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Hurricane Katrina: After-Action Report – Where were the breakdowns

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Now that it seems everyone who is going to be rescued from New Orleans has been and the clean-up operation has begun, it’s time for an after-action report on who and what are to be blamed for the disaster. This is probably going to be my last and most complete post on the subject with the possible exception of the column I have prepared for the Daily Illini.

First, we’ll start with three things that aren’t to be blamed, and then go into what went wrong.

Levee funding cut by Bush

STATUS: Non-issue

The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the levees and floodwalls in and around New Orleans. They were designed to protect against a weak category 3 hurricane. There were no plans to upgrade that protection to category 4 or 5. Originally the plan was to have category 5 protection; however, environmentalists sued the district and stopped it. It would have taken 25 years (if it had worked) to get the upgrades in to make the levees and walls protect against a category 5. (Source: Riverside magazine by the Army Corps of Engineers).

There were funding cuts to upgrades they were trying to do, but those upgrades would have been irrelevant. 15 foot walls don’t contain 22 foot surges, which is what they were facing. As a matter of fact, the portions of the wall that failed were the portions that have received the greatest attention from the Corps. Those were recently upgraded walls. From the NYTimes:

Shea Penland, director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of New Orleans, said that was particularly surprising because the break was “along a section that was just upgraded.”

Louisiana and New Orleans were aware of the situation which is why their disaster plans called for complete evacuation using, among other things, the buses in the Mayor Ray Nagin Memorial Motor Pool.

National Guard deployments in Iraq

STATUS: Non-issue

About 3,700 Louisiana National Guard troops were overseas when the hurricane struck. The objection goes that those people could have been helpful in keeping order. It misses the fact that 8,000 troops were left behind at the disposal of the governor, in addition to the guardsmen available from neighboring states. Reports indicate that the Arkansas National Guard was able to respond before the Louisiana National Guard. There are over 30,000 troops on the ground now. Having troops wasn’t the problem; getting them there, you could argue, was. More on that later.

Racism

STATUS: Invented by race-baiters trying to be relevant again

The governor of Louisiana is a Democrat. The mayor is a black Democrat. They were responsible for the evacuation and their signatures, not Bush’s are on the plan. If you want to make the argument that Democrats are racist and want black people to die, that’s your prerogative. Some other myths on racism such as the cannibalism claim are debunked here.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco

STATUS: Frozen under pressure

After the crisis struck, Gov. Blanco remained indecisive. One example is below: a transcript from CNN of Mayor Nagin’s comments, which indicate Gov. Blanco waited 24 hours to decide on which federal plan to initiate.

From CNN Transcripts: (HT: Wizbang)

NAGIN: The president looked at me. I think he was a little surprised. He said, “No, you guys stay here. We’re going to another section of the plane, and we’re going to make a decision.”

He called me in that office after that. And he said, “Mr. Mayor, I offered two options to the governor.” I said — and I don’t remember exactly what. There were two options. I was ready to move today. The governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision.

S. O’BRIEN: You’re telling me the president told you the governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision?

NAGIN: Yes.

S. O’BRIEN: Regarding what? Bringing troops in?

NAGIN: Whatever they had discussed. As far as what the — I was abdicating a clear chain of command, so that we could get resources flowing in the right places.

S. O’BRIEN: And the governor said no.

NAGIN: She said that she needed 24 hours to make a decision. It would have been great if we could of left Air Force One, walked outside, and told the world that we had this all worked out. It didn’t happen, and more people died.

That wasn’t the only time she froze. She took control of the emergency apparatus yet continued to refuse to act. Bush had to personally call and beg Blanco and Nagin during dinner to order a mandatory evacuation. They still waited until the morning. A state of emergency was ordered August 26th at 9:44pm, they waited until the 28th at 10am to order the evacuation. A full 36 hours could have been added to the evacuation time, which could have included the National Guard going door-to-door to drag people out of New Orleans. She simply sat around and failed her people. Blanco refused to give any authority to the federal government to act.
Mayor Ray Nagin

STATUS: Who me?

While Mayor Nagin thinks the CIA is going to off him in the near future, he should look no farther than the lots of buses he left in his parking lots that could have gotten people out.

The initial responsibility of evacuating people in New Orleans belongs to the Mayor, whom we have seen did little to nothing beforehand.

Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the Mayor of New Orleans in coordination with the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, and the OEP Shelter Coordinator.

The buses sitting in parking lots and not evacuating people is the fault of Mayor Nagin and Mayor Nagin alone.

New Orleans Police Department

STATUS: Two-thirds of the police force is gone

That’s correct, over 2/3 of the New Orleans police department just left, and now they are trying to entice them back with taxpayer funded trips to Vegas. FEMA has no plan (but probably should) for such a catastrophic power vacuum, which did little more than strengthen the anarchy. Why the police just left instead of doing their jobs is unknown, but perhaps this may explain it.

Failure to use buses to evacuate people

STATUS: 500-2000 buses ruined in their parking lots

The evacuation called for using buses to get those without cars out, but they simply left the buses in the parking lots to get destroyed. They could have at least taken the buses to high ground so they could have been used after the hurricane passed, not to mention get people out before the hurricane hit.

One trip of 500 buses at near-full capacity is 30,000 people. They could have made at least 3 trips. Sure, people would have been left, but 90,000 people would be safe and dry now.

Pirates, Looters, and Mobs, oh my!

STATUS: Armed bandits shut down rescue operation necessitating militarizing the situation

There were FEMA and other rescue teams that got in fairly quickly, but snipers began shooting at rescue helicopters, pirates began boat-jacking rescuers, and all mayhem broke lose, complete with police looting and standing by while people did so. If people were going to raid food stores, the government should have taken it first and rationed it. Instead it created an environment of lawlessness in a culture that recognizes no moral norms. (More on that later).

Rescuers had to halt operations in general, and at locations like the Superdome, because they had no security to proceed with. This necessitated an unforeseen buildup of military force that could provide security which took more time.

That’s it for now. FEMA could have handled some things better, sure. But the responsibility in the first few days is local, not federal. The states have to authorize help, and Louisiana didn’t. Mississippi was hit by the same hurricane and there was no crisis there because people did what they were supposed to do. FEMA could have stepped up better, sure. But the point is they shouldn’t have had to deal with a complete collapse of the local authority in the first place. They shouldn’t have had to deal with 100,000 people trapped in New Orleans.

About John Bambenek

John Bambenek is a political activist and computer security expert. He has his own company Bambenek Consulting in Champaign, IL that specializes in digital forensics and computer security investigations.
  • David Matthews

    “They shouldn’t have had to deal with 100,000 people trapped in New Orleans.”

    I’m just guessing that you’ve never had to live at or below the poverty line. When you’re living hand to mouth waiting tables or some other crap job where the the price of labor has been driven down by illegal migration you don’t have the resources to flee an oncoming hurricane.

    Last year I was a waiter and ended one month with $19 to my name. How is someone who can’t afford a full tank of gas going to evacuate? Much less miss work for a week and pay for a hotel room?

  • http://post-modern-meanderings.blogspot.com NF

    “Failure to use buses to evacuate people

    STATUS: 500-2000 buses ruined in their parking lots

    The evacuation called for using buses to get those without cars out, but they simply left the buses in the parking lots to get destroyed. They could have at least took the buses to high ground so they could have been used after the hurricane passed, much less get people out before the hurricane hit.

    One trip of 500 buses at near full capacity is 30,000 people. They could have made at least 3 trips. Sure, people would have been left, but 90,000 people would be safe and dry now.”

    That’s how they should have evacuated.

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    Thanks NF.

    The poor people below the poverty line got screwed because the locals couldn’t get off their asses to get some buses moving. You want to point fingers at whos to blame for the body count… start there.

  • steve

    TELL me about it. Nagin and his cronies really dropped the ball. He would rather point fingers and play the blame game than usher his people to safety!!

  • Gary

    Now I get it.
    Wow! Bush really came through for us this time!
    The hurricane may have stopped spinning, but the right-wing douche brigade will never stop.
    It just keeps going. and going. and going.

  • steve

    I am a proud member of the right-wing douche brigade. Long live Bush! Long live the G.O.P!

  • Gary

    !VIVA FEMA!

  • John Brown

    The real racism of this tragedy is the double standard being applied as to where responsibility lies for the failure to mitigate the natural disaster that occured. The local and state governments which so obviously abjectly failed in their duties are not being held at all accountable by the MSM primarily because the mayor of New Orleans is black and the governor is a liberal female democrat.

    To not hold the “pc protected classes” accountable is a subtle patronising form of racism in that it is to say that we do not expect as much from the “pc protected classes” because we are afraid that they in actuality do not posess the inate ability or character of the traditional white male elite who are always do hold accountable.

  • John Brown

    The real racism of this tragedy is the double standard being applied as to where responsibility lies for the failure to mitigate the natural disaster that occured. The local and state governments which so obviously abjectly failed in their duties are not being held at all accountable by the MSM primarily because the mayor of New Orleans is black and the governor is a liberal female democrat.

    To not hold the “pc protected classes” accountable is a subtle patronising form of racism in that it is to say that we do not expect as much from the “pc protected classes” because we are afraid that they in actuality do not posess the inate ability or character of the traditional white male elite which is always held accountable.

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    Bush should have left Crawford and started driving buses… yeah, that’s it. The federal government should have information on where every vehicle is at all times in every city in America.

    Screw privacy! Viva Big Brother!

  • HMB

    With all the talk about homeland security, one would think the President’s administration would have come up with a plan in case someone bombed a levee. It would be a predictable target, after all. The aftermath of the hurricane shows just how vulnerable America is right now. The Federal Government had no plan to address devastation in New Orleans, which suggests they have no plan for Atlanta, Seattle, Phoenix or any other major American city.

    If terrorists are like sharks, they are smelling blood in the water right now.

    Local Governments can not be expected to deal effectively with devastation at an immense scale. The Federal Government has the resources of the whole country behind it. The Bush administration also promised in the 2004 election that he had,

    1) made America safer
    2) had thought about national security issues.

    Clearly those were empty promises. Katrina proved it. Anyone who apologizes for Bush ought to stop. Our National Security is at risk.

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    YOu’re right. Local governments can’t be trusted to figure out how to load people on buses.

    I demand that we dissolve all state and local governments and establish a soviet police state immediately.

  • http://www.lulu.com/content/170780 Rod Amis

    Got to differ with some of your conclusions in this piece. Their a bit too simplistic. I just released a book on New Orleans, before and during this situation and there are assertions you make above that don’t gibe with the fact.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I missed this the first time around, but it’s an excellent summary and the two months which have passed since you wrote it have only born it out even more.

    And Rod, if these pretty well documented facts aren’t true, why don’t you share some of your evidence with us instead of just making an unsupported contraditory assertion.

    Dave