Flawed government planning for major disasters led to rampant confusion during the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the White House concluded Thursday in a report focusing more on fixing shortfalls before the next storm season than on assigning blame.
The review described poor communications systems, delays in delivering supplies and overall tumult within the Bush administration, but revealed little new about the plodding federal effort in the days just before and after the storm socked the Gulf Coast last Aug. 29.
The 228-page document, including 125 recommendations for improvement, adopted a far softer tone than a scathing House report issued last week and offered scant criticism of
That House review, written by a Republican-led committee, blamed all levels of government for the lackluster response that it said contributed to the deaths and suffering of thousands of the region's residents.
...The report's recommendations span from dramatic reforms - including potentially giving the
Pentagon control over the federal response in worst-case disasters - to smaller changes. It calls for a public awareness campaign on individual preparedness similar to the successful "Stop, Drop and Roll" slogan for fire safety information.
It says the government should improve its evacuation preparations, its plans for swifter medical aid and its overall blueprint for coordinating federal response efforts, calling it confusing. It also calls for state tax breaks to encourage citizens to purchase disaster gear and requirements that students take courses in first aid, starting next year.
The review singles out the Homeland Security Department for most of the breakdowns. They included failure to understand the scope of Katrina's damage, delays in passing information to the White House and emergency workers, and a system for delivering water, food and other supplies that was ensnared in red tape.
In one example of the department's failures, the report noted that Homeland Security's operations center was still dithering about whether New Orleans levees had been breached nearly six hours after a National Weather Service reported a break in at least one floodwall.
The report also cited several examples in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected help from other federal agencies - including boats, aircraft, maintenance crews and housing for evacuees - because of miscommunications and misunderstandings. It said Brown, who was heading the federal response at the scene, was still organizing his chain of command nearly 60 hours after the storm struck...
Shortly after noon on Wednesday, Aug 31, Karl Rove used Senator David Vitter to convey a message to governor Kathleen Blanco: she should announce that she's voluntarily turned control of the evacuation of New Orleans over to the feds, and she should:
explore legal options to impose martial law "or as close as we can get," Vitter quoted Rove as saying, according to handwritten notes by Terry Ryder, Blanco's executive counsel.
For the next three days, the White House tried to get Blanco to do what they wanted, except:
Blanco rejected the administration's terms, 10 minutes before Bush was to announce them in a Rose Garden news conference, the governor's aides said.
As others speculated at the time, Blanco had no clue on how to deal with the legalities of this:
Blanco's top aides relied on ad hoc tutorials from the National Guard about who would be in charge and how to call in federal help. But in the inevitable confusion of fast-moving events, partisan differences and federal/state divisions prevented top leaders from cooperating.
A Blanco aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the people around Bush were trying to maneuver the governor into an unnecessary change intended to make Bush look decisive.
"It was an overwhelming natural disaster. The federal government has an agency that exists for purposes of coming to the rescue of localities in a natural disaster, and that organization did not live up to what it was designed for or promised to," the aide said. Referring to Bush aides, he said, "It was time to recover from the fiasco, and take a win wherever you could, legitimate or not."
Vitter, in an interview, disagreed but acknowledged the clash.
"In my opinion, they [Blanco aides] were hypersensitive. . . . They seemed to feel there was some power play, which I don't think there was," he said. "The fact that it was [Rove] -- might that have fueled the governor's hypersensitivity? It may have, I don't know."
Prof. Mackubin Thomas Owens of the Naval War College offers the recommended "Fighters, not First Responders". It includes this:
The U.S. military is structured to play "away games." It is good at protecting the United States by threatening the sanctuary of adversaries abroad. There are, of course, things the military can and should do to enhance the security of the American homeland, but we should not be blurring further the distinction between military activities and domestic affairs. To paraphrase what Caspar Weinberger said in opposition to the use of the military in the drug war, weakening the statutes that govern the use of the military in domestic affairs in response to Hurricane Katrina makes for terrible national security policy, poor politics, and guaranteed military failure sometime in the future.
From this post:
I am still shuddering about the [82nd Airborne] being brought into this effort. I happen to be a big fan of Posse Comitatus, and I am still waiting for someone to give me a good reason for heaving it aside - and not simply because one State of the Union wet its pants at crunch time. Why is Florida able to avoid folding like a broken cot everytime a hurricane slams ashore? Why should North Carolina have it's sovereignty flushed down the hopper whenever a tropical depression forms? You can get all the Federal help you can handle if you just ask for it. Also, I didn't hear of a single governor refusing Louisiana's call for help - EMACs (assistance compacts between states) were flying off the fax machines in every state capital. Wars aside, there are still a few hundred thousand Army and Air Guard available for such a call...
The Defense Dep't commissioned an "independent and critical review" of the response to Katrina to be conducted by "Stephen Henthorne, a former professor of the US Army's War College and an adviser to the Pentagon who was a deputy-director in the Louisiana relief efforts."
The Independent UK says it's seen a copy of the report:
It charts how "corruption and mismanagement within the New Orleans city government" had "diverted money earmarked for improving flood protection to other, more vote-getting, projects. Past mayors and governors gambled that the long-expected Big Killer hurricane would never happen. That bet was lost with Hurricane Katrina."
The report concludes that although the US military did a good job in carrying out emergency missions, there were some serious shortcomings.
The report states that Brigadier General Michael D Barbero, commander of the Joint Readiness Training Centre at Fort Polk, Louisiana, refused permission for special forces units who volunteered to join relief efforts, to do so. General Barbero also refused to release other troops.
"The same general did take in some families from Hurricane Katrina, but only military families living off the base," the report says. "He has done a similar thing for military families displaced by Hurricane Rita. However, he declined to share water with the citizens of Leesville, who are out of water, and his civil affairs staff have to sneak off post in civilian clothes to help coordinate relief efforts." The report says deployment in the Iraq war led to serious problems. "Another major factor in the delayed response to the hurricane aftermath was that the bulk of the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard was deployed in Iraq.
"Even though all the states have 'compacts' with each other, pledging to come to the aid of other states, it takes time, money and effort to activate and deploy National Guard troops from other states to fill in"...
Then, it goes on to advise against the plan of Bush and others to weaken Posse Comitatus.
However, according to this:
This statement is not supported by the facts. 3,000 of 11,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard and 4,000 of 13,000 members of the Mississippi National Guard were deployed to Iraq, leaving more than 17,000 National Guardsmen for hurricane relief efforts. This does not constitute the "bulk" of troops as they said the report stated.
The WSJ's "Misinformation Slowed Federal Response to Katrina" seems to offer support for (finally!) doing something about all those very archaic laws:
Washington's experience in Louisiana has prompted the White House to seek ways to shoulder locals out of the way if another similar disaster crops up in the future. President Bush has asked Congress to consider mechanisms that would allow him to quickly place the Pentagon in charge of such disasters, making it easier to use assets such as the 82nd Airborne Division, highly trained, regular Army soldiers who specialize in moving to an area quickly and securing it. As it was, cumbersome federal regulations generally prevent Mr. Bush from sending regular Army troops to enforce order in American cities unless they are expressly invited by a state's governor.
It's so much easier in, well, Banana Republics.
President Bush yesterday sought to federalize hurricane-relief efforts, removing governors from the decision-making process.
"It wouldn't be necessary to get a request from the governor or take other action," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday.
"This would be," he added, "more of an automatic trigger."
Mr. McClellan was referring to a new, direct line of authority that would allow the president to place the Pentagon in charge of responding to natural disasters, terrorist attacks and outbreaks of disease.
"It may require change of law," Mr. Bush said yesterday. "It's very important for us as we look at the lessons of Katrina to think about other scenarios that might require a well-planned, significant federal response -- right off the bat -- to provide stability."
Our homeland security president is just trying to keep you safe, citizen.
But stabilizing a crisis might require federal troops to arrest looters and perform other law-enforcement duties, which would violate the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. The law was passed in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction to prevent the use of federal troops from policing elections in former Confederate states.
The White House wants Congress to consider amending Posse Comitatus in order to grant the Pentagon greater powers.
Unfortunately, the only wise voice in the article comes from a most unlikely source. According to an ACLU spokeshole:
"Our strict separation between military and civilian power is one of the things that separates us from Latin America, for example... Changing that would put us on a huge slippery slope."
Also unfortunately, Bush appears to think of himself as El Commandante. Perhaps one day soon calls for impeachment will come from both sides of the aisle.
I rarely agree with the Cato Institute, but "Domestic Militarization: A Disaster in the Making" is highly recommended:
Having already wrecked a legendary American city, Hurricane Katrina may now be invoked to undermine a fundamental principle of American law;.that principle, enshrined in the Posse Comitatus Act, is that when it comes to domestic policing, the military should be a last resort, not a first responder...
...What [Posse Comitatus] does is set a high bar for the use of federal troops in a policing role. That reflects America's traditional distrust of using standing armies to enforce order at home, a distrust that's well-justified.
There are very good reasons to resist any push toward domestic militarization. As one federal court has explained, "military personnel must be trained to operate under circumstances where the protection of constitutional freedoms cannot receive the consideration needed in order to assure their preservation. The Posse Comitatus statute is intended to meet that danger." Army Lt. Gen. Russell Honore, commander of the federal troops helping out in New Orleans, seemed to recognize that danger when he ordered his soldiers to keep their guns pointed down: "This isn't Iraq," he growled...
...The Katrina tragedy ought to be an occasion for rethinking a number of federal policies, including our promiscuous use of the Guard abroad. Instead, Washington seems poised to embrace further centralization and militarization at home. That has the makings of a policy disaster that would dwarf Hurricane Katrina.
Former FEMA head Mike Brown is scheduled to testify before Congress today about the response to Katrina, and he spoke to congressional aides about that yesterday.
The AP has miraculously obtained a copy of a memo written by a "Republican staffer" who attended that briefing: "Brown Still On FEMA Payroll". Let's be as cynical as possible, and look at this:
...Brown expressed regrets "that he did not start screaming for DoD (Department of Defense) involvement" sooner. The first substantial numbers of active-duty troops responding to the Gulf Coast were sent on Saturday, Sept. 3 - five days after the storm hit.
Do you think that might have something to do with "Military tells Bush they should take control after disaster"? Is this part of the widespread pitch to change Posse Comitatus?
...Brown took several shots at Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He said the two officials "sparred during the crisis and could not work together cooperatively."
He also described Blanco as "indecisive" and refusing to cede control of the Louisiana National Guard to federal authorities because "it would have undercut her image politically," according to the memo.
The document also criticized the conference calls with state and federal officials that Brown ran during the crisis, saying that no official notes were taken and that Brown "just assumed that agencies would follow up on taskings resulting from the calls."
Brown defended himself against charges that he learned from television that thousands of refugees gathered at the New Orleans convention center, where adequate food, water and other supplies were lacking and there was rampant violence.
He said that because the convention center was not a planned evacuation site, "there is no reason FEMA would have known about it beforehand," according to the memo.
Brown also admitted he did not ensure that Nagin had a secure communications system during the crisis.
And here I thought we already had one. However, this is a different kind of plan: the new one involves the military taking control during a natural or other disaster. From the AP's "Bush Told U.S. Needs Post-Disaster Plan":
Bush got an update about the federal hurricane response from military leaders at Randolph Air Force Base. He heard from Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, joint military task force commander for Hurricane Rita, and Maj. Gen. John White, a task force member, who noted confusion in search and rescue operations after Hurricane Katrina.
With Katrina, "we knew the coordination piece was a problem," White said. "With Rita, we had the benefit of time. We may not have that time in an earthquake scenario or similar incident."
"With a national plan, we'll have a quick jump-start and an opportunity to save more people," White said.
Bush thanked White for his recommendations.
"This is precisely the kind of information I'll take back to Washington to help all of us understand how to do a better job," the president said.
Is it just me, or haven't I heard the same uttered by other world leaders, some of them less than savory characters?
Continuing, Bush said:
"Clearly, in the case of a terrorist attack, that would be the case, but is there a natural disaster of a certain size that would then enable the Defense Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort... That's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about."
Yes indeed. Congress should think very deeply about what additional powers they want to give the U.S. military to operate inside the U.S.