A lot of people (Paul’s latest sparring partner included) have been slamming FEMA’s performance in the wake of hurricane Katrina. It’s true that a lot of people have suffered — and died — in the aftermath. But was FEMA really inept?
The agency handled disasters in much the same timeliness as Katrina last year, and it was regarded as excellent performance. In fact, last summer they helped Florida deal with no less than four hurricanes. With no change in personnel at the top, now it’s being criticized. What has changed since then?
1) The sheer magnitude of the destruction — Katrina did far more damage than the other storms.
2) The utter incompetence of the state and local officials — nearly every disaster plan has a section that says “FEMA and other federal resources will be available within 72 to 96 hours; until that time, it is the responsibility of local and state agencies to manage the crisis.”
3) The patience and comprehension of the American people has been eroded by the instant-gratification mentality, combined with the 24-hour news cycle and competitiveness of the 24-hour news channels.
4) The Left’s determined focus to blame everything they can on Bush, to find the dark cloud attached to every silver lining and attempt to attach it to him.
In all the howling about Bush in the wake of Katrina, one thing I have noticed is not a single coherent, substantive suggestion about what might have been done has emerged.
1) Override Governor Blanco? Little matter of the law and the Constitution. The President can only supplant the authority of a Mayor and Governor if he invokes the Insurrection Act, and that is a HUGE gun — as in “use this only in the direst of circumstances, or expect to be impeached — and even then, expect it.”
2) Get the rescue efforts there faster? Not possible. The hurricane wiped out roads, rails, bridges, docks, and airports. Supplies are HEAVY and BULKY, and I’ve read a few pieces by actual military logistics experts who actually do that sort of thing for a living. They say that the response time was actually exceptionally good.
3) Pre-position rescue personnel and supplies: WHERE? You send that stuff into a disaster area before it becomes a disaster, and you risk it being destroyed by the disaster. And that point all you’ve achieved is creating more victims and throwing away a big chunk of critical supplies. You assemble them OUTSIDE the disaster area, then send them in once it’s passed — which is exactly what happened.
4) Spend more money on flood-prevention programs? They did. But a few facts that don’t often get discussed when the focus is “blame Bush!” For one, that money is disbursed by the government, but actually spent by state and local officials — who put it into improving the locks system (which was actually seeing DECREASING traffic, not increasing), casinos, and other pork-barrel projects, not the levees. For another, the levees that failed were the ones that had been “upgraded;” the “unimproved” ones held just fine. For a third, the levees were designed to withstand a Force 3 storm when they were first built decades ago; Katrina was a strong Force 4 when she hit. Improving them to withstand a hurricane as strong as Katrina is a project that will take years and years just to STUDY and DEVELOP.
5) Improve the evacuation plans? That’s the responsibility of the state and local officials. Last year, with Ivan, they had a “dress rehearsal” for a big storm — and everyone knew it, and called the plans “a complete failure.” In that year, what did they do to improve them? Not a damned thing.
Yeah, the top guys at FEMA might be hacks. They might even have screwed up a few things. But all federal agencies learn to “work around” the political appointees at the very top and still do their jobs — and FEMA is no exception, as shown last summer.
And should “Brownie” be fired? For padding his resume’, yeah, I think he should. And if the guy who recommended him wasn’t already out of government service, I’d say fire that guy, too.
But it is, has been, and always will be the duties of the local and state officials to be the first responders to disasters, and to hold the line as best they can until the federal government can marshal its resources to back them up — and even today, in the best possible circumstances, that can take up to three or four days.
That’s just the way it is, just the way it has to be, under the Constitution, and just the way it ought to be.