Michael Chertoff, Ho…
Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security Secretary, on how prepared they were for Katrina:

Defending the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff argued Saturday that government planners did not predict such a disaster ever could occur.

Ever? It was beyond all possible planning that something like this could happen?

Chertoff, fielding questions from reporters, said government officials did not expect both a powerful hurricane and a breach of levees that would flood the city of New Orleans.

If you are fully aware that levees protecting the city are designed for a Category 3 hurricane, and a Category 4+ one develops in the Gulf of Mexico, what do you expect the levees will do; hold anyway? You can’t possibly be taken by surprise when they fail, especially when the director if FEMA (which is part of Homeland Security) planned and “war gamed” just such a scenario.

Last week, Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN his agency had recently planned for a Category 5 hurricane hitting New Orleans.

Speaking to “Larry King Live” on August 31, in the wake of Katrina, Brown said, “That Category 4 hurricane caused the same kind of damage that we anticipated. So we planned for it two years ago. Last year, we exercised it. And unfortunately this year, we’re implementing it.”

Mr. Chertoff sounds like he’s in full kiester-covering mode at this point. He sounds like he’s trying to parse words and phrases. Here’s his explanation of how the plan differed so drastically from the reality.

Chertoff argued that authorities actually had assumed that “there would be overflow from the levee, maybe a small break in the levee. The collapse of a significant portion of the levee leading to the very fast flooding of the city was not envisioned.”

He added: “There will be plenty of time to go back and say we should hypothesize evermore apocalyptic combinations of catastrophes. Be that as it may, I’m telling you this is what the planners had in front of them.

However, Brendan Loy points out, this explanation doesn’t hold water (so to speak).

For those who would defend Chertoff on the basis of the fact that “all the doomsday predictions were based on the levees being topped, not failing,” that’s true, but it doesn’t help Chertoff’s case, because if the levees had been topped by the storm surge (which they would have, if Katrina had moved 20 or 30 miles west of where it did), the flooding in New Orleans would have been even worse! It doesn’t make much sense to say that the government was prepared for the worst-case scenario, but was unprepared for a less-bad scenario!

FEMA Director Mike Brown isn’t entirely without culpability, either. His protestations of surprise sounded like this:

“Saturday and Sunday, we thought it was a typical hurricane situation — not to say it wasn’t going to be bad, but that the water would drain away fairly quickly,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Brown said today. “Then the levees broke and (we had) this lawlessness. That almost stopped our efforts.”

First of all, Katrina was a Cat 3 hurricane on Saturday, meaning it was going to tax the levees’ upper bound anyway. Sunday morning around 1am, it was upgraded to a Cat 4, so no, this was no typical hurricane, especially for a city with levees not designed to withstand it, and they had time to realize that. Second, if they “war gamed” this scenario, why would the very scenario almost stop your efforts?

In fact, these “war games” have been specifically designed with Category 5 hurricanes in mind, including one in September, 2002 and one just last July.

Aside from all the questions about fault or the appropriateness of this or that decision, we have a clear question of whether these guys were lying to the American people, and, in addition, how appropriate is it for President Bush to be backing these guys 100%. Bush is a loyal guy, but it may be that in this case the “to a fault” suffix is necessary. And it’s also quite possible that Bush’s support is meant to avoid undermining the authority of HomeSec and FEMA in the middle of a major crisis. However, once the winds have died down, the further employment of these two directors needs to be given serious scrutiny. Hopefully, in the coming investigations, this will be a top priority.

(Cross-posted at Stones Cry Out. Comments welcome.)

Filed under: Uncategorized

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!