Break Down In Procedures

The national response plan, as I have stated, is designed to provide support to state and local officials when there is a catastrophe such as Katrina. Every drill that I have been involved in involves local law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical services taking charge of their territory and then follow on support from the federal government, if requested, comes in around 72 hours post incident. In addition to the logistics involved in such operations the government must be constantly aware of the legal issues involved in federal responses to state jurisdictions.

Regardless of the problems associated with Katrina, the federal plan was executed based upon the model that has been used for all planning and training. In the aftermath of Katrina the problems arose because a vital link in the plan failed. Local emergency responders were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the catastrophe and many of them and their families were victims. The federal government offered to take charge and this was rejected by the state governor. She requested military forces but there are laws against using them for certain operations such as law enforcement. She would allow the active forces in but they would have to be sworn into the LA guard first. This is an unacceptable solution and probably not legal. Be that as it may, the break down in the plan occurred because the models never took into account that emergency responders at the local level would not be able to sustain operations.

This is a problem on many levels both state and federal. Local officials are reluctant to admit that they will lose control or their territories and emergency responders generally believe in what they do and that they will be there to protect and serve. I can only believe that the possibility that emergency responders would be unavailable or rendered ineffective has never been addressed, or at least not seriously, when planners modeled responses. This starts at the local level but when the plans are reviewed by others one would think that someone would have recognized this possibility. Federal officials model based upon local plans and do not tell local jurisdictions how to operate. When I plan I play the “What if game” and I ask a lot of what if questions to see if all bases are covered. It is beyond me how someone at either the local or federal level never asked “What if the local emergency responders, or some portion of them are rendered ineffective for one reason or another?” This question would have opened a new avenue for modeling and might have allowed planners at all levels to design a more effective response in the kind of catastrophe as presented by Katrina. One would also think that after 9/11, given the number of first responders killed, this would be considered.

There are many items to look at and the time for that will come. Right now we, as a country, need to focus our attention on helping our fellow citizens recover from this disaster. Congress and federal planners need to look at lessons learned and determine better ways to model responses. The situation with military control needs to be addressed so that state governors are not reluctant to accept help. While I believe that Governor Blanco panicked and did not have a clue as to what she should do I believe that her ego and pride prevented her from stepping aside and allowing the federal government to take control. The feds will take heat but they were between that rock and hard place. They allowed the governor, as the law dictates, to run her show and now they are taking heat. If the feds had taken charge under the Insurrection Act the political fall out would have been tremendous. It is a shame that political considerations must come into play but given the way this entire episode has been politicized it is an understandable evil. The left would have been all over it if the President seized control of a state with a female democratic governor and they would have made a great big deal out of it. They, of course, are making a big deal out of the fact that this very thing did not happen.

The law is the law and the feds have to be careful how they manage emergencies so that they stay within the legal boundaries of the Constitution. Governors, and any leader for that matter, need to know when to punt. In the Army they say Lead, Follow, or get out of the way. That is probably an approach governor Blanco would do well to take. Planners would be wise to adopt a “what if” approach and local emergency responders should recognize their potential weaknesses. As I stated, there will be plenty of time to review all of this in the future but consideration of these things is an absolute must.

Political Issues Snarled Plan
Greater use of troops.

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One Response to “Break Down In Procedures”

  1. N. Mallory says:

    Very well-written.