Sunday, September 04, 2005

Reality check

I heard Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff's remarks on the radio today and they left me fuming since I had read plenty of reports in the past few days that indicated that what he just said was: at best, splitting hairs; most likely, incompetent; and at worst, lying.

I was hoping someone would call him on his statements and it looks like CNN has done just that.
Chertoff: "And I will tell you that, really, that perfect storm of combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight"

CNN: "Reuters reported that in 2004, more than 40 state, local and volunteer organizations practiced a scenario in which a massive hurricane struck and levees were breached, allowing water to flood New Orleans. Under the simulation, called "Hurricane Pam," the officials "had to deal with an imaginary storm that destroyed more than half a million buildings in New Orleans and forced the evacuation of a million residents," the Reuters report said.

In 2002 the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a five-part series exploring the vulnerability of the city. The newspaper, and other news media as well, specifically addressed the possibility of massive floods drowning residents, destroying homes and releasing toxic chemicals throughout the city. (Read: "Times-Picayune" Special Report: Washing away)

Scientists long have discussed this possibility as a sort of doomsday scenario."

Chertoff: "It wasn't until comparatively late, shortly before -- a day, maybe a day and a half, before landfall -- that it became clear that this was going to be a Category 4 or 5 hurricane headed for the New Orleans area."

CNN: "As far back as Friday, August 26, the National Hurricane Center was predicting the storm could be a Category 4 hurricane at landfall, with New Orleans directly in its path. Still, storms do change paths, so the possibility existed that it might not hit the city.

But the National Weather Service prediction proved almost perfect."
There has been considerable criticism of the President's administration and its handling of this situation. Some have tried to say that this is not the time, that we must come together and rally to help the victims. The second half of that is fine, individuals and organizations have been hard at work since Tuesday trying to lend a hand.

The first part is the problem.

The DHS and, as a subsidiary of DHS, FEMA have had years to prepare for a city-busting disaster. The New Orleans scenario, in fact, should have been the easiest of the potential causes of a disaster of this size. Journalists, scientists and professional planners have been predicting this for years and yet it took days to see real action.

There are reports going around that improper paperwork was the problem, that there were regulations that needed to be cleared. I am not an expert in government administration, but I would suspect that if someone had actually read the reports stating that the worst-case scenario was potentially going to happen, that the wheels would have been in motion.

I would like to think that the President was at least watching the Weather Channel like most people last weekend and thought to himself, I better make sure my people are prepared for this. It would appear that is not what happened.

I think a phone call from the President would have been plenty to get any and all paperwork cleared in record time.

- Murphy

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