Thursday, September 15, 2005

Brown has his say

posted by Rob at 4:17 PM

The New York Times gives a microphone to former FEMA cheif Mike Brown today. I espeically took note of this exchange:

What do you need? Help me help you," Mr. Brown said he asked (state officials). "The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing." ...

Governor Blanco's communications director, Mr. (Bob) Mann, said that she was frustrated that Mr. Brown and others at FEMA wanted itemized requests before acting. "It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you," he said.

Mann's analogy seems weak to me. If someone walks into an emergency room bleeding, they don't yell "treat me" then lay back and expect immediate proper care. The doctor will want as much information as possible - where are you bleeding, how did you come to bleed, are you on any medication, what is your medical history, etc. Once the doctor and the staff have that information, they can get to work.

Now, let's say that someone is taken while unconscious to an emergeny room. Blood is everywhere and no one knows the patient. There will be treatment, but will it be as effective or organized as it would with the medical history? Is it more likely that mistakes could happen?

According to Mann, FEMA was supposed to just show up and .... what, exactly? As the Times details, there was no local communication network, though Mann insists that "Everything that Mr. Brown needed in terms of resources or information from the state, he had those available to him."

In reality, no one in a governmental capacity knew what was happening where Tuesday through Thursday. One example the Times notes is that "at some point on Monday or Tuesday the hotels started directing their remaining guests to the convention center - something neither FEMA nor local officials had planned." Brown said no one told him of this.

The Times article includes details that show the silliness of Mann's analogy (emphasis mine):

The crowd in the Superdome, the city's shelter of last resort, was already larger than expected. But Mr. Brown said he was relieved to see that the mayor had a detailed list of priorities, starting with help to evacuate the Superdome.

Mr. Brown passed the list on to the state emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, but when he returned that evening he was surprised to find that nothing had been done.

"I am just screaming at my F.C.O., 'Where are the helicopters?' " he recalled. " 'Where is the National Guard? Where is all the stuff that the mayor wanted?' "

FEMA, he said, had no helicopters and only a few communications trucks. The agency typically depends on state resources, a system he said worked well in the other Gulf Coast states and in Florida last year.

So actually it appears Brown was asking the wrong question. He should have asked, "what do you have to help me help you?" As the Times also notes, FEMA has only 2,600 employees nationwide. It relies on state and other federal resources. I would think a governor and her staff would know this.

(Brown) said his biggest mistake was in waiting until the end of the day on Aug. 30 to ask the White House explicitly to take over the response from FEMA and state officials.

He should have done so earlier, no doubt. Louisiana officials expected miracles to save them from a lack of planning, preperation and an understanding of how to best protect its citizens.


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