09/02/2005: Thought for the Day:
The Bush administration has been staggeringly ineffectual in its response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in New Orleans. Its failures are painful evidence of how far we have to go in developing the capability to respond rapidly to a mass-casualty disaster.
The president's statement this afternoon set the tone. Rather than direct the U.S. military to immediately assist the thousands of people without food or water in the city center, Bush assured the nation that expected gasoline shortages would be temporary and that his father and former President Clinton were ready to pass the tin can to ensure private-sector support for rebuilding New Orleans. As people began dying around the Convention Center, and Mayor Ray Nagin resorted to issuing a pathetic SOS over CNN, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff spoke empathetically of the suffering of the people in New Orleans. But somehow he seemed proud that 72 hours after the hurricane hit, only 2,800 National Guardsmen had come to the city. The number is about to reach 12,000 by tomorrow [original of this article posted on 9/1/2005 --LRC]. That is awfully late for the people stranded there. Yet Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who is commanding the military component of Washington's response, pleaded for patience from the people of New Orleans, promising that the U.S. Army was "building the capability" to help them.
Building the capability? How is it possible that with the fourth anniversary of 9/11 almost upon us, the federal government doesn't have in hand the capability to prepare for and then manage a large urban disaster, natural or man-made? In terms of the challenge to government, there is little difference between a terrorist attack that wounds many people and renders a significant portion of a city uninhabitable, and the fallout this week from the failure of one of New Orleans' major levees. Indeed, a terrorist could have chosen a levee for his target. Or a dirty-bomb attack in New Orleans could have caused the same sort of forced evacuation we are seeing and the widespread sickness that is likely to follow.
Chertoff's Department of Homeland Security demonstrated today that it could organize an impressive press conference in Washington, lining up every participating civilian or military service from the Coast Guard to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to promise its cooperation. But on the ground in Louisiana, where it counts, DHS is turning out to be the sum of its inefficient parts. The department looks like what its biggest critics predicted: a new level of bureaucracy grafted onto a collection of largely ineffectual under-agencies.
Len on 09.02.05 @ 05:26 AM CST