. I have had my disaster kits stocked for many years now; my family knows our disaster plan, and we update our kits & plans every year or so.

I think a certain amount of this lack of prior preparation and post-fingerpointing is quite simply human nature. 9/11 and Katrina were both extremely low-probability events! But sooner or later you 'win' the disaster lottery and in all likelihood were not prepared for it. That's life. You make do, muddle through, and hope to be better prepared next time around.

So while my heart goes out to Katrina victims, I can't help but note that I saw a lot of able-bodied persons just sitting around when other options were available to them. I'm not sure I'm sorry for those particular individuals. Did they really exemplify 'American Spirit'? I don't think so. They waited for someone /else/ to come around and do so.

BonBonSeptember 6, 2005 9:19 PM

@Bryan: "I saw a lot of able-bodied persons just sitting around when other options were available to them. I'm not sure I'm sorry for those particular individuals. Did they really exemplify 'American Spirit'? I don't think so. They waited for someone /else/ to come around and do so."

You got to be kidding! What could these able bodied people do? Walk out of town? No, the periphery was submerged. Swim out? No, where were the boats? They were mostly poor people and couldn't exactly function as paramedics. In any case, they were constantly told that help was on the way. The wait was enough to drive any sane person nuts.

TrollSeptember 6, 2005 10:17 PM

Newsflash:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/katrina/story/...

Mr. Bush launches investigation of Bush security failures, announcing he is focusing his efforts on preparing for a WMD or future hurricane in New Orleans

"We want to make sure that we can respond properly if there's a WMD attack or another major storm."

Meanwhile, Mrs. Bush opines about Texas' security and the inability to push out the underprivileged:

"What I'm hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. [...] And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."

Scary indeed, since they might end up staying long enough to vote!

NickSeptember 7, 2005 12:11 AM


The response to Katrina highlights several items, and I am thrilled to see Bruce and other people discussing this in the comments:

1. 9/11 was four years ago (give or take a couple of days). What the HELL have we been doing with the money budgeted to DHS? Communications, evacuation, medical treatment ... all of this is basic disaster management, never mind a Category V hurricane. If we can't handle a hurricane, we're going to have some really fricking rude surprises if the terrorists sneak one past us.

1A. Given how well our emergency procedures work, I can't say it inspires me to regard our security procedures with any confidence.

2. This is not a blame game. If people screwed up, they need to step up and take responsibility for their failures. That starts with Michael Brown. "We couldn't have predicted Katrina's effects," some folks are saying ... but how much LESS would those effects have to be for FEMA's response to be adequate? Blaming a lack of preparation on the unpredictability of a storm is just ridiculous. Can you imagine Counterpane offering that kind of excuse? ("Hey, we're sorry about the damage to your network, but we didn't think the worm would be that bad, and you didn't ask for help, anyway.")

3. Crisis management isn't just about what you do when hell breaks loose, it's about what you've done PRIOR to hell breaking loose - anticipating reasonable needs, taking prudent measures, whether it's as simple as having a flashlight in your closet and a go-bag in the trunk of your car ... or having state and federal response able to deploy when there is sufficient evidence that they will be needed. I mean, we're seeing pictures of New Orleans being FLOODED, and people are trying to say the Mayor should have asked for help? That the Governor should have asked for help? I mean, do you really wait for your grandmother to ask for help if she has to lift something? Or do you use your intelligence and compassion and do it without being asked?

" didn't ask for help," sounds like a spoiled kid trying to dodge the consequences or get out of doing their chores.

====

No matter how you slice it, no matter who you blame, the emergency response question must be answered. I vote. I pay my taxes. I deserve a straight answer and the hard work I expect from those charged with protecting our country.

If you think Katrina is an exception, you might also want to consider that she virtually destroyed the barrier islands - there's nothing to dissipate the force of the next storm that comes crawling up the Gulf, and we're not out of hurricane season yet.

Jerome LacosteSeptember 7, 2005 2:19 AM

"In general, the only difference between a manmade disaster and a natural one is the cause. After a disaster occurs, it doesn't matter."

There are some important differences: when a terrorist event happens, you probably need to bump up your security awareness level to try to detect further attacks. Most of the time these won't happen, but you shouldn't rule them out.

DarkFireSeptember 7, 2005 3:32 AM

As I don't live in the USA, I feel that I'm totally unqualified to pass judgement. However, watching on the news the unfolding catastrophe I couldn't help but be staggered by JB's reaction. I can't quote him but when pressed (still on the campaign trail? What on earth was he doing there?) he couldn't help but mention the "terrorists" in the same sentence as promising help to the beleaguered citizens of NO.

Yes, terrorism is a problem, but JB's utter preoccupation is bordering on paranoia! Surely during that week the NO disaster should have taken absolute priority for every possible available resource?

As for the reported leadership squabbles - I've seen this sort of thing 1st hand and it isn’t pretty. Someone else posted that duplication of capability is good but that command duplication is bad - that comment is spot on.

My thoughts & feelings go out to everyone from NO and the surrounding area…

KruppSeptember 7, 2005 3:38 AM

I read in the newspaper that FEMA is so useless that there are no unified emergency radio channels for police, firefighters etc.
The offer of doctors from Cuba can be (almost) dismissed as a provocation, but Italy announced in earnest it is going to send a C130 of useful stuff. The load includes blankets and first aid kits.
http://www.protezionecivile.it/cms/view.php?...

Without even getting into sadder topics like having to send the Army against rampaging looters, I just don't understand how a country can be so suicidally unprepared. It is a sign of collective madness, not a mere problem of incompetence and evil budget priorities.

Andre MerzkySeptember 7, 2005 4:18 AM

@Jerome:

"There are some important differences: when a terrorist event happens, you probably need to bump up your security awareness level to try to detect further attacks. Most of the time these won't happen, but you shouldn't rule them out."

Aehm, what is the difference again? You mean: expect another 9/11, but don't worry about the next hurricane? I really hope I misunderestood you...

Andre MerzkySeptember 7, 2005 4:22 AM

"The offer of doctors from Cuba can be (almost) dismissed as a provocation..."

Nop - you'd be surprised, but they mean to help. As they already did often enough in Latin America after similar disasters. Unless the affected states declined their help of course -- usually that happens because its a 'provocation'...

ARLSeptember 7, 2005 7:18 AM

Strange but reports are starting to come out from the aid workers and it appears that many of the reports given by the press are false or misleading. No doubt that there are problems and the amount of damage is great, but things are working and people are getting help.

Few people can even understand the size of the area impacted much less the amount of work being done.

But is seems that the press needs to have stories and nobody buys a paper to read of good news.

anonSeptember 7, 2005 11:24 AM

"It's easy to tell other people to "take personal responsibility for your own safety," not so easy to do that when you don't have your own vehicle, don't have the money (or credit card) for an out-of-town hotel room, and know that if you evacuate and you're wrong, you'll lose a few crucial days' pay. A lot of people--most of whom lack the money or time to be posting to Weblogs--don't have much spare cash. If you have a car but are living close to the financial edge, evacuating when you don't need to can mean not having money for food next week because you spent it on gas."

Sorry but I don't agree with your take on this for this particular instance. Due to the fact that it was widely reported that a cat5 hurricaine was bearing down on a city that is at least 6 feet below sea level then you have to be smart enough to get the hell out of there even if you have to walk, ride a bike or catch a ride with someone who has a car. This wasn't a situation where you "might" need to evacuate as you put it this was a situation where it was mandatory and obvious.

I'm not sure why loyal_citizen considers my statements trolling. Its obvious that the govt on all levels blew it as they have time and time again. So the moral should be don't rely on them.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 7, 2005 12:00 PM

@ ARL

"Strange but reports are starting to come out from the aid workers and it appears that many of the reports given by the press are false or misleading."

Where? Who? How about some pointers to these favorable reports from the aid workers?

No one would argue that reporters are just reporting on what they see. I have noticed many of them have the heart and conscience to stand firm and show the real pain and suffering and absolute failure of the emergency system to assist. Most of the live news casts in the first five days were downright painful to watch, but they were most definitely honest...

With that in mind, be very careful with the thought that reporters who carry bad news and/or uncertainty should be dismissed in favor of a more self-congratulatory message. That attitude is what actually leads to ignorance of risk and therefore contributes to predictable disasters.

I suggest the excellent book on Risk Management called "Waltzing with Bears" by DeMarco and Lister for more information.

JDSeptember 7, 2005 12:07 PM

While there is plenty enough to criticize in the federal response, let us not lose sight of the fact that the primary responsibility for emergency preparedness and response is at the state and local level. If local authorities lack the competence to prepare and deal with local situations or to ask for help when they need it, the feds can't just jump in and do their jobs for them.

What ought to make people's blood boil more than anything else are the pictures of hundreds of city buses and school buses sitting in their now-flooded parking lots, that could and should have been used to evacuate people instead of packing them into totally unsuitable shelters. Clearly the grossest incompetence was at the local level.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 7, 2005 12:18 PM

"you have to be smart enough to get the hell out of there even if you have to walk, ride a bike or catch a ride with someone who has a car"

This is commonly referred to as "blaming the victim" and is normally used by people who have a need to feel safe or more in control of their own life. However, it does not improve overall security at an individual level, let alone for tens of thousands of people in a major metropolitain area.

jammitSeptember 7, 2005 12:21 PM

This is an example of how anti terrorism isn't working. If the emergency response to terrorism was really all that great, the same tecniques could be applied to the hurricane "terror". Just like a hurricane, I view man as a natural disaster.

BryanSeptember 7, 2005 12:56 PM

@BonBon

As I said before I think the blame lies at *all* levels, and yes, that includes us voters. Large-scale emergency preparedness didn't seem to be on our criteria list in any of the elections before now. Politicians grease the squeaky wheel, and that one wasn't squeaking loudly enough to be heard over the screaming of the anti-terrorism wheel.

As to my comments on American spirit. Yes, some people did walk out of New Orleans after the hurricane; their story is here (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/weather/july-dec05/exodus_9-1.html). Should everyone at the Convention Center have done that? Probably not, but they were less than 2 (dry) miles from the Superdome. They saw all the busses going somewhere - maybe someone could have followed? Or maybe someone could have asked the reporters (who showed up in trucks and helicopters) if they knew any safe routes of egress?

All I am saying is that huge numbers of people are looking to blame some rescuer who didn't show up (or rescuer boss who failed to lead well). Having spent years as a volunteer fire/EMS person myself, I agree with that, by the way. However I *also* feel that every able-bodied person should be doing everything possible to help him/herself and those nearby - so that rescuers can concentrate on the sick, elderly, young, etc who truly need the most help.

American 'can-do!' spirit is one of our great legacies. I hope it is not being replaced with 'can-blame'.

SavikSeptember 7, 2005 1:04 PM

The secondary failure here was that of leadership; Federal, State and Local.

BUT The primary failure here was a failure of PEOPLE to prepare. They all knew something like this might happen but they chose to ignore it.

NickSeptember 7, 2005 3:28 PM


Savik:

The PEOPLE aren't responsible for maintaining the flood wall/levee. The PEOPLE didn't slash the budget for the repairs that have been anticipated and requested long before Katrina showed up.

/end Savik

=====

Yes, having an emergency kit is all well and good. But if you're living at subsistence level, it's probably way the hell back on the List of Things I Need. The emergency kit also has to be where you can get to it; for example, if I have a kit at home, but disaster strikes while I'm at work ... I'm dependent on whatever emergency preparations the company took. We went through the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, and *somewhere* there's supposed to be hard-hats, flashlights, and first-aid kits. Except now, the first-aid kits are poorly stocked, because people used to filch aspirin (1500+ units a month). If you were actually injured, tough luck.

Again, the focus is not blame, and it seems the only ones complaining about this are the folks who might possibly find the problem landing on their desks. If Michael Brown were running a snack bar at the ballpark and it ran out of orange soda, that'd be one thing, and most people would be willing to give him another chance. He's running FEMA. FEMA deals with disasters that exceed state and local resources. There isn't an option to let him try to do better.

Constructive criticism is fair comment. I'm not inclined to listen to the BushIraqHalliburtonCheneyChertoff Conspiracy parade any more than the next person. But we clearly have a problem, and it's time for open, honest talk about solutions.


Davi OttenheimerSeptember 7, 2005 4:44 PM

"If Michael Brown were running a snack bar at the ballpark"

Yes, although we might say "if Allbaugh were appointed to run a snack bar but he found it lacking and so he moved on to run a snack bar marketing campaign or perhaps even start a chain of Iraqi snack bars, leaving his former college roommate, Brown, to assume the reins" (pun intended).

So Allbaugh not only started the reorganization of FEMA in May 2001, but he hand-picked his succesor. Allbaugh's qualifications seemed to be that he was President Bush’s national campaign manager in 2000 and chief-of-staff in Texas from 1995-2000.

Incidentally, here is the original press release on Brown's appointment that mentions his prior experience, which seems to mainly consist of being the Commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association and a General Council for ranch and oil companies (drilling, rig, energy):
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/12/...

Speaking of being asked to step down, there's an odd story floating around that indicates Brown didn't exactly leave the Intl Arabian Horse Association on good terms either:

http://www.awhitehorse.com/editorials/...

Hmmm, security lessons indeed.

Bruce SchneierSeptember 7, 2005 5:00 PM

"BUT The primary failure here was a failure of PEOPLE to prepare. They all knew something like this might happen but they chose to ignore it."

You're kidding, right? What did you expect those too poor to leave do? Where did you expect them to get the money to do it with?

pigletSeptember 7, 2005 5:15 PM

"The offer of doctors from Cuba can be (almost) dismissed as a provocation..."

Maybe also the offer of Canadian citizens to give shelter to hurrican victims (it was declined with many thanks), or the German offer to send food. That latter was actually accepted, and 25 tons of food were flown in from Germany. This strikes me as almost symbolic and reveals how desperate Bush's situation really has become. There is of course no food shortage in the US, I suppose... Another story that puzzles me was that Texan authorities complained about difficulty sheltering the 200'000 hurrican victims who had arrived in Texas. Is Texas so poor that it can't cope with that situation for a couple of weeks? Poor countries often have to deal with large refugee populations. Is it really only an organizational problem for the US to deal with 1 million temporary refugees in their own large country, or is it also a question of compassion?

Remember how, after 9/11, 9000 derouted Americans were housed for five days in the small city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Nothing was organized, the residents simply offered to take in the thousands who temporarily couldn't return to the US. Isn't it disgusting that people who are ready to help Americans in need but also criticize their government are often insulted as Anti-American, while some Americans (even in this thread) are being "patriotic" by playing down the suffering of their compatriotes and even blaming the victims?

anonSeptember 7, 2005 7:55 PM

""BUT The primary failure here was a failure of PEOPLE to prepare. They all knew something like this might happen but they chose to ignore it."

You're kidding, right? What did you expect those too poor to leave do? Where did you expect them to get the money to do it with?"

Sorry, but they had ample time to get to higher ground even if they had to walk. A bus doesn't cost that much either. The only ones with an acceptable excuse are those who were physically unable to leave, the sick and the young and the govt certainly let these people down. I'm not saying the govt didn't blow it because they did. I'm saying the govt routinely blows it (you should certainly understand this bruce) and therefore you shouldn't rely on them.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 8, 2005 1:59 AM

"Sorry, but they had ample time to get to higher ground even if they had to walk."

Well, we can all sit in our comfy chairs in front of our nice little computers and talk about how easy it is for everyone to get up and evacuate their homes...but the fact is every disaster has people who are caught in the thick of things for various reasons including abject fear, distraction or even just the simple inability to figure out where to go.

As I mentioned above, blaming the victims might make you feel safer, more secure, or even superior to those less fortunate, but it does virtually nothing to help anyone understand the current situation or prepare for the next disaster.

If you really believe in some kind of absolute accountability for one's actions, then I think you should realize the irony when you say the government "routinely blows it".

One would think that they, with power, titles and resources bearing the title "Emergency Management", should be the ones accountable for failure of Emergency Management, no? Isn't that the reason they are awarded the power, title and resources in the first place?

You're just missing the obvious if you can't tell why Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen, the U.S. Coast Guard's chief of staff is actually running FEMA's operations right now. It's because hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people actually, really need someone they can rely on.

martinWSeptember 8, 2005 2:09 AM

The Levees could be a terrorist target?
----------------------------------------------

I would be interested in whether Homeland Defence had considered the New Orleans levees as a possible target. I cannot imagine that it would have taken a huge amount of explosive to break them, together with a high water level timing. Lesson from 'Dambusters'.

Now I am not suggesting that everything needs protection, but since Homeland Defence does not understand this, one might have expected them to have singled out these levees as a vulnerability of some import. Had they?

But then you would have to include the protection of every Dam(n) thing.
:-(

cheers

Martin

SavikSeptember 8, 2005 8:54 AM

@Davi and @Bruce

Poor or Rich -- ultimately YOU are responsible for your own safety. The government agencies are all paid to do their part and to assist and help out. However people MUST learn to be personally responsible.

No matter how poor you are you can still go to a library and read and learn how to make preparations for such events. And as another said -- if you have to -- you can walk out.

Also as another mentioned -- of course the disabled are excepted as they have to rely on others -- who are hopefully RESPONSIBLE people to keep them safe.

What happen to the Boy Scout mentality and the rugged individualism that built this nation? If we don't return to it we will see this sort of thing again and again.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 8, 2005 10:28 AM

@ Savik

This is not about mutual exclusivity (either you OR the "professional") in responsibility. It is about reality.

I have worked with Disaster Recovery for many years including efforts at financial data services and health care companies, and not ONCE has it been deemed acceptable to write a plan that where "all employees are ultimately responsible for their own fate". Quite the opposite, everyone has their own fate to deal with AS WELL AS the fate of the collective group they are supposedly a member of at that time. And I can assure you that the concept of a "disabled" person is vastly different in the immediate events prior to a disaster than the sort of things that might normally get you a handicapped parking placard.

It is easy to see how a country ends up in a crises of weak and subversive leadership if everyone is sitting around thinking they are an island unto themselves, lost in the woods without a concept of a forest, unable and/or unwilling to grasp even the very basic concepts of the moral duty to help others in need, let alone shared governance and civil progess.

Our place is not to blame those who are impacted by a disaster. Do you really think it's useful to sit around and say "Why didn't they leave New Orleans? Why didn't they leave San Francisco? Why didn't the leave Miami? Why didn't they leave Houston? I would have. I could have."...ad nauseum?

It's painfully ironic that you refer to the Boy Scouts. This group, with all their appropriately paramilitaristic trimmings, completely refutes your logic. Their motto states there are three duties:

* Duty to God and country,
* Duty to other people, and
* Duty to self

And I assure you the order of those duties is no coincidence. In other words poor or rich -- ultimately YOU are responsible for the safety and security of your God, your country, other people, and yourself. I can hardly imagine what Boy Scouts would turn out like if they were told to reduce this motto to:

* You are responsible for your own safety. Be a rugged individualist.

Sheesh, they might even allow athiests to join...

brSeptember 8, 2005 10:33 AM

"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. "

Regarding intelligence gathering, it seems that security dollars were well spent.

The weather folks were tracking the hurricane for more than a week before it impacted New Orleans (and other coastal cities). From all the reports I saw, they were quite accurate in tracking the hurricane across the gulf and where it would make landfall, as well as predicting the intensity. All this intelligence gave the state and local governments, as well as the people in the affected areas, ample time to take action (as many, most?, did).

Also, the state and local governments seem to have had plenty of intelligence regarding the vulnerability of the levees that protected the New Orleans area from flooding.

Given all this good intelligence information available, I would have to say that those security dollars were well spent.

The problem being, the state and local government didn't seem to do much with all this good intelligence.

The state/local government didn't seem to have any form of plan to evacuate the population of their city in the event of a flood. Which is a pretty likley scenario given the city is located under water, protected only by man-made walls and pumps (kind of like a passenger ship setting sail without lifeboats)

The same goes for the levees, the state/local government seemed to know of the vulnerability, yet didn't seem to do much about it (no redundancy, etc.).

Regarding emergency response, given what has been reported, our security dollars (state and local, and also federal) were not well spent. This seems to be what most of the discussions here are centering around.

While a lot of people were able to evacuate the impact areas given the advanced warnings, there were many that were left behind. The emergency response for those left behind was not well planned or well executed. This starts with the state/local government not being prepared and goes all the way to the federal government.

brSeptember 8, 2005 11:21 AM

@Davi

I know this is an emotional subject (given the comments made), and I generally agree that we all have a responsibility to help others. However, in the same way we have to be careful of "movie plot threats", I think we also have to be careful about "movie plot emergency response" (aka the "Bruce Willis" or "Cavalry").

Unfortunately, there are those that have come to _expect_ a kind of movie plot "cavalry" to swoop in and come to their rescue in the face of any type of disaster or compromising situation. While I think it is wonderful that our government (and fellow citizens) do provide this type of response when possible, I think it is problematic when able-body people fail to prepare or take action, instead waiting for the "cavalry" to arrive.

This brings to mind a news report I saw on boating safety, where some boaters were asked why they didn't have basic emergency gear (aka life jackets, life raft, etc.). The person's response was that they did have a radio and he knew the coast guard station, about a mile away, had a helicopter that could hoist them to safety if they ran into trouble.

eljaykidSeptember 8, 2005 4:19 PM

"Another story that puzzles me was that Texan authorities complained about difficulty sheltering the 200'000 hurrican victims who had arrived in Texas. Is Texas so poor that it can't cope with that situation for a couple of weeks?"

As a Texan I think I can speak to this. Imagine your state suddenly having 1/4 million homeless people. They have no money and none of the basics needed to sustain life. Volunteers (of which I'm one) must do their laundry, prepare their meals, provide their medical care, etc. Many of these homeless are so touched that they don't want to leave. Schools are jammed and teachers are overburdened. Major conventions are canceled as the facilities are being used for shelter, creating economic dificulties for the workers at those conventions.

You see, this is not a matter of a few dollars. It is a huge burden that Texas has willingly accepted. Saying that we are full and can't accept more is a cry for help. Hopefully the rest of the country will not, once again, blame the victim for having the audacity to live next door to Louisiana.

BryanSeptember 8, 2005 4:24 PM

@br-

Excellent responses! One thing of note -I don't know about the city of New Orleans specifically but I do know the state had an evacuation plan which wasn't bad as these things go. It's a PDF anyone can read at the state's website. It seems to me the issue wasn't the *having* of a plan but rather the *following* of existing plans.

Once the disaster was under way this error seems to have been compounded by lack of a centralized joint command center. Over and over again I am struck by this. Blanco's first action should have been to commandeer a suitable area (I'm thinking a Baton Rouge convention center & adjacent hotel) and get all the top brass in a room with regularly updated maps, status reports, etc ... and a phone bank near that room.

Instead we saw (and continue to see!) press statements given from hither & yon by officials who rarely agreed with one another.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 8, 2005 7:19 PM

"I think it is problematic when able-body people fail to prepare or take action, instead waiting for the "cavalry" to arrive."

I wish we could talk about operating systems and viruses here, or maybe the recent payment card industry regulations, but instead I'll stay closer to topic...

I agree 100% with the need for greater awareness about security, but in reality and after many years of working in disaster recovery I can confidently say "able-bodied" is a description that will almost always be used for responders, and rarely for people in the immediate lead up to or aftermath of disaster.

The latter are simply not trained and predictible agents; they are just average people with unpredictable reactions who might be unwilling or unable to make a fair risk assessment. There is a good reason that people need to be trained to respond properly to threats in order to be effective agents.

I mean you are absolutely right to say some people just don't understand the need to bring a lifejacket on the water, wear a helmet on their motorcycle, click their seatbelt in a car, etc.. These risky decisions are in fact greatly compounded during the rush and discord of a disaster. Ever hear about someone running INTO a fire? So at the end of the day I think you are wrong to suggest that we do ourselves any favors when we stand at a distance from those who are suffering and glibly accuse them of failing to come to their senses or abusing the situation for personal gain.

In the world of security, let alone ethics, you logic simply does not work -- overall risk goes up dramatically.

Now, if you think people had unrealistic expectations about FEMA, or the US capability to respond to a disaster, then we should probably ask why. I agree some people want/belive a savior to take care of everything. That's a natural response in an emergency situation, and faith is sometimes a good thing for people who are unqualified to react rationally.

But more to the point do Americans have unrealistically high expectations specific to FEMA because they are foolish to believe an Emergency Management Agency should provide a reasonable level of response (e.g. at least as fast if not faster than Henry Connick Jr.)? Are they fools to believe in prior years of words spoken by the head of the organization describing great advances in preparedness for hurricanes? (http://www.fema.gov/library/speech.shtm)

Or could it even be related somehow to the distant past; the Presidential campaign when one candidate said he should be elected because his Administration is far more experienced with disasters and therefore better prepared to respond to them?

It seems we end up with the odd dilemma of arguing that people should know better, but that they should figure it out on their own even though they are told not to, while their funds are cut. This mixed bag of information reminds me of the time an earthquake struck on the same day the President cut federal funding for local (earthquake) disaster recovery efforts:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/...

As I've said, there's a lot of blame to go around, but you need to realize that the leader of a federal agency is supposed to be selected out of a huge pool of candidates. This is a group that should have far greater potential than any local or state level organization. Moreover, we should be talking about professionals or at least some people involved who have the guts to stand for something real instead of always shirking and sliding away from accountability and the truth. I might expect that kind of behavior from some perfectly able-bodied lunatic drinking warm beer while shooting fish from his leaky runabout, but not a director of FEMA.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 8, 2005 7:25 PM

"It seems to me the issue wasn't the *having* of a plan but rather the *following* of existing plans."

Exactly. And this will surely be a focal point of the investigations. Writing a plan is trivial, but writing one that works is extremely non-trivial.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 8, 2005 10:47 PM

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/...

"Offers of Aid Immediate, but U.S. Approval Delayed for Days"

Ambassador John Bruton, head of the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States, wrote:

"Perhaps one of those lessons will be that rugged individualism is not always enough in such a crisis, particularly if an individual does not have the material and psychological means to escape the fury of a hurricane in time."

SavikSeptember 9, 2005 9:09 AM

@Davi

You read far more into my comments than what was there.

I understand that one has a responsibility towards others. However one must NOT solely rely on the government for help...as they have shown time and again that they are at the very least slow to respond and at their worst completely incompetent and ineffective.

To rely on them if you don't have to is foolish.

I have experienced disasters such as the May 5th OK tornado. The place looked like a war zone. But because I had prepared for such an event I had food, water, shelter and was therefore not a burden on rescue personnel. Because I am a licensed and practicing HAM radio operator I was able to assist the rescue and cleanup operations for days after.

And at the time -- I had practically just moved to Oklahoma and since I was just getting a start and was living below the poverty level (I was poor).

So my comments stand. The majority of the people of New Orleans could have prepared better -- they didn't so they must accept that part of the responsibility. I am not blaming the victim. I am saying they made themselves victims. Not all of them of course -- but most of them.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 9, 2005 10:32 AM

@ Davi Ottenheimer

"The latter are simply not trained and predictible agents; they are just average people with unpredictable reactions who might be unwilling or unable to make a fair risk assessment. There is a good reason that people need to be trained to respond properly to threats in order to be effective agents."

What you are describing is the well documented "disaster shock" syndrom, two basic things happen, those without responsability tend to become apathetic or angry, but either way ineffective. Those with responsability (unless they have had the training) tend to grasp onto a single context and run with it irrespective of other things the so called "Seen to be doing something" senario.

What the sad events of this event have shown is that there has been no "effective" training at any level...

Even with training you still have to have the right "Effective" sort or exactly the same thing happens. In Japan they spend a lot on training people on what to do in the case of an earth quake, unfortunatly as evidenced at Kobe it was not "Effective" primarily due to the scale of the disaster.

The US elected government made a stratigic desision several years ago not to train the military in "civilian policing" and it has without a doubt harmed the US, in Iraq and now at home in the disaster area.

Effective training costs real money and as people have pointed out politions spend money where it will get them re-elected or increase their campain funds not where it will do the voters most good.

pigletSeptember 9, 2005 10:47 AM

When I wrote: "Another story that puzzles me was that Texan authorities complained about difficulty sheltering the 200'000 hurrican victims who had arrived in Texas. Is Texas so poor that it can't cope with that situation for a couple of weeks? Poor countries often have to deal with large refugee populations. Is it really only an organizational problem for the US to deal with 1 million temporary refugees in their own large country, or is it also a question of compassion?", I hadn't even heard about Barbara Bush:

"So many of the people were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them... What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas."

Tom BayhiSeptember 9, 2005 12:47 PM

I am a New Orleans native and current evacuee in Houston (not at the Astrodome thank god). To say that this issue was a failure of leadership at the top is an understatement. It is ignorance at the uppermost levels of government as to just how important a city New Orleans is. When senators (ie, Dennis Hastert) are publicly wondering whether or not it "makes sense" to rebuild the city, it is not only insulting and degrading to the residents who love their town, but it is also blatantly ignorant of the (not-just-historical) significance of the city. Please visit http://www.stratfor.com/news/archive/... if you doubt me. I was hoping to find a similarly concise and insightful analysis from Bruce, because I do believe this is not just a humanitarian crisis, but undoubtedly one of national security as well. It is an amazingly effective presentation of the fact that security is not only under threat from terrorist or outside attacks (as surely _we_ all know; but politicians don't seem to grasp this, or at least it doesn't find a niche in their predefined agendas).

The response at the local level, in my opinion from the inside, was phenomenal. Last week marked the first mandatory evacuation from New Orleans in the city's history. Any other evacuation or "forced" evacuation reported (as I've seen reported about the Hurricane Ivan evac) was purely voluntary. The mass flooding threat simply was not there for Ivan or George. Both of those storms were much smaller in size as well as pure wind speed. The imminence of this storm's hit on New Orleans was clear on Saturday night, which is when I left (my first evacuation in 26 years). It was category five, and there was no possible direction it could have taken such that New Orleans would not receive hurricane force winds. We in New Orleans have known for as long as I can remember that our levees could not withstand such a hit. It is, in fact, a miracle that they took such LITTLE damage. Ask any evacuee.

Why didn't we fix our levees? The levee system was designed and implemented by the Army Corps of Engineers, a fact demonstrating just how important the port and it's supporting city has been to presidents in the past. We needed federal money in order to revamp the levee system. To a very large extent, the security of the city was not under direct control of the city itself. We have been asking for more funding for as long as I can remember. We have been denied for as long as I can remember. Every hurricane season we spoke of the one that would destroy our city, and ironically it has happened simply because it has been taken for granted. The country is so used to it's prosperity that perhaps it has forgotten it's main vector of commerce which is critical for it's past and continued prosperity.

We have been denied because our leaders did not see it that way. We had too many near misses, which is obviously both a blessing a curse. Hurricanes are unpredictable, but the idea that "the odds are against it" is far too ridiculous an argument to NOT protect such a valuable and irreplaceable resource. For anyone who bothered to reason, it was only a matter of time. However, even this sort of ignorance can be forgiven.

To be honest, there were failures at all levels. There was not a full-fledged New Orleans evacuation plan. It's obvious that many lower-income residents were forgotten, supplies were not sufficiently stocked, etc. But overall I commend our mayor wholeheartedly for his efforts. While a plan was not effectively carried out, at the very least he worked extremely well under impossibly enormous pressures to do what he could in the absence of a formal plan.

On the federal level, the lack of communication and understanding of the severity is obvious. A majority of Louisiana National Guard were stationed in Iraq and unable to help the relief until they were transported home late last week. The president remained on his vacation for two days after the catastrophe. Condoleeza Rice caught a Broadway show and bought some shoes for three days after. She is a native of Alabama. There was no immediate convention of political minds to help address the issue, even though there was an emergency alert from the NOAA on Saturday warning political leaders and media of a huminatiarian crisis the likes of which has never been seen in America. Communication was virtually nonexistant between local and federal officials. This may be the fault of both parties, but it was certainly no secret that there were 10,000+ people at the convention center. How could the director of FEMA not be aware of this until three days later when Ted Koppel asks about this in an interview? Are Ted Koppel's sources more up-to-date and accurate than his own? Where does the ignorance begin? It was not only all over the local news for a full two days prior, but all over national news for a full two days after. And beyond that, it's also one of the most logical places for a mass shelter.

Our federal leaders have done next to nothing in the way of leadership after this. Bush has postured, given soundbites, and joked with reporters. Cheney offers weak sympathy a week and a half late. No one seems to be taking this as seriously as this demands except for mayor Ray Nagin, and he gets blasted for doing it. We New Orleanians or more than frustrated by our impotent anger and the government's nearly apathetic response.

Sorry for the long post. It was time to vent. Thanks to all who bothered to read.

Pat CahalanSeptember 9, 2005 1:30 PM

Some interesting points on both sides, regarding the "who takes responsibility for your safety" topic. There is a difference between assigning responsibility and assigning fault, and discussions regarding either should be clear...

Some thoughts on this:

There are three frameworks for a discussion of responsibility vs. fault, and arguing about who should be doing what will only really be effective if you stay within the framework (in mathematical terms, we need to set our axioms before we start trying to prove anything).

First, a purely individual standpoint.

If I choose risky behavior, such as cliff jumping, I bear the responsibility for choosing to engage in the risky behavior. If there is a negative consequence to my risky behavior (I land on a reef and break my silly neck), the consequences are my fault, as well. Assuming of course that there is no sign posted that says, "It's safe to cliff jump here", which would then put some of the fault on the author of the sign :)

In a community standpoint, there are two subclasses of assigning responsibility (and fault) -> one is the responsibility of the individual as a member of the community, and one is the responsibility of the community to the individuals.

In the first case, planning security/safety for myself is ultimately my responsibility. This is why I don't walk alone, drunk, through bad parts of town late at night with $100 bills hanging out of my pockets. Will something bad happen to me if I do this? That's ultimately my responsibility to judge, and the tradeoffs (risking getting mugged vs. risking getting pulled over for a DUI if I try to drive) are ones that I have to make and then face the consequences.

If someone chooses this sort of risky behavior, and they do get mugged, is it their fault? Of course not -> the criminal is still the defining factor in the consequence, and should be caught and punished just like a criminal that robs someone who is sober walking through a good part of town in broad daylight wearing a money belt. So the individual bears the responsibility for making the security decision, but the criminal bears the fault for the consequence.

This is one of those areas that causes debate amongst the general US populace (sometimes heated) as people don't necessarily make the distinction between responsibility and fault.

Rugged individualists might say, "It's still your fault for being dumb enough to walk through the park late at night" -> they're incorrect. In the absence of the presence of the criminal, the negative consequence does not occur, so the fault still lies with the criminal, not the victim. On the other side, some people would argue that the individual making the risky decision bears no responsibility for the decision, because the consequence is entirely the criminal's fault -> this is incorrect as well. The criminal is at fault for the consequence, but the responsibility for the decision is still the burden of the victim.

To examine it from a disaster recovery scenario, as an individual I bear some responsibility for planning for disasters, and I cannot absolve myself of that responsibility by shoving it all upon "the government". This is why I have an earthquake kit, bottled water, food stores, etc., in a shed outside of the house (so that if the house collapses I can still get at it). Of course, I *don't* plan for 20-foot flooding, because it is unlikely to occur in Los Angeles.

If an earthquake does occur, and the entire region is completely trashed, and my neighbor's tree falls on my shed and destroys my kit, is that my fault? No, that's the earthquake's fault, no pun intended. However, it's still my responsibility for making the decision to put my kit there (even if it was the best possible place to put it).

So finally we come to the community's responsibility to the individual, and the specific instance of Katrina.

"The government", here in the US at any rate, has some responsibility to the citizenry. That is a practical assessment of reality, and not intended to be a point of debate with libertarians. The common citizen has an expectation that promoting the general welfare is a responsibility of the government. A hypothetical citizen of New Orleans could expect that the government would be taking care of the levees.

Now, you could argue that the citizen is being foolish by not taking responsibility for looking into the possibility of a flood and establishing a risk assessment and a disaster recovery plan, and to some extent you would be correct. In that sense, it is ultimately the responsibility of the citizen to dog-watch the government and make sure that they are contingency planning for the local/state/federal government's bad planning. Unlike the other two frameworks above, however, it is definitely true that the community has a responsibility to the citizens as well. The expectation of the average citizen may be different from yours, but it is the responsibility of the government to plan for the difference in expectation. Some individualists would argue that it shouldn't be this way, but they're not examining the consequences of large disasters.

One old man may decide to stay in his house, when he's capable of leaving. As a result, a helicopter may have to save the poor schmuck and that time taken may have caused someone who was unable to leave to drown, when they may have been saved. From an individual standpoint, that old man bears some of the blame for the death of the incapacitated person.

However, it is a given that in a disaster people aren't always going to make good decisions. Some people will stay because they are unable to leave, some will stay because they're obstinate, some will stay because they don't realize how dangerous it really is.

Here's where the government's responsibility comes into play -> we empower our officials to impact our lives (sometimes in ways we may not enjoy or appreciate, like the current forced evacuations), and in return we expect that they will not abuse this power (they force evacuations to prevent spread of disease, not so that they can drive around in a truck and loot our houses after we leave).

The common good here overrides the desire of the individual -> a single citizen may decide that the risk of cholera is lower than the risk that they'll lose their collection of valuable 78 rpm recordings of rare jazz performances. However, a large group of individual citizens making these decisions results in a highly increased risk of a cholera epidemic, which is bad for everybody, so they're all forced to leave.

This is why we band together, people. Because there are so many circumstances and disasters that require a non-individual view of consequences... in security terms, we need someone who is not a vested player to make decisions that adversely affect members of the collective in various individual ways, but postively affect the collective as a whole. Since we grant government this power, they have a responsibility to weild it effectively and efficiently in the face of disaster, *regardless of the course of action chosen by the individuals of the collective*.

In this sense, if there is a flood, and a bunch of people are stranded, it *does not matter* why they didn't leave -> it is and should be the responsibility of the government to rescue them.

And in this sense, the events of the last few weeks have shown that the current entity we describe as "the government" is miserably failing at its responsibility.

NickSeptember 10, 2005 1:47 AM


I think there's a matter of perspective - the poor have been castigated as being at fault for not getting off their front porch and hightailing it to higher ground. That somehow, survival is paramount.

The meager resources they do have, they don't want to surrender. In their world, they know who they can trust - themselves. Oh, the government will help you when you've lost even more than what you don't have now? Right. It doesn't make sense to us, but it makes sense to them.

ll cool jSeptember 10, 2005 4:53 PM

The racism from blacks needs to stop. They need to help the situation instead of making things worse.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 11, 2005 5:54 AM

"The racism from blacks needs to stop. They need to help the situation instead of making things worse."

What is it with the lack of sense or self-awareness these days?

There would be nothing wrong with saying ALL racism needs to stop, but you completely ruin your credibility (and contradict yourself) by saying "they", which I presume means all blacks, make things worse.

If you are looking for a discussion of racism and the failure of emergency management, here are two recent statements to consider:

Colin Powell stated "I don't think it's racism, I think it's economic, but poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor." He went on to say "when you look at those who weren't able to get out, it should have been a blinding flash of the obvious to everybody that when you order a mandatory evacuation, you can't expect everybody to evacuate on their own."

http://news.lp.findlaw.com/ap/o/51/09-09-2005/...

And on the other end here is Mark Williams saying "the American black population" is "a group of dependents of the government":

http://www.crooksandliars.com/2005/09/...

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 11, 2005 6:54 AM

"You're just missing the obvious if you can't tell why Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen, the U.S. Coast Guard's chief of staff is actually running FEMA's operations right now. It's because hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people actually, really need someone they can rely on."

I think I was on target with my prediction of Brown's departure, but a little premature in my analysis.

Back to Bruce's original log entry (how poorly we've been spending our homeland security dollars), I am seeing an even more disturbing development that seems to explain the extremely poor security judgement(s) at the federal level.

First of all, there's nothing wrong with appointing someone you "trust" to a powerful position. Knowing someone personally beforehand should mean you have more reason to trust them, so there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, the evidence is mounting that the only "trust" issue considered for the Bush Administration is a candidate's allegiance to the leader, in spite of evidence of weak aptitude or qualifications.

Senator John McCain recently pointed this out when he suggested that many of the people that Bush appointed to oversee Iraq's rebuilding had no relevant "rebuilding" experience. Scott
Erwin was previously an intern to Dick Cheney, put in charge of the "management of finances and budgeting for the domestic security forces." The college senior's favorite job before that (I'm not making this up) "My time as an ice-cream truck driver."

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/...

It is now fairly well understood that Bush said "Brownie is doing a heck of a job" because the President lacked any appreciation for the risks and dangers at hand, but he appreciated Brown's loyalty to his Administration.

Here's an excellent review that predicted this phenomenon, published shortly after Bush won the 2000 election.
http://www.csbsju.edu/uspp/Election/...

Incidentally, the article describes President Eisenhower as an example of a leader who "excelled in generating a diversity of policy options, clearly delineating critical disagreements, and subjecting them to focused debate".

This is contrasted with Bush who apparently surrounds himself with people like counselor Karen Hughs who is described as someone "fiercely protective of him and has not given any hint that she believes he can do any wrong." Apparently Hughs has been so loyal, including assistance with the Valerie Plame scandal, that she was just appointed to be "Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs" (a cute story on the "Hughs Doctrine" here: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/21/opinion/.../...

So what's the point of all this? Trust placed in people to lead the federal government is based on their loyalty to an Administration that is fundamentally at odds with the security of America. Bush's agenda is to please corporations first, especially those that are loyal and connected to the leaders, with only a vague hope that this will somehow protect and preserve freedoms and safety of individual Americans.

Hello, Enron, ChoicePoint, WorldCom?

The shift we've been seeing in
Health and Science is just further evidence of this overall strategy to ignore the data, silence the critics, and find someone who can get money to flow to the right companies:
http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/06/2/...
http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/...

Dr Neal Lane, a former director of the National Science Foundation and former
Presidential Science Advisor actually explained it very clearly when he stated: "We are not simply raising flags about an academic subject of interest only to scientists and doctors. In case after case, scientific input into policy making is being censored and distorted. This will have serious consequences for public health."

http://www.kpbs.org/Radio/DynPage.php?id=1050

When objections or uncertainty surround an appointment, and the Administration knows they do not have enough public support for their position, they run the government through loopholes such as the "recess appointments" used to ram Charles Pickering, and now William Pryor, into position.

The consequences of this style of anti-leadership are proving disasterous to US security. But on the other hand, as (former FEMA head) Allbaugh and VP Cheney repeatedly show, it's just good business sense, especially for the reconstruction and rehabilitation business:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20050910/pl_nm/...

"The government has got to stop stacking senior positions with people who are repeatedly cashing in on the public trust in order to further private commercial interests," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight.

CCSeptember 15, 2005 9:54 AM

Local government is responsible. Federal government was ready to help out, but was told they weren't needed. Many mistakes were made, including the misuse of funds given to LA for strengthening up the levy. The local government is 90% at fault for everything, but Bush is man enough to stand up and assume the responsibility. But we humans tend to think we are god and can control everything. Only "God" is in control and he has a reason for everything. Some things we do not understand yet, but it will all be clear someday, then it won't matter.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 15, 2005 1:16 PM

@ CC

"Local government is responsible...but Bush is man enough to stand up and assume the responsibility."

Wow. I think this takes the cake for an allegory of fanaticism. I'm all for accountability, but have a hard time accepting announcements of "Allah Akbar!" as the reason why the federal leader is not reponsible to reduce and/or mitigate the damage from the most likely national disasters presented to his Administration. Imagine being someone who can do no wrong.

Why is it a federal leader can say "I will protect the states' rights" when elected, but then flip-flop and use "crises" to seriously erode states' rights? Do you see any pattern of systematic blame placed on states for an inability to serve and protect American "values"? Does the Florida supreme court remind you of anything? And yet, these extremely expensive (to budget and freedom) Administation policies have yet to do anything tangible in terms of security. The President has simply further polarized the country (those who hope, and those who know).

By the way, where does the 90% figure come from? Is that your Ougi Board or some other form of divine inspiration? And 90% responsible for what? If we're talking about risk, do you mean improper risk analysis, spending money on the wrong security initiatives, levy failures, wetlands destruction...?

"misuse of funds given to LA for strengthening up the levy"

That's an interesting point. I'd like to see the data on this. But since the levy's were federally managed and controlled (read my post above on who doled out funds), I'm not sure why you would include it...quite the opposite, because funds were so severely scaled back, I am sure your definition of "misuse" might come out to be more a matter of desperate conflict and competition for scarce resources. Note that resource-strapped budgets are generally the death-knell for ensuring adequate disaster recovery/continuity.

realistSeptember 15, 2005 1:27 PM

This blame game is all very nice and I’m sure that local officials are very responsible.

However I voted for a president who claimed that he would prioritize dangers and respond to catastrophes.

This was potentially a big one, a very big one, this was known. And now it’s not potentially any more.

I voted for leadership, one that would recogonize the “big 3��? and even big 10 dangers and start responding. That didn’t happen.

Our Republican leaders allowed politics as usual to determine priorities. We’d heard warnings about this type of choice before, focus on airports, not enough to chemical plants and ports. Always glossed over.

Gloss over some more. Yes many governments in the south are disgraceful. And yes these states which are usually Republican get more from the federal government than they pay in. But we were talking about a vital part of the nation here.

If you were running a business and you blew it like his, you’d be gone. 100 billion in tax dollars gone. If there had been some effort to prepare then it would be bad luck, but now it’s irresponsibility.

You sound like a Washington parasite so you don’t pay.

Just like you believe that if the terrorists or some other disastor hit your region the big shots will make sure military respurces are mobilized in minutes not days.

But I for one found out that the administration lied, they did not prepare us.

I despise those who are so smug they feel there is no need for such preparation so long as certain political interest are protected.

Have you no shame?

Yeah blast the local authorities from top to bottom, they deserve it. But this game of “they were bad so we aren’t responsible for what we did��? is pathetic.

feet1234September 17, 2005 3:01 AM

I've been doing research of my own and came accross a horrific story of a family who had evacuated when prompted before the storm and had purchased all of the necessary supplies to sustain then and several other persons.
This family went their church camp owned and operated by a Baptist church assosiation which to their amazement had been taken over by FEMA. There were state troopers(I won't give the state here), fema volunteers/workers, and military with guns as well.
When they entered their cabin (which their church owned), they were told by a fema worker that they couldn't occupy the cabin and that fema and the state troopers had leased the camp. They were told that they couldn't give out the food they bought nor could they distribute the clothing they brought with them for refugees.The reason given was "it would cause a riot". The family was told that fema was going to feed the refugees two meals per day and that clothing would be distributed to the refugees as well. This family witnessed fire trucks and ambulances as well as many state trooper vehicles and military vehicles. They were also told that refugees coming into the camp wouldn't be allowed to leave for five months total. Troopers were placed outside the gates of the enterences and exits.
The cabins were segregated into family, male and female plus the family were told that the women would have to go to the women only cabin. They went there and on the way drove by the amphitheater and witnessed sorters sorting clothing which didn't look to them like much for five months.
They were told that bus loads of people would be arriving and that these people were not good people that girls were delivering fetuses on buses.
They took pictures of one of the female's only cabin and the bunks looked like a military style barricks.
This is a shocking story to say the least and if true, what is coming next for our country?
This family took pictures of the ambulances, trooper vehicles and military with guns which were shown on the website I visited. The location of the camp is an isolated area that for proof the family took pictures of the road leading to the camp. There is scrub brush and sage brush on either side of the road and nothing else in sight.
Has anyone else heard of such stories as this one?
I don't disbelieve this story. FEMA did act strangely after Katrina. It made me think that it was a government experiment to find out what would happen after such a disaster as Katrina.

mamemaSeptember 17, 2005 8:06 AM

I'm not an US resident i'm from switzerland. Perhaps someone is interested in a "european" point of view.

The blame game going on here didn't point out which is ultimately responsible.

Just go into your bathroom and look into the mirror.

Every country has the government it deserves.
You elected it by yourself.

No one in the world can be save about hitting by an terror-attack (doesn't matter if man made or natural)

So after the 9/11 event american people seeking leadership. They want someone to say to them "I take care", "i take responsibility"

So the people can think "great, so i'm out here"

You're never out, but i think this is human behaviour worldwide. looking for leadership to transfer responsibility.

So is someone here who is really thinking a huge government organistation (the huger the better) will solve all problems. No, the huger, the slower will the response be.

All this "homeland security" thing is a big tranquilizer and as we all can see, worked very well.......

You live in a country were a person can scoop out a cup of coffee on the persons pants and gets million of dollars because mc donalds is responsible
You live in a country (one of the richest in the world) were 15 Million people have no health insurance but were 500 Billion of dollars a month were spend on an illegal war.
You live in a country were natural disasters occur because of the global earth warming, but at the same time you drive with your SUV around and waste ressouces.
You live in a country and think by yourself you're the center of the world. Do you care about that the rest of the world is paying for your energy politcs?

And you are leaded by an moron who makes a 5-week vacation while the average american have a 1-week vacation, makes jokes about his alcohol
experience in NO in front of people suffering, makes a visit in the NO disaster area and brings a food station with him, which was removed after he leaves (but there were "nice" TV pictures), and he has a defense secretary which has national guard troops nearby but didn't send it in, because they hat to leave to afganistan

I think this disaster is a consequent conclusion of all together i'm writing above and the only way out is to think about what will be the right way the american country and his residents go in the next 10 years

Best regards

mamema

Dr. BJ Luchion D.Sci.December 23, 2005 10:13 PM

Are African entitled to security?

Current events suggest not, witness the violent assault against Africans in Dufur East Africa.
Is cause to recognize that there are no security concerns for Africans. World Governments
seem to be debating whether or not the assaults are genocide—without taking action to safeguard the
persons under assault…and without proclaiming or recognizing that the assaults are clearly threats, and a
breech to the security of African people.

World Governments ignore the war against Blacks in Uganda; their blind eye threatens the security of the African Race.
Hurricane Katrina proves the fact that the United States Government does not have security on the agenda for Africans in America, As these citizens--referred to as “refugees��? were left to fend for themselves. The issue is still not recognized as a security concern. The USA does not have Human Security Protocols, or a human security program to secure wellness for its citizens.

…And the United Nations Human Security Program did not say a word in defense of Security for Afrinan-Americans impacted by Katrina.

Fact is there is no discussion of Human security with regards to natural disasters, The current process of leaving it up to charity to take care of people is clearly unapporate. …There seem to be only Security for States--against terrorists, not security for the common citizen.

The African Race is the most endangered race on the planet. It’s generally recognized that issues relating to blacks are unimportant, because “the blacks you know how they are.��? The world dismisses African concerns, pass over African demands, and do not hear African voices. We say African Security Now! In loud and no uncertain terms…and we are listening for who ever else will speak up for the principle African Security.

See the Initiative for African Security.

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Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..