September 5, 2005 /

A Further Look Into What Went Wrong

Further reading into the 426 pages that make up the National Response Plan (NRP) put out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), I uncovered a few more interesting facts. First it mandates that the DHS The Homeland Security Act of 2002 established DHS to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States; reduce the vulnerability […]

Further reading into the 426 pages that make up the
National Response Plan (NRP) put out by the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS), I uncovered a few more interesting facts.

First it mandates that the DHS

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 established DHS to
prevent terrorist attacks within the United States; reduce the vulnerability of
the United States to terrorism, natural disasters, and other emergencies; and
minimize the damage and assist in the recovery from terrorist attacks, natural
disasters, and other emergencies. The act also designates DHS as “a focal point
regarding natural and manmade crises and emergency planning.”

The last sentence is of particular interest here. Constant
blame is given to the state and local authorities for their lack of planning in
this crisis, however, per the DHS’s own NRP; they are the “focal” point of
planning. Kind of like blaming the student when the teacher fails.

Further into the plan, it calls for a pro-active role for
DHS. This is what the proactive roll calls for:

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

This highlights the fact that the DHS has immediate
resources that exceeds those available to state and local. The hurricane
certainly falls into the criteria of this pro-active roll.

Communication has been a critical component in this
disaster. One thing in particular stands out in the NPR in regards to the
Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC):

The HSOC also monitors nonterrorist hazards and accidents,
and receives reports from various operations centers, such as the FOC regarding
natural hazards (severe storms, floods, etc.) and the National Response
Center regarding oil spills and hazardous materials releases. When notified of a
hazard or an incident with possible national-level implications, the HSOC
assesses the situation and notifies the Secretary of Homeland Security
accordingly. Based on the information, the Secretary of Homeland Security
determines the need for activation of NRP elements. The HSOC coordinates with other departments and agencies regarding further field
investigation, as required.

While Secretary Chertoff continues to attest to the fact
they were unaware of the magnitude of the disaster in the Gulf, the HSOC
apparently failed at the monitoring of the situation (something as simple as
watching CNN).

I brought these points up to compliment my
early post about
the failures under the Critical Incident Annex that addresses a disaster such as
the one in the Gulf Coast specifically. Also,
MSNBC has a particularly
interesting article entitled “The Lost City”. The article talks about how the
Bush administration hesitated to send aide while the lawyers argued over who had
what authority.

Washington, too, was slow to react to the crisis. The
Pentagon, under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was reluctant for the
military to take a lead role in disaster relief, a job traditionally performed
by FEMA and by the National Guard, which is commanded by state governors.
President Bush could have “federalized” the National Guard in an instant. That’s
what his father, President George H.W. Bush, did after the Los Angeles riots in
1992. Back then, the Justice Department sent Robert Mueller, a jut-jawed
ex-Marine (who is now FBI director), to take charge, showing, in effect, that
the cavalry had arrived. FEMA’s current head, Michael Brown, has appeared over
his head and even a little clueless in news interviews. He is far from the sort
of take-charge presence New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani conveyed after 9/11.

Up to now, the Bush administration has not hesitated to
sweep aside the opinions of lawyers on such matters as prisoners’ rights. But
after Katrina, a strange paralysis set in. For days, Bush’s top advisers argued
over legal niceties about who was in charge, according to three White House
officials who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the
negotiations. Beginning early in the week, Justice Department lawyers presented
arguments for federalizing the Guard, but Defense Department lawyers fretted
about untrained 19-year-olds trying to enforce local laws, according to a senior
law-enforcement official who requested anonymity citing the delicate nature of
the discussions.

This is extremely troubling to any citizen of the United
States. In a post 9-11 world, we are found to still be drowning by bureaucratic
red tape while lives are being loss. DHS was set up to eliminate a majority of
this red tape and apparently it has failed. Do you really think Bush would be
under fire right now if he acted too quickly?

The harshest of realities we have met in this last week is
a sense of vulnerability. We were told that our country was going to be prepared
to respond to terrorist attacks swiftly and without delay. What happened in the
Gulf Coast is very similar to a terrorist attack. That swift response was not
there. Since the World Trade Towers went down, our leaders have had a biased
line of sight on terrorism. Terrorist attacks are something we must always live
with and will always occur. The frequency in which they occur on U.S. soil is
far less than the frequency in which natural disasters occur. While we must be
prepared for a terrorist attack, we must be more so prepared for a natural
disaster. Our leaders can not go one turning a blind eye to mother nature or we
will loose far more lives.


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