Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 14, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

MICHAEL CHERTOFF WATCH....Knight Ridder is now suggesting that DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff was as responsible as FEMA chief Mike Brown for the slow response to Hurricane Katrina. In fact, maybe more so:

Chertoff not Brown was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan....But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department.

"As you know, the President has established the 'White House Task Force on Hurricane Katrina Response.' He will meet with us tomorrow to launch this effort. The Department of Homeland Security, along with other Departments, will be part of the task force and will assist the Administration with its response to Hurricane Katrina," Chertoff said in the memo to the secretaries of defense, health and human services and other key federal agencies.

.... White House and homeland security officials wouldn't explain why Chertoff waited some 36 hours to declare Katrina an incident of national significance and why he didn't immediately begin to direct the federal response from the moment on Aug. 27 when the National Hurricane Center predicted that Katrina would strike the Gulf Coast with catastrophic force in 48 hours. Nor would they explain why Bush felt the need to appoint a separate task force.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this, but it jibes with the Wall Street Journal's summary of FEMA's confusion, including this description of the mysterious bus fiasco:

FEMA's official requests, known as tasking assignments and used by the agency to demand help from other government agencies, show that it first asked the Department of Transportation to look for buses to help evacuate the more than 20,000 people who had taken refuge at the Superdome in New Orleans at 1:45 a.m. on Aug. 31. At the time, it only asked for 455 buses....

FEMA ended up modifying the number of buses it thought it needed to get the job done, until it settled on a final request of 1,355 buses at 8:05 p.m. on Sept. 3. The buses, though, trickled into New Orleans, with only a dozen or so arriving on the first day.

So FEMA didn't request any buses at all until two days after the hurricane hit, then puttered around a bit, and finally settled on a firm number on Saturday. Saturday?

I don't know if the state of Louisiana was primarily responsible for buses or not, but even if they were, how could it have taken until Saturday for FEMA to finally figure out what was going on and how many buses it needed?

Kevin Drum 1:57 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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