I am not sure how I came across this editorial by Jack Kelly, a columnist whose work I don't previously recall reading. I am not sure whether he is being intentionally misleading, or if he simply doesn't grasp the issues. Kelly complains,
It is settled wisdom among journalists that the federal response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was unconscionably slow.So the National Guard met its "standard timeline" once deployed? Does that mean that no criticism can be made that the "standard timeline" is inadequate, or that deployment should have occurred at an earlier time? Does that mean that no criticism can be made of other failures - after all, it was not only the National Guard which had a duty to respond to the crisis, and it seems to be beyond quesiton that DHS and FEMA fell down on the job.
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But the conventional wisdom is the opposite of the truth.
Jason van Steenwyk is a Florida Army National Guardsman who has been mobilized six times for hurricane relief. He notes that:
"The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne."
Journalists who are long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines are down, telecommunications are out, no gasoline is available, bridges are damaged, roads and airports are covered with debris, and apparently have little interest in finding out.Fortunately for them, Jack Kelly is here to... well, fail to explain the logistics, or why deployment could not have been more efficient. It is even possible to question all of that without disputing that the Guard did a good job once deployed. But apparently Kelly is here to score rhetorical points, not points of fact. And as if I needed more evidence of that:
So they libel as a "national disgrace" the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history.
Journalists complain that it took a whole week to [accomplish a significant rescue effort]. A former Air Force logistics officer had some words of advice for us in the Fourth Estate on his blog, Moltenthought:What is more telling? That Kelly sought out Moltenthought's blog as a source, or that he thought that particular stupid insult was so clever and insightful as to merit repetition in a newspaper column?"We do not yet have teleporter or replicator technology like you saw on 'Star Trek' in college between hookah hits and waiting to pick up your worthless communications degree while the grown-ups actually engaged in the recovery effort were studying engineering.
Exhibit A on the bill of indictment of federal sluggishness is that it took four days before most people were evacuated from the Louisiana Superdome.I'm not going to defend the local response in any number of respects. For example, the declaration of the Superdome as a point for people to seek refuge was made without any advance provision for food, water, or sanitation. But last I heard, there were not great lines of people trying to escape the city before the Levees broke - and afterward it was too late. According to Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, the buses were in use up to that point. It may be that the bus effort was too little or too late, but Kelly again doesn't appear interested in the facts.
The levee broke Tuesday morning. Buses had to be rounded up and driven from Houston to New Orleans across debris-strewn roads. The first ones arrived Wednesday evening. That seems pretty fast to me.
A better question -- which few journalists ask -- is why weren't the roughly 2,000 municipal and school buses in New Orleans utilized to take people out of the city before Katrina struck?
Here's something that bothers me. Before 9/11, the "big three" emergency scenarios for federal disaster officials were reportedly a terrorist attack on New York City, a major earthquake in Los Angeles, and a hurricane that flooded New Orleans. Spread the blame as you will, but if this is the Best that Bush's Deparment of Homeland Security can do for one of the "big three" some four years after 9/11, there is no conceivable defense of its incompetence. Whether or not state and local officials were doing their jobs, once Bush declared Louisiana a disaster state the federal response should have been kicked into high gear. Just as federal ineptitude doesn't absolve the state and local authorities of their share of responsibility for their own failures, the state and local mistakes and failures do not excuse a botched federal response.
But then, as I have noted before, government officials can be expected to take responsibility for mistakes only when they are certain that they will not be held accountable.