It is horribly fascinating. Watching our government respond to Katrina. I have learned
more about deltas, social engineering, and I guess most shocking, the perception of the
role of our federal government in the face of a "natural" disaster(I think most folks
would agree that the breeching of the levees did more to 1. impact the city 2. hamper
relief efforts than did a cat 4 hurricane). I have been out of Florida for almost 10
years now, and so have not been following FEMA as closely as I might were I still in the
consistent path of hurricanes. But I am shocked as hell about Brown's incompetence. I
have been thru, oh, what, 10 hurricanes in my life, and countless storms.
One such storm
came up so unexpectedly that it had no name. Those of us on the Gulf Coast called it the No Name
Storm, my sib in Atlanta called it The Storm of the Century. No warning, except if you
had watched the news the night before. (And oddly, not every station...) No tracking, no
72 hour notice. I think we had 8 hours. And if you live on the gulf coast, you don't and
can't freak out over every tropical depression reported in the news. I was working in a
restaurant right on a canal from the Gulf Of Mexico, and the downstairs open-air bar
showed watermarks as high as 7-10 feet on the walls. We were back in business in 4-5
days. Publix ran on a generator until they brought the power back for businesses. Out of
power at the house for 4 days, but able to get to supplies. I was impressed (as I always
had been) about the way FEMA and the local governments worked in tandem to bring
everything back to normal.
Driving north on the turnpike the day Andrew made landfall,
the only vehicles on the road heading south were military. I am pretty sure you couldn't
get south unless you were military, but I did not see the media, just humvees and tanks
rolling south. No questions asked, don't know what the plan was, but it was heartening to
see. For the first time that I could remember, radio transmissions continued out of Miami
for the duration of the storm.
Also, during every hurricane I could remember, we had shelters open for those who could
not evacuate. Stocked and prepared for the evacuees would could not and would not leave
until the last minute. It appears that New Orleans had done numerous studies on evacuating the
area, and had some indication of those who might not get out of the city. No excuses.
But ultimately, our local government depended heavily on and worked extremely closely with
FEMA. To me, ultimately, and at it's most base level, what you need the federal government
to do are the things the local and state governments cannot and/or will not do for
themselves. From everything to civil rights to civil engineering, that is the federal
government's job. While you may argue abortion, Jim Crow laws, what is not up for debate
is emergency management. We have said that Homeland Security is open season. Want to tap
our phones? Go ahead, it's for our protection. Want to profile us for flights? Know
what books we check out of the library? OK, just keep us safe. And how do they respond?
By politicizing the position for the head of FEMA (Hey Brown, how about those Arabian
horses? How did THAT job go?) and rolling it into - read make it subordinate to - the
Homeland Security guy. Who quite frankly gives me the creeps, as he reminds me of one of
my Poli Sci professors who was a complete lech. But I digress.
I am mad as hell over this.
I used to date a guy who was in charge of the 911 call center. (He has since been
promoted, and now I believe runs the county emergency management center, which is a big
job in a south florida, atlantic-side coastal town). His mantra was, even back then, not
what to do IF a cat 4 or 5 storm hits, but WHEN it hits. I actually got to participate in
a disaster recovery plan, and got to be a wounded victim - I might even have been a dead
body, I don't remember - but it was my one and only ride in an ambulance. Last year, in
2004, NO had a $250,000 mock scenario of a cat 5 hurricane. Where are the results from
that? All I have heard on the news is that they were working the bugs out. Ouch. And
our local management team? Down to earth, tough-love guys is how I remember. It was all
about the body count. No body count if possible, or mitigating it if possible. At the
time, I thought they were unrealistically harsh. Now, um, not so much. Our FEMA (Florida Emergency Management Association) guys were negative nellies. Always doomsday guys. And they should be. Not politicians. Not appointees with only a legal background to make them qualified. I remember a guy named Neil Frank (now Dr. Frank) who was head of our hurricane center. (Wanna read about someone interesting? Google Neil Frank hurricane center...) Had a crew cut and a no-nonsense approach to storms. He was our hero, and except for stupid yankees who had never been thru a hurricane and saw it as 1. an inconvenience 2. a chance to drink heavily - most folks respected him. It is a thankless job, because there ARE a lot of false starts. A lot of scaring people who may not be in harms way. But the alternative seems to be to be a nice, likeable guy and let the body count begin.
OK, maybe Neil Frank (or someone equally qualified) would have been unable to do the job required to save lives. But here's the thing. Doesn't our Commander in Chief have a mandate to put the best person for the job in the FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT position? This should be a non-partisan position, for God's sake. Even Ayn Rand must be spinning in her grave.
Sidebar - coastal cities continue to grow. The predicted population ratio (by both liberals and conservatives alike) is that 90% of our country will live on the coasts. Don't know if this includes the Mississippi Delta, but it doesn't matter. What this means is that the most volatile real estate will be the most populated. So emergency management becomes more important. And if you want to protect your own, damn imperative.
2 DAYS! In two fucking days we were airlifting food to tsunami victims across the world. It is Sunday, and still, 7 fucking, God-damned days later, the city of New Orleans is not evacuated. Better to be an expat in Indonesia than someone who cleared your dishes in New Orleans. Shameful. Disgraceful. Bush should resign out of shame. Because where, oh where, does the buck stop anymore? Have we become so familiar with the Teflon Presidency that we roll over and play dead when our politicians disappoint? Micheal Brown said we have never seen devastation of this magnitude before. Oh, sure we have. It has not been on our shores, and still, still we responded more quickly. So bite me, Michael Brown. You are a moron.
Michael Brown, the paper-pusher. Still sucks at his job. There are reports as of May 2005 of failure of payment to Florida counties for FEMA PROMISED money. So New Orleans, get ready to get fucked yet again. The feds promised a 90% reimbursement policy for storm cleanup and rebuild, (usual is 75%, 5% to the state, the balance 20% to be paid by the local governments) so don't think that the precedent is for the feds to pick up the entire tab...), but that has been delayed, and counties in FL are paying interest on the loans necessary to make these areas habitable. Your tax dollars at work. But hey, photo ops abound.
Florida has made her share of mistakes with hurricanes. But if I recall correctly, we also had an old-fashioned evacuation plan - drive around with a bullhorn and notify. Pick up those who could not evacuate, but wanted to. It was a fairly affluent community, but what we had (and still have) is a disproportionate amount of old people. So after Hutchinson Island had been evacuated, they would drive thru, with bullhorns if necessary, looking for folks who couldn't leave. Would this have saved lives? My guess is yes. Is New Orleans capable of such a sweep? Don't know, but would have been worth a shot. Remember the body count. Because my theory is that we are not being told the initial body count because it would pale in comparison with the body count post-levee busting. And that would be too much for the American public to bear. And for what reason? Nothing can be done now. Not for those folks who were living for the first 2, 3 days. Even day 4,5. But to die day six? Too horrific to imagine.
Looters - define for me please. I love how our government has decided that getting looters out of the way is higher priority than feeding fucking people. During Hurricane Andrew, the National Guard (or someone, maybe MacDill?) was there the first day. And with minimal supplies. You wait, and are good citizens, for how long? What I think is funny is that folks are castigating New Orleanians for firing on helicopters 5 days after Katrina made landfall. Nothing, nothing did they get. No direction, ho help, no evacuation. Now, I have a temper. Would I have fired on a military helicopter 5 days after the fact? Don't know. Never had to be a looter to feed my kids. You stand in lines. You go to the Convention Center because it is a pick up point, as per the nice policeman on the corner. You get there, and nothing. 3-4 days, and nothing. You think the south is some sort of anomaly? Put this in NY, in the bronx. And tell me how many rapes, deaths would be attributed to rioters. Cluster fuck beyond compare. We are just lucky it happened in the south, where folks expect this kind of treatment.
So, I guess the upshot is this... I hold Bush accountable. Cronyism is tolerable when
it's for something like an ambassadorship to a country we have no trouble with, and
communicate openly with... - who is the ambassador to Canada, anyway? - but for Emergency
Management, it is criminal. Watch the body count for Katrina....