Monday, September 05, 2005

Local vs. Federal [Updated]

In some corners, I hear people saying "Doesn't the primary blame for inept response fall on the local authorities?"

While it's a perfectly reasonable question, I think it fails to understand how "disasters" are defined in terms of designated response roles.

The National Response Plan defines "catastrophic events" as follows:

The NRP establishes policies, procedures, and mechanisms for proactive Federal response to catastrophic events. A catastrophic event is any natural or manmade incident, including terrorism, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions. A catastrophic event could result in sustained national impacts over a prolonged period of time; almost immediately exceeds resources normally available to State, local, tribal, and private-sector authorities in the impacted area; and significantly interrupts governmental operations and emergency services to such an extent that national security could be threatened. All catastrophic events are Incidents of National Significance.

It seems clear to me that events like Hurricane Katrina qualify as "catastrophic" and therefore, become the primary responsibility of the federal government.

This, by the way, is authored by Department of Homeland Security, and signed by Bush in 2004.

Thanks to MFL.

The Los Angeles Times weighs in on the withering of FEMA and lays it out plainly:

"The moment the president declared a federal disaster, it became a federal responsibility…. The federal government took ownership over the response," she said. Bush declared a disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi when the storm hit a week ago.

And LAT's columist Michael Hiltzik voices similar sentiment:

This deplorable performance has deep roots. Joe M. Allbaugh, a Bush campaign hack without any crisis management experience who was named director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, disparaged federal disaster assistance as "an oversized entitlement program" before Congress in 2001. The public's expectations of government in a disaster situation, he said, "may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level." He advised stricken communities to rely for help on "faith-based organizations … like the Salvation Army and the Mennonite Disaster Service."

If Allbaugh were not an amateur, he would have known that communities, "faith-based organizations" and the private sector become overwhelmed by disasters more modest than this one. In a crisis the federal government should be the first responder, not the last, to take charge, not wait to be asked.

Hat tip to reader Geo Chick for the LAT leads.


Geo_Chick said...

When you have politicos making decisions instead of professionals, you end up with a lot of people sitting around afraid to take any action for fear of being the one to blame if it goes wrong. It is clear that it does take a pro to do the job right. In the process of making FEMA part of Homeland Security and deciding security is their main priority they failed at both security and emergency management. But hey, some buddies of Bush got cushy jobs, till that darn hurricane came along and messed everything up.

les said...

At least they are consistent; FEMA's website lists a Pat Robinson (allegedly corrupt) foundation prominently as a good place to send donations.