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September 09, 2005

Reporting out on Katrina.

First up - this from our man in the Defense Coordinating Element in Mississppi:

For something somewhat off the subject, but I must clarify: I was not commanding that BFIST, it was ONE of my BFISTs. I think what I said was: "Funny thing is that Goblins picture is actually one of my M7 BFIST during OIF. If you look closely, the bumper number says 1-10 F as in 1st BN, 10th FA, 3 BDE, 3 ID, Ft. Benning GA" Sorry for the confusion, I owned the BFIST in that I was the Battery Commander. The actually track commander was LT Jackson, and I would never want to take credit away from any of my soldiers.

Still, great things going on here in MS and things are getting better each day. I have an interesting story about the Politics of this whole thing... NORTHCOM asked us if we in MS needed the USS Comfort (Hospital Ship) for any patients. After getting with FEMA, MEMA, and the MSNG it was determined that MS currently had enough hospital bed space and had other hospitals coming up on-line with-in a couple of days. The effort to get electricity restored is truly heroic. So we decided that it would be better if the Comfort moved on to LA, specifically N.O. Well we ended up getting calls earlier this evening from Navy Admirals and NORTHCOM asking us to clarify our positions, because SEN Lott had promised that the Comfort would be there in a news conference. In the mean time we have a Carnival Cruise Ship due in in two days to take on a bunch of homeless. But because of the damaged dock space there is no way we can hold both the Comfort and the Cruise Ship. So now we're jumping
through our butt to dock the USS Comfort for one day then have it move on to N.O. just to satisfy the promise of a Senator. Oh, I just love it when politics and the military mix.

But, other than that little snafu, things are getting better and better. Thanks for all of your support.

Then comes these two articles. First, from the NYT:

September 9, 2005 Political Issues Snarled Plans for Troop Aid By ERIC LIPTON, ERIC SCHMITT and THOM SHANKER WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 - As New Orleans descended into chaos last week and Louisiana's governor asked for 40,000 soldiers, President Bush's senior advisers debated whether the president should speed the arrival of active-duty troops by seizing control of the hurricane relief mission from the governor.

For reasons of practicality and politics, officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon, and then at the White House, decided not to urge Mr. Bush to take command of the effort. Instead, the Washington officials decided to rely on the growing number of National Guard personnel flowing into Louisiana, who were under Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's control.

The debate began after officials realized that Hurricane Katrina had exposed a critical flaw in the national disaster response plans created after the Sept. 11 attacks. According to the administration's senior domestic security officials, the plan failed to recognize that local police, fire and medical personnel might be incapacitated.

As criticism of the response to Hurricane Katrina has mounted, one of the most pointed questions has been why more troops were not available more quickly to restore order and offer aid. Interviews with officials in Washington and Louisiana show that as the situation grew worse, they were wrangling with questions of federal/state authority, weighing the realities of military logistics and perhaps talking past each other in the crisis.

To seize control of the mission, Mr. Bush would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows the president in times of unrest to command active-duty forces into the states to perform law enforcement duties. But decision makers in Washington felt certain that Ms. Blanco would have resisted surrendering control, as Bush administration officials believe would have been required to deploy active-duty combat forces before law and order had been re-established.

While combat troops can conduct relief missions without the legal authority of the Insurrection Act, Pentagon and military officials say that no active-duty forces could have been sent into the chaos of New Orleans on Wednesday or Thursday without confronting law-and-order challenges.

But just as important to the administration were worries about the message that would have been sent by a president ousting a Southern governor of another party from command of her National Guard, according to administration, Pentagon and Justice Department officials. [italics mine]

The whole article is available here.

It's been asked around water coolers and in the blogs, and among the punditocracy... what would the pols be saying *if* Bush had done this?

Frankly, I honestly suspect the current vitriol aimed at the President might well be worse than it already is... because we wouldn't now know how botched and state authorities were in their ability to command and control. And while I can easily cut NOLA some slack on that issue - I have none for the State.

There is another article, this one in the Washington Post: Some Urge Greater Use of Troops in Major Disasters

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 9, 2005; A15

The breakdown of local and state agencies that tried to respond to Hurricane Katrina has spurred fresh debate about whether disasters of such magnitude ought to be turned over to the U.S. military and other federal authorities to manage at the outset.

National plans developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks rest on the notion that police, fire and other emergency groups are best positioned to serve as first responders. Federal agencies are supposed to function as backup to state and local ones, and military forces are meant to play a largely supporting role to civilian authorities. [italics mine]

But Katrina showed what can happen when the foundation of this organizational structure is quickly overwhelmed and disintegrates, according to government officials and independent analysts.

That whole article is available here. You should read both in their entirety.

I'd like to note that the planning assumptions contained in the italicized paragraph WERE THE PLANNING ASSUMPTIONS FOR PLANNING PRIOR TO 9/11 as well. In other words, under every administration since the establishment of a Federal Response Plan, back in the 70's. The only plans that have the Federal Government in charge from day one are the Garden Plot plans, which were nuclear war plans, and would have been implemented if a nuclear strike hit the US, or if the President invoked the Insurrection Act.

In short - while we can still talk about eaches in the Federal response, this is, at root, a political problem. That both sides are responsible for. Not just President Bush, or "The Republicans". Because Democrats accepted the same planning assumptions.

Now the parties have to get together and fix it. It may well be appropriate for the Feds to take over from day one - but if that decision isn't predicated on a request from the state governor, then the whole concept of Federalism and states sovereignty will have to be dumped. And *that* represents a fundamental change in US governing principles, which should be long and hotly debated.

As I read through this - while I think NOLA screwed the pooch, they were hip-deep in water while they did it.

More and more, my jaundiced eye is looking at the Louisiana State government, especially it's Department of Homeland Security, as being damn near criminally negligent in the performance of their duties - and with the leading elements of the Federal response (to include the President) as being insufficiently sensitive to that fact.

Last, but not least... foreign aid is coming in. Click the first pic for the updated Katrina Military Response album.

The Canadians:

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HS2005-0688-01 06 Sept 2005 Departure of HMCS Athabaskan, Ville De Quebec, and Toronto. The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir William Alexander will also accompany the Canadian Navy ships. The ships departed from Halifax for the U.S. Gulf Coast for Operation UNISON, the humanitarian assistance mission being provided to the victims of hurricane Katrina.

Photographer: Pte Jodie Cavicchi, Formation Imaging Services Halifax

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HS2005-0686-02 06 Sept 2005 CFB Halifax

HMCS Athabaskan heads out of Halifax harbour accompanied by a Sea King helicopter. HMCS Toronto, along with HMCS Athabaskan, HMCS Ville De Quebec and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir William Alexander, will depart with over 1000 personnel from Joint Task Force (Atlantic) in support of Operation UNISON, which will provide humanitarian aid to the areas in the Gulf of Mexico affected by hurricane Katrina.

Please Credit: Cpl Halina Folfas, Formation Imaging Services, Halifax, NS

Alan of GenX@40 has thoughts to add regarding the Canadians...

"Ahh, the ships. I even know the exact spot the photos were taken from in my old hom town (Halifax, NS) not unironically the most ravaged by hurricane Juan in 2003 year that decimated the forest park called Point Pleasant. The park acted as a buffer saving much property and, of course, there was no flooding:

So it is not without significance that Haligonians are going."

The Germans:

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John | Permalink | Comments (8) | Hurricane Katrina
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