Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Local Control in Theory and Practice

In the September 11 edition of The New York Times is an interesting early description of the mess that was Louisiana and FEMA’s response to hurricane Katrina.

If the article’s description turns out to be correct, it appears that the biggest flaw was the failure of the federal authorities to recognize in the first couple of days just how completely the Louisiana authorities had lost the ability to respond.

FEMA personnel expected the state and local authorities to assess the situation, figure out what they needed, and request what they didn’t have.

Neither Louisiana’s state government nor New Orleans' government could do that:

The official autopsies of the flawed response to the catastrophic storm have already begun in Washington, and may offer lessons for dealing with a terrorist attack or even another hurricane this season. But an initial examination of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath demonstrates the extent to which the federal government failed to fulfill the pledge it made after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to face domestic threats as a unified, seamless force.

Instead, the crisis in New Orleans deepened because of a virtual standoff between hesitant federal officials and besieged authorities in Louisiana, interviews with dozens of officials show.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials expected the state and city to direct their own efforts and ask for help as needed. Leaders in Louisiana and New Orleans, though, were so overwhelmed by the scale of the storm that they were not only unable to manage the crisis, but they were not always exactly sure what they needed. While local officials assumed that Washington would provide rapid and considerable aid, federal officials, weighing legalities and logistics, proceeded at a deliberate pace.

If this paragraph is correct, FEMA at some time in the past took more of a leadership role in coordinating the response.

The power-sharing arrangement was by design, and as the days wore on, it would prove disastrous. Under the Bush administration, FEMA redefined its role, offering assistance but remaining subordinate to state and local governments. "Our typical role is to work with the state in support of local and state agencies," said David Passey, a FEMA spokesman.

If there was a change to a policy of responding to state and local requests rather than taking the initiative, that ought to be examined closely to see what they thought would be accomplished – and whether they now think it was.


Blogger cc said...

It is appalling that so many people are so quick to blame the federal government. Why are so many people so willing to rely on the federal government for anything?

We farmed for 15 years. We jumped through the government hoops. We planted what they said we could, when they said we could. We were dependent on those nice big fat government payments for survival. We got out, thankfully, with at least the shirts on our back and a nice chunk of change to build a house and start over. I told myself then, I would never again rely on the government for anything.

I read that severe weather advisory and it sent chills up my spine. These people did not believe it. They made the choice to stay.

As far as I am concerned, the federal government responded as soon as they realized the catastrophic nature of this disaster. Had the governor and mayor quit their bickering, this would never have happened. For anyone to blame the federal government for this catastrophe is delusional. If we should happen to have a terrorist attack here in Whitman County, federal, state, or local, are the very last places I will look to for help.

September 13, 2005 11:10 PM  
Blogger Micajah said...

I agree that the local, state, and federal governments aren't the first places to look for help after a disaster occurs -- but they are the second or third place to go for help (the federal government being the last in order).

We -- as individuals, families, and neighbors -- have to rely on ourselves during the early going; but few people can respond and recover from a major disaster without assistance from what remains of organized government.

September 15, 2005 4:12 PM  
Blogger cc said...

..."but few people can respond and recover from a major disaster without assistance from what remains of organized government."

I know.

September 19, 2005 6:17 PM  

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