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Katrina, What Really Went Wrong

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It is with a heavy heart that I make this post.

Because after a week of absorbing it all in a brain which became like a sponge and couldn’t get enough, I have the answer.

I now understand what went wrong. With tongue only slightly in cheek, I offer the answer.

Before, let me caution that over the coming weeks and months there will be squabbles and finger-pointing and general nastiness across all corridors of America over the mess after Hurricane Katrina.

Readers of this Blog post do not have to participate in such debates as the answer is here.

The premise of this country’s entire disaster plan has been wrong.

I watched Michael Chertoff, a man who I don’t know whether to love or hate, gave yet another press conference.

He knows it too.

The failure of an efficient reaction to the New Orleans disaster was due to a faulty premise made by the Department of Homeland Security. Although it must be emphasized that the failure rises way over the Department up to the highest echelons of goverment.

It also reaches down through the bureaucracy layer and down onto each and every American citizen.

The assumption had been that all reaction to a disaster would be based on the local people in charge with the federal government ASSISTING at their direction.

You have all heard through the years since 9-11 the proud pronouncements of the many public officials about increased funding and training of local officials?

It was assumed that a disaster in, say, Chicago, would best be responded to and coordinated by local Chicago authorities.


Not that the premise was a bad one as logic and analysis would have it. Local officials would, after all, be the most knowledgeable about the area, the population density, the geography of the region.

What would a kid from Texas, a weekend warrior who never thought he’d one day be expected to help evacuate Chicago know about the Loop?

So the premise was wrong.

Two things.

It was the local authorities that failed in New Orleans.

Proving the premise was wrong.

This happened one day after the hurricane and that’s the truth.

The local authorities on the ground in New Orleans during the days after the flood was virtually nil. Many of the cops quit, yes they did and soon enough it will be widely known. Common sense, duh, should make it understandable that many of the local authorities were THEMSELVES affected by disaster.

The premise failed us folks.

Chertoff as much as said today that from now on all disasters will be dealt with immediately at the federal level.

A week ago I would be ranting and raving about constitutions and “posse comitas” and, of course, states’ rights.

The cure might require a bit of new legislation over the coming years. Permissions and grants and federal laws are going to have to be re-thought.

God taught us a lesson in New Orleans. And on the brighter side, the mistake was not really that costly. Assuming the loss of NO was not the fault of man, although it probably was. Also assuming, more stridently, that the hurricane was not the fault of man.

There’s not going to be an overwhelming death toll because of this bad premise. Because amazingly the federal government was able to recover quite quickly after it realized the deadly truth. Some people died because of the delay. There was a cost in lives.

It could have been way more horrific.

It does little good to cast aspersions on the Bad Premise. Before Katrina I’d have backed the Bad Premise with my heart and soul.

It does little good to cast aspersions on the NO police and Louisiana State police. Sure there’s issues with the social strata and how it’s policed in that region but the Bad Premise makes it practically moot. There will rightly be a lot of shame but our understanding of the Bad Premise sprang from the failure of local authorities. Thereby preventing the Bad Premise from resulting in millions of deaths should another horrific attack occur without the current lesson learned.

Let the debates rage on. I’ll likely have something to say about it in due course.

Way I see it, we all made a mistake on this one.

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About pat fish

  • >>I thought the point of a democractic society was so that no one person would be in charge of everything.<< That's actually characteristic of a representative republic with divided powers - which is what we have. A pure democracy might very well put one person in charge of everything. Dave

  • Jake

    I thought the point of a democractic society was so that no one person would be in charge of everything. There’s plenty of blame to go around and plenty of people to blame it on, so everyone who is pointing a finger is in essence correct. But, remember, they’ve got 3 fingers pointing right back at them which is also correct. Failures were widespread for a disaster of this magnitude, however, response on a Federal level (mainly from the executive branch) was right on par with Hurricane Andrew and the like. Everyone wants to look at this situation as an isolated case. All other cases preceding it be damned. It always amazes me how facts cease to matter and history falls by the waste side when disaster strikes.

  • But are we ready for the next disaster? We’ve got 11 weeks remaining in this current Hurricane Season. The peak hasn’t even arrived yet and that frightens me. There are reports of dysentery in Biloxi. Fear of other diseases is becoming reality. There are small communities all along the Gulf that remain under water with no clue as to how many bodies are entombed there. Realistically, there could be upwards of 10,000 dead. To hell with who’s at fault and who knew what when! Government at all levels had best be prepared because there’s a good probability that these emergency preparedness people are going to face another test before Thanksgiving.

  • I’m your native son

    I think you are essentially correct, Patfish. The local govt failed to protect its assets, so after the levees broke they had no means to transport, to deliver items, to enforce order, or even (this seems most vital) to communicate. In effect the local government had completely collapsed and ceased to function in any meaningful way whatsoever. So we had to simply wait for the feds to fight their way in there and establish a base for operations, losing days of precious time. It was a painful wait indeed.

    Again, I must add my two cents about how all this was completely predictable, and entirely foreseen by any of us cynical observers of the southern Lousiana political scene. We all knew that when the Big One came we’d all be screwed and how.

  • Scott Harper

    No, no the local authorities were not the problem. And neither was it the President nor his “Jew” homeland director. The problem that caused all of the breakdowns in communication, and all the ensuing chaos, are people like yourselves, for voting a party into power like the conservatives, and the blame falls also on people like myself, for allowing ignorance and prejudice such as your own to taint logical discourse.

  • Heloise

    Mayor Nagin abandons NOLA to the crocodiles

    Patfish, I see you must have read my comments. I just spoke to my sister who confirmed my suspicions that Mayor Nagin not only fled to Baton Rouge after holding one lousy press conference to yell at the people to get out of town; had contingency plans for his own people who worked in city hall. I have it on good source that those who did not heed his advice but stayed behind were the FIRST ones who were airlifted out by helicopter.

    So you see the people who were shooting at the helicopters had good cause to do so. They smelled not only the sewage in the streets but also a big fat rat by the name of Nagin.

    Don’t forget that light-skinned blacks are just as prejudiced or more so, than whites, against their lower class counterparts who have black, black skin and NO education and NO job.

    My sister’s friend who worked in city hall was not only immediately airlifted off her roof, but was brought to a warm safehouse where she was immediately fed and housed along with anyone else who worked for the Mayor or for city hall!!! I knew it.

    Now, my sister, a smart Creole, was at first totally critical of the speed of the Federal assistance and those who were not from NOLA helping NOLA, and where were they? I reminded her that they are NOT from there and did not know where the hell to go without a map!

    That’s just for starters. I am not going to let the left-wing Democrats get away with putting this all on Bush and that Jew who is running the homeland office, he looks like he escaped the holocaust so maybe he is not worried about the blacks left in NOLA because he has obviously seen worse.

    One woman said that the crocodiles were eating the children floating in the water and other dead bodies. They did not have crocodiles at the death camps but you get my drift.

    I have more of a stake in this than the average reader because my mother’s family has been there for at least 5 generations and they lost everything for like the third time. But this time, this time it is different.

    This time blacks and New Orleans Creoles will be spread out all over the US of A where they should have been in the first place.


  • billy

    i missed the poart where you blame clinton? isnt that part of your standard template? oh i get it, blame black local democrats for the biggest NATIONAL disaster ever in this country.

  • Great read, Patfish, and I think that most of what you say will be proven. I’m curious, though, how all levels of government reacted to the hurricane forecast that was published in April which pretty much foretold what was coming for this hurricane season. There are some interesting numbers:


    1) Entire U.S. coastline – 73% (average for last century is 52%)

    2) U.S. East Coast Including the Florida Peninsula – 53% (average for last century is 31%)

    3) Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle westward to Brownsville – 41% (average for last century is 30%)

    4) Expected above-average major hurricane landfall risk in the Caribbean

    Then comes their addendum in the August forecast. If these people are correct, and they have a great track record, we are in deep shit. There’s a major chance the U.S. will get hit with one more Category 3+ hurricane this season. We haven’t even arrived at the season peak yet. The report published yesterday foretells of impending disaster: This year should be one of the most active and is already the most destructive hurricane season on record. The lessons learned from New Orleans hopefully will get applied to the next community that gets nailed. That is, of course, provided it’s not the Gulf which gets the next one.

  • I think what you say will largely be shown to be correct… not that Michael Moore or Kanye West will ever agree.