God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen - Jars of Clay - listen now

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

SOMEBODY F'D UP

And Bob Williams at the Wall Street Journal has a good idea who. As I said earlier, local and state governments are the first line of defense (after oneself of course) in a disaster, natural or otherwise. The federal government, as stated in the FEMA guidelines, moves in to help coordinate no earlier that two to three days later.

Many in the media are turning their eyes toward the federal government, rather than considering the culpability of city and state officials. I am fully aware of the challenges of having a quick and responsive emergency response to a major disaster. And there is definitely a time for accountability; but what isn't fair is to dump on the federal officials and avoid those most responsible--local and state officials who failed to do their job as the first responders. The plain fact is, lives were needlessly lost in New Orleans due to the failure of Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, and the city's mayor, Ray Nagin.

The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and his emergency operations center.

In the case of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana, they didn't even implement their own emergency plans in the first place, so how can they accuse anyone else of failing them.

They knew full well what to expect. Every report and contingency plan showed exactly what would happen - and we saw it live and in living color over the last two weeks. They even had a 'dry run' so to speak with Hurricane Ivan last year. The exact same ineptitude hampered the response to Ivan as well - they just got lucky and missed getting a direct hit.

The result of Blanco's and Nagin's playing politics and failure to act resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. Not that there isn't sufficient blame for every level of government - we just need to remain clear on where the core of the problem lies.

I am not attempting to excuse some of the delays in FEMA's response. Congress and the president need to take corrective action there, also. However, if citizens expect FEMA to be a first responder to terrorist attacks or other local emergencies (earthquakes, forest fires, volcanoes), they will be disappointed. The federal government's role is to offer aid upon request.

The Louisiana Legislature should conduct an immediate investigation into the failures of state and local officials to implement the written emergency plans. The tragedy is not over, and real leadership in the state and local government are essential in the months to come. More importantly, the hurricane season is still upon us, and local and state officials must stay focused on the jobs for which they were elected--and not on the deadly game of passing the emergency buck.

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