Jack Kelly on the federal response to Katrina

He makes a pretty convincing case that the feds did better than average on response time. Some snippets:

Jason van Steenwyk is a Florida Army National Guardsman who has been mobilized six times for hurricane relief. He notes that: "The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne." For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla. after Hurricane Andrew hit in 2002. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three. […] I write this column a week and a day after the main levee protecting New Orleans breached. In the course of that week: More than 32,000 people have been rescued, many plucked from rooftops by Coast Guard helicopters. The Army Corps of Engineers has all but repaired the breaches and begun pumping water out of New Orleans. Shelter, food and medical care have been provided to more than 180,000 refugees. Journalists complain that it took a whole week to do this. A former Air Force logistics officer had some words of advice for us in the Fourth Estate on his blog, Moltenthought: "We do not yet have teleporter or replicator technology like you saw on ‘Star Trek’ in college between hookah hits and waiting to pick up your worthless communications degree while the grown-ups actually engaged in the recovery effort were studying engineering. "The United States military can wipe out the Taliban and the Iraqi Republican Guard far more swiftly than they can bring 3 million Swanson dinners to an underwater city through an area the size of Great Britain which has no power, no working ports or airports, and a devastated and impassable road network. "You cannot speed recovery and relief efforts up by prepositioning assets (in the affected areas) since the assets are endangered by the very storm which destroyed the region. […] The levee broke Tuesday morning. Buses had to be rounded up and driven from Houston to New Orleans across debris-strewn roads. The first ones arrived Wednesday evening. That seems pretty fast to me. A better question — which few journalists ask — is why weren’t the roughly 2,000 municipal and school buses in New Orleans utilized to take people out of the city before Katrina struck?

Read the whole thing. More: From the Palm Beach Post:

But the most recent Louisiana emergency operations plan doesn’t address how to evacuate in the case of flooding from storm surge, saying simply that "The Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Area represents a difficult evacuation problem due to the large population and its unique layout." It continues, "The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating." Buses were unable to transport New Orleans citizens for days following Katrina’s landfall. The plan acknowledges that, in the event of a catastrophic hurricane, "the evacuation of over a million people from the Southeast Region could overwhelm normally available shelter resources." But it doesn’t include a solution to the shelter issue. Louisiana officials could not be reached for comment this week. Mississippi and Louisiana officials, however, have increasingly decried what they called a slow federal response to the disaster, blaming the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But Gov. Bush defended FEMA. "If we weren’t prepared, and we didn’t do our part, no amount of work by FEMA could overcome the lack of preparation," he said. Natural Hazards Center director Kathleen Tierney agreed, saying emergency planners in the Gulf states should have taken a tip from the jazz legends that made New Orleans famous. "Organizational improvisation" is essential to cope with unpredictable events such as Katrina, Tierney said. "Research on jazz musicians shows that people don’t just pull stuff out of the air when they’re improvising. These are people with an extremely wide knowledge of musical genres. They have always practiced and practiced and practiced. Similarly, improvising involves a deep understanding of the resources you have at hand in your community." Local officials, she said, "could have listened to researchers. They could take seriously Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s bill called the Ready, Willing and Able Act that calls for more interaction with the community. They could have approached this improvisational task with imagination." And they might yet, Biloxi spokesman Creel said.

(Hat tip for PBP article: John Hawkins – who has some great commentary on this) Even more: Michael Kinsley weighs in.

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