- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Local, state authorities have primary responsibility

In watching the events in and around New Orleans unfold, it takes me back to the days when I was Office of Management and Budget budget examiner for the Federal Preparedness Agency, now known as FEMA.

The hasty willingness to blame everything on the federal government reflects a mindset that I find ignorant and unreal. The feds did not cause Katrina. The Congress has never been willing to fund full preparedness for anything that cannot be characterized far in advance as to what, when, where and how bad.

The feds are not responsible for the fact that New Orleans is mostly below sea level. The city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana must stand first in line for responsibility for lack of preparedness for and the inability to recover from this disaster.

The unwillingness of the states that border the Gulf of Mexico to realistically characterize the weather threats they face, to develop realistic plans to deal with the threats, to pay for impenetrable dikes and robust drainage systems, to develop and enforce sensible building codes and to pay for recovery efforts has to take much of the blame.

The feds must spread their attention across the whole nation, guess at the potential disasters, guess at what to do about them, and then get Congress to fund their programs.

Congress is not going to pay for thousands of federal employees to sit around waiting to be called to New Orleans or anywhere else. The taxpayers wouldn’t stand for it. Localities must take the lead in preparing for these disasters based on their past experience and expert prognostications.

State governments must assist their cities and counties in this effort. Funds need to be allocated every year by cities and states so that defenses and mitigation capabilities are accumulated continuously over time. Obviously, New Orleans and Louisiana weren’t prepared to do that and have now paid the price for their complacency.

The state of Florida and its cities and counties need to take note of this catastrophe and get moving with programs designed to see to it that this state is not similarly victimized.

Unfortunately, I sense that Florida is not much different from Louisiana in its view of the world. Waiting for the feds to do it all and get it all right is like waiting for Godot. It ain’t going to happen.

I think the time has come for the feds to demand that the Gulf states act to protect themselves against high tides, storm surges, flooding and poor building design and construction before we all go bankrupt. When cities and states make bad choices and do not live up to their local responsibilities, I fail to see why the rest of us must foot the bill. I sincerely hope that the state of Florida can do better than the state of Louisiana in protecting its citizens and their property.

DON JONES

Fernandina Beach, Fla.

We are being told that the federal government’s rescue effort in the aftermath of Katrina was a debacle. Even The Washington Times is piling on. Yet you are not telling the whole story.

Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard, briefed thepressonSaturday. According to Gen. Blum, rescue efforts were impeded for about two days because the city of New Orleans was, in effect, a war zone and had to be retaken.

It took time to assemble the required force, to get legal authority for the new mission, and then to re-establish order in the city. Based on his account and by my reckoning, this took two days.

Katrina broke landfall on Aug. 29. The New Orleans levee broke on Aug. 30. On Friday, Sept. 2 the supplies started arriving in large amounts.

The response was that fast because the Federal Emergency Management Agency had prepositioned supplies and the National Guard had prepositioned its distribution personnel (according to Gen. Blum).

They were able to do this because President Bush had declared the region a disaster area on Aug. 27, before the storm even came.

On the other hand, the response took that long because of the unforeseen circumstances. There was an outbreak of lawlessness: not just looting, but marauding gangs, shooting at helicopters and hijacking rescue boats. The New Orleans police force disintegrated, with about 400 to 500 police officers (one-third of the force) gone AWOL. Some police joined the looters.

At this point, according to Gen. Blum, the primary mission changed from saving lives to restoring law and order. It took about a day and a half to fly in the necessary troops to accomplish this mission (i.e., a force of around 7,000) and to get the various governors to sign the required legal authority for this mission. It took perhaps another half a day to regain control of the city, including the storming of the convention center. Did any in the media report that operation?

Through all of this, the feds were dealing with a mayor who himself went AWOL and returned only to start blaming everyone else and a slow-acting governor so partisan that she didn’t want to work with Republicans, even in an emergency.

Overall, this seems to me to be an exceptional performance under very trying circumstances. As far as I can tell, the media have yet to report on the change of mission for the National Guard and the delays caused by their need to clear out the marauders.

The culprits in the media coverage appear to be unrealistic expectations, bias and ignorance. All served with the apparent notion that if it doesn’t happen in front of TV cameras, it doesn’t happen at all.

MIKE LION

McLean, Va.

Disaster should not be used for ‘traction’

I wholeheartedly agree with Wesley Pruden’s assessment of the liberal-left’s attempt to use the suffering of thousands on the Gulf Coast as a means to attack the president (“Not much traction with the abuse,” Nation, yesterday). I live on the North Carolina coast, where we have seen our fair share of tropical storms and hurricanes (direct hits: three in 1996, one in 1998, two in 1999 and one in 2003).

Obviously, we have not suffered the catastrophic effects like the people on the Gulf, but we have been through enough of them to know that you don’t stay anywhere near the coast with a storm of Category 3 or better heading straight for you. And we do not have the added concern of living below sea level.

My heart goes out to those now suffering the aftermath. We well know since Hurricane Floyd in 1999 that the aftermath is often much worse than the storm itself. It was two days later that the floodwaters came as the Cape Fear River swelled to record levels. There are people who are still trying to rebuild. That storm hit six years ago this month.

By the way, the Federal EmergencyManagement Agency was not Johnny-on-the-spot then either, but we never expected that it would be. We knew from past experience that the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and faith-based groups would be the first to respond to our needs. We also were prepared for the storm like we have been told a hundred times to be. Self-reliance and preparation makes it easier to cope with life’s catastrophes.

But for all the times that North Carolina suffered, I never saw Al Sharpton nor Jesse Jackson crawl out from under a rock and scream that it was all Bill Clinton’s fault that the poor along the Cape Fear River were purposely ignored.

Again, I realize that Katrina is on a much grander scale, but it was a terrible act of nature that required a mammoth response. That response takes time to organize. It also takes good leadership in the areas hit. Only they know their state and their needs. Obviously, Louisiana lacked in that resource also.

I have to admit, though, that I never dreamed that the left could possibly stoop so low as to use something so horrific to support their bid for the White House. I wish President Bush would let me borrow that crystal ball they seem to think he has. (It would come in handy on the coast.) Or maybe next time he can lend it to the incompetent fools running Louisiana.

You are right, Mr. Pruden. We are skeptical of the coverage, the left’s screeching and theanticsofcertain reverends who seem to dress pretty stylishly while trying to equate themselves with the “poor among us.”

Oh, yeah, and we would like to thank Germany for pointing out it was our fault the storm even happened. I’m amazed a storm ever had the strength to appear before we had global warming.

JANINE POLERA

Hampstead, N.C.

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