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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Questions Need to be Asked

Questions about the devastation that was wrought by Hurricane Katrina need to be asked. The death toll is going to reach into the thousands, and during the inevitable hearings to come in a few months, both the preplanning, initial response, and the response immediately after the hurricane all need to be looked into.

Preplanning seems to have been done, as I've posted earlier, and been on the news, the City, State and FEMA have all run scenarios for just this disaster, updating the plans as recently as April and distributing information this June.

But after the planning, the plan seems to have broken down. Someone will surely bring up the photos of hundreds of empty school buses underwater Monday, and ask why they weren't being used to evacuate people over the weekend.

The Superdome and Convention Center have been, for years by my research, the "shelters of last resort". Estimates in the 1990's and up through this year anticipated the number of people that would use them, and seemed quite accurate. Yet there didn't seem to be enough food, water, or anything else on hand to take care of those people. The city recommended in it's brochure that you have a weeks worth of food and water if you were riding out a storm, yet the Superdome and Convention Center were out after a day or so.

Both sites were also to act as transportation staging areas for those without means to leave town. Yet every interview I've seen or read on the subject said people were there as early as Saturday, and buses never showed to get them out before the storm.

What was the evacuation plan for the hospitals, or was there one? It seems as though every hospital in the city was still full of patients after the storm, meaning somewhere the ball was dropped, in a big way.

Why wasn't the National Guard out in force on Saturday and Sunday, evacuating residence? While it is obvious they couldn't have stayed in town into Monday either, it seems they could have been activated and sent in when the mandatory evacuation notices were given; and at a point say 12 hours prior told to leave, returning when the "all clear" was given.

In the immediate aftermath, the question should come up about the state's requests for help. So far I've read in papers from Illinois, Michigan, and Virginia of convoys of police and other responders being held up because they didn't have permission from Louisiana. Yes, it sounds silly in a situation like this, but states aren't allowed to send armed people into other states without permission.

Why wasn't FEMA prestaged with at least some relief supplies and teams so that they could have been in quicker.

Why wasn't the military activated quicker to assist, apart from those stationed in immediate vicinity? Contrary to popular belief on the net this week, the President doesn't have the authority to active national guard and federal troops into a domestic situation, for those instances NG troops are controlled at the state level. Federal troops must be requested by the state.

However, that rule probably needs some revision for natural disasters. It could also have been avoided by have the request sent on Friday, when he pre-declared the area a disaster site.

There's been a lot of knee jerk talk, make FEMA a cabinet level post, but that really wouldn't solve anything, unless congress is going to pass laws allowing FEMA to activate the Guard or Federal troops for the situations, among other things.

So there is a lot to be asked, and a lot to be learned. The big question will be are we going to try and learn anything, or spend two months of congress' time holding hearings to point fingers.

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