Thursday, September 08, 2005

A professional's response to the Katrina carping

I work with a fellow who is a retired Fire Chief and FD Training Director. Currently, he is the Program Director for a national Emergency Management training program. I asked him for his take on the response to Katrina, and the response to the response. Here's what he wrote:
Hi Corrie: I wanted to wait a couple days before responding so I could "take in" the various accounts of the situation. Here's my perspective:
  • While FEMA has been slow and inefficient, they were NEVER designed to be an "emergency response" organization. They are an umbrella agency that coordinates response of other agencies. That said, they have been overly bureaucratic and inefficient in doing their job.
  • FEMA has been blamed for too much! For as long as I have been around, local and state government has been repeatedly told they should expect to be on their own for 48-72 hours and plan accordingly. It can take 48 hours for the national guard to arrive, likewise for a USAR team, and FEMA.
  • NO exercise design or drill has ever taken into account responders would be shot at nor receive assistance from able bodied evacuees. Every book or course I have read/attended assumed able bodied evacuees would do everything possible to assist the responders and those around them. In many cases this did not happen in New Orleans, and will certainly be included in future plans.
  • Had cautions been heeded this probably would not have happened. It is my understanding the levees were designed to withstand a maximum Cat-3 storm. It was also known the levees needed repair/upgraded and sufficient funds were not allocated to do this.
  • To some extent, I am unsure about the "race" issues the media repeatedly brings up. I truly believe the problem is overwhelming and multiple problems such as the unusual combination of hurricane, destroyed levee, flood, roads out, bridges out, shooting at responders, and lack of communications due to the systems being down, and not a matter of blatant racism.
  • The sad part is much could have been prevented directly by those most affected. Thousands ignored a MANDATORY evacuation issued 48 or more hours prior to the hurricane. FREE public transit was provided to anyone who needed a ride to the evacuation centers. Some of the evacuees screaming the most are those who ignored the MANDATORY evacuation orders - and even today some still are !
  • Because of our "federalism" form of government, home rule, and laws certain steps have to be taken to get federal assistance in a disaster such as this. There is a lot of arguing going on as to when each step was or was not accomplished, but basically the following usually must occur for federal help:
  • (1) The local head of government must declare a state of emergency to the county/parish.
  • (2) The county/parish must declare a state of emergency and notify the governor.
  • (3) Only once the governor makes the declaration can even the national Guard unit - even a block away - be activated.
  • (4) Once the governor declares the state of emergency a request can be made to the President for a federal declaration and federal (FEMA) assistance. I know it's a lot, but that's the form of government we have lived with for 200+ years, and any elected official should know what has to be done to get the needed help.
  • The Red Cross and others get there faster than FEMA because they don't have all the steps government has to take to respond.
  • I am very frustrated we have not taken better advantage of the international aid. Last count 98 countries had offered assistance. I think it's disrespectful we have not either accepted the aid or cut the red tape to get it here.

That's my two cents (or maybe a buck or more?). Thanks for listening. Lee

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