Don't Blame Bush for Katrina
Monday, Sept. 5, 2005
George Bush and the federal government are not to blame for the disaster we have witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In fact, the primary responsibility for the disaster response lies with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and other local officials.
Yet leading Democrats and their allies in the major media are clearly using this disaster for political purposes and ignoring one obvious fact.
This fact which needs to be repeated and remembered is that in our country, state and local governments have primary responsibility in dealing with local disasters.
The founding fathers devised a federal system of government one that has served us remarkably well through great disasters that have befallen America over more than two centuries.
But if we believe the major TV networks, George Bush, FEMA and the Republicans in Congress are all to blame for the current nightmare.
Let's remember that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was created only in 1979. It was formed to coordinate and focus federal response to major disasters to "assist" local and state governments.
Common sense suggests that local and state governments are best able to prepare and plan for local disasters.
Is a Washington bureaucrat better suited to prepare for an earthquake in San Francisco, a hurricane in Florida, or a terrorist act in New York?
After the Sept. 11 attacks against the World Trade Center, no one suggested that the Bush administration should have been responsible for New York's disaster response or that federal agents should have been involved in the rescue of those trapped in the buildings.
Last year, four major hurricanes slammed into Florida. Governor Jeb Bush led the disaster response and did a remarkable job, with nothing happening like what we have seen in New Orleans.
The primary response in disasters has always come from local communities and state governments.
First responders and the manpower to deal with emergencies come from local communities: police, fire and medical. Under our federal system, these local departments answer to local authorities, not those in Washington. These first responders are not even under federal control, nor do they have to follow federal orders.
In addition to local responders, every state in the Union has a National Guard.
State National Guards answer first to the governor of each state, not to the president. The National Guard exists not to defend one state from an invasion by another state, but primarily for emergencies like the one we have witnessed in New Orleans and in other areas impacted by Katrina. (See: http://www.arng.army.mil/about_us/organization/command_structure.asp)
Tim Russert and the Blame Game
The media would have you believe that this disaster was worsened by a slow response from President Bush and his administration, though the primary responsibility for disaster response has always been with local and state governments.
It is true that federal response was not as fast as it could have been. The president himself has acknowledged that fact.
But the press has focused on the first 48 hours of federal response, not uttering a word about the fact that New Orleans had 48 hours of warning that a major Category 4 or 5 would make landfall near the city, yet local officials apparently did little to prepare.
Obviously, Gov. Blanco did not effectively deploy her state's National Guard.
And New Orleans' city leaders did almost nothing to evacuate the portion of the population with no transportation. In failing to follow their own evacuation plan, these officials did little to pre-position food, water and personnel to deal with the aftermath.
I was surprised Sunday to watch Tim Russert, on his show "Meet the Press," tear into Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff. During his encounter with Chertoff, Russert did not suggest once that local government had any role in dealing with the disaster. Russert also asked for Chertoff's resignation.
It wasn't until after the first 29 minutes of his show 29 minutes that Russert raised the question of local responsibility. And when he did so with Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, he did so in a passing way. Broussard brushed off his question with a non-answer.
Broussard began his interview claiming that the nation had "abandoned" New Orleans.
That is nonsense and a lie.
Broussard, who was never identified by "Meet the Press" as a Democrat, spent much of his time attacking the Bush administration, as has Democratic New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.
Broussard then ended his performance as he collapsed in tears with a demand: "For God's sake, just shut up and send us somebody!"
His tears didn't wash with me. My sympathies lie with the tens of thousands of people who have suffered or died because local officials like Broussard, Mayor Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco, also a Democrat, failed monumentally at their jobs.
As former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial told Russert, the disaster in New Orleans was "foreseeable."
In fact, New Orleans has long known that such a disaster could take place if a major hurricane hit the city.
The municipality even prepared its own "City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan."
The plan makes it evident that New Orleans knew that evacuation of the civilian population was the primary responsibility of the city not the federal government.
The city plan acknowledges its responsibility in the document:
As established by the City of New Orleans Charter, the government has jurisdiction and responsibility in disaster response. City government shall coordinate its efforts through the Office of Emergency Preparedness.
The city document also makes clear that decisions involving a proper and orderly evacuation lie with the governor, mayor and local authorities. Nowhere is the president or federal government even mentioned:
The authority to order the evacuation of residents threatened by an approaching hurricane is conferred to the Governor by Louisiana Statute. The Governor is granted the power to direct and compel the evacuation of all or part of the population from a stricken or threatened area within the State, if he deems this action necessary for the preservation of life or other disaster mitigation, response or recovery. The same power to order an evacuation conferred upon the Governor is also delegated to each political subdivision of the State by Executive Order. This authority empowers the chief elected official of New Orleans, the Mayor of New Orleans, to order the evacuation of the parish residents threatened by an approaching hurricane.
It is clear the city also recognized that it would need to move large portions of its population, and it would need to prepare for such an eventuality:
The City of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas. Those evacuated will be directed to temporary sheltering and feeding facilities as needed. When specific routes of progress are required, evacuees will be directed to those routes. Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life saving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedures as needed. ...
Evacuation procedures for small scale and localized evacuations are conducted per the SOPs of the New Orleans Fire Department and the New Orleans Police Department. However, due to the sheer size and number of persons to be evacuated, should a major tropical weather system or other catastrophic event threaten or impact the area, specifically directed long range planning and coordination of resources and responsibilities efforts must be undertaken. [You can read New Orleans' Emergency Plan for hurricanes at its Web site: http://www.cityofno.com/portal.aspx?portal=46&tabid=26]
The city's plan also specifically called for the use of city-owned buses and school buses to evacuate the population. These were apparently never deployed, though the Parish of Plaquemines just south of the city evacuated its population using school buses.
The plan, written well before Katrina was even a teardrop in God's eye, was obviously never heeded or implemented by local leaders.
But why should the New Orleans mayor and Governor Blanco take responsibility when they can blame George Bush and the Republicans in Washington?
With congressional elections fast approaching, Democrats who are out of power in every branch of the federal government know they need to change the tide quickl. ,They have apparently seized on the Katrina disaster to harm the president politically.
Criticism of the federal government's response is fair and warranted. But putting full responsibility for this disaster on the Bush administration is way over the top.
Primary responsibility for this disaster remains with local officials like Nagin and Blanco, not President Bush.
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