Interesting comments from an email to Jonah:
I am seeing and reading all the commentary about the "slow" Federal response to Katrina and, perhaps its my background as a military logistician (retired now for a number of years), but I'd like to offer a few observations. As we say in the military, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. We plan, pre-position and prepare and then have to adapt to the chaos of battle Clausewitz dubbed the "fog of war." While the shameless mayor of New Orleans sounds off like an aggrieved pimp on the radio, a military operation, involving both Guard and active duty, that dwarfs our invasion of Panama has been gathering and underway since Tuesday. I saw the first alert orders go out Tuesday. (The President, BTW, issued disaster emergency declarations even before Katrina made landfall.) The first order of business for any operation, relief or military, is assess needs, routes of ingress and egress, etc. We're looking at a disaster area covering 90,000 square miles--this is not just New Orleans. Moving the right supplies and people to the right area in the right order is complex, even with a fully functioning communications net and an intact road network. Here we are, 96 hours after landfall, and thousands of troops, tons and tons of supplies, and a fleet of warships are there or due to arrive shortly. This is no small feat.
It should be noted that Gov Blanco was slow to ramp up the LA Guard--you don't simply call a Guardsman and tell him to report in two hours. By law, they can take as much as 72 hours to report so that they can get their affairs in order. If they show up sooner, great, but the point is, while all media--and some at the Corner--obsess over the Fed's performance, the flaccid response of local and state authorities in Louisiana made a daunting task even tougher. The Guard and military, for example, rely on local authorities to provide some idea of where victims are, and, as we have heard, Nagin's office didn't bother telling FEMA that Nagin had directed people to the NO Convention Center. Likewise, CSAR and medical units are not combat outfits. Having to bring in more troops to quell the animalistic behavior of some (and that behavior, BTW, broke out before the rains even stopped, though Blanco and Nagin didn't seem to care) means the flow of supplies and evacuees is slowed.
In any event, I hear a lot of people talking about the unprecedented scope and scale of the disaster, and, in the next breath, wonder what's taking so long. There is always room for improvement and this is not to say the Feds shouldn't take their share of knocks, but I've spoken with a number of military officers from other nations, including Third World states, who are studying here, and they are bemused by the spectacle of hand wringing and media panic.
As the subject line says, just my two cents' worth.
- 1) I think no one in the area ever thought that a storm of this magnitude would ever really strike New Orleans. A friend of mine at Tulane usually rode these storms out by opening his front door and sipping bourbon while watching the waves of rain pass. Fortunately he did not stay this time. The problem with planning is the same as the problem with flood control that I wrote to you about yesterday. There are simply too many competing agencies asking for the same dollars and jealously guarding their political turf. More importantly, no one anticipated the complete social breakdown that has occurred among those who refused or were unable to evacuate. The breakdown appears to be the culmination of decades of weak, at best, law enforcement with Orleans Parish that looked the other way at a lot of the crime that occurred in areas like the Ninth Ward, because the officers themselves were scared to go into many of the housing projects. Also, until within the last ten years the state police were not allowed by the city government to operate within the parish (the city's boundary is contiguous with the parish boundary). Some of this goes back to when Huey Long amended the state constitution to take control of the city from the elected city government; most, unfortunately, is the result of much more recent corruption (witness the recent indictments of many close aides, including family members, of the administration of former mayor Marc Morial). There were rumors flooding the state yesterday (Thursday) that the unrest and looting had spread to Baton Rouge and Lafayette, where many of the refugees who fled prior to the storm were located. I even received a forwarded email written by a Rapides Parish Sheriff's deputy (the parish I live in) that warned about the flood of refugees heading our way from the Ninth Ward and to be prepared for anything. The rumors were false, and the Sheriff has said to disregard the email; it was unofficial and the sender will be dealt with when the Sheriff returns (he spent the day in New Orleans observing the deputies he sent to aid in rescue efforts.
2) People outside of New Orleans had high hopes when Nagin was elected. He was not a part of the competing political machines in the city. His background was as an executive in a cable company. He has done a good job at ferreting out corruption and trying to change the system, but he had not been able to really change the culture of the police force. When he took office the New Orleans Police Department had only just quit accepting convicted felons as officers. Unfortunately, he appears to have been overwhelmed by the force of events and the complete loss of the city's infrastructure. After 9/11 New York City, outside of Lower Manhattan, still had all of the basic city services; New Orleans as of Monday afternoon essentially had none, and neither he nor the governor exhibit the leadership needed. I was never a fan of the former governor Mike Foster, never voted for him, but I want him back. He would have taken his own boat to New Orleans and personally arrested the looters on Monday, shooting those that ignored him. That may sound callous, but it is what is needed. Governor Blanco this morning finally realized that, declaring war on the looters. That should have been done Monday afternoon.
Sorry this is so long, but in Louisiana there are no quick easy answers, due to the nature of politics here. I hope this was helpful.