Friday, September 02, 2005

Do you really want the Feds in charge?

My response to those who are attempting to blame the problems we're seeing in the Gulf states on the Bush administration:

Something the press idiots sitting comfortably in these press conferences, or uncomfortably on overpasses for that matter, don't understand is that the way our system is set up for emergency preparedness is for local and state officials to plan, prepare, and execute in cases of emergency with federal government in a supporting role. To many folks, this initially appears backwards at first, but I assure you its not.

Why do we have it the way it is? Simple. Who knows your city or county better than your city or county officials? Who can get there first in case of an emergency faster than your local officials? Nobody. Who knows it next best? Someone sitting in your state capitol or a burrocrat (misspelling intentional) in DC? Who knows the road, rail, river, and other routes into your city or county better than your state officials? Who can call up the national guard (which can help with both law enforcement and humanitarian assistance and which knows your community better than the vast bulk of the US military)?

Meanwhile, the federal government has set up regional operations centers and regional stockpiles of emergency supplies that they can move in multiple directions to help states with big-money type resources (running warehouses full of emergency supply stocks that have to be rotated, for example). We have logistical experts at the federal level that can move large amounts of experts and materiel from outside effected areas to relief centers set up by the local authorities who know where best to put them (at least in theory - the Superdome being the counter-argument).

The Feds have also funded all states and major cities to set up standing facilities in (hopefully) secure locations from which they can manage disasters - natural and man-made. I've been in the center set up in Kansas City, MO. It's got the communications, video feeds, computers, press facilities, and anything else they should need to manage disasters in or close to the city. The Feds provided the funds and some basic guidelines, but the guys who know the city best are the ones who picked the location and designed it to meet their local first-responder organization and other city-specific needs. This is the kind of thing the feds are good at - spending money on things that don't pay off today or tomorrow, but might eventually (like the military, for instance).

Now lets look at the system these reporters and some of the victims apparently want. They want the Feds to be in charge of everything. When the Feds are in charge of everything, everywhere, then disaster relief will look the same everywhere. Are recent disasters in Miami, LA, NO, NYC, or OKC alike? NO! Are the cities themselves alike? NO! Are any of the city-centered disaster problems anything like the impact of those same disasters on suburban or rural areas of Florida, MS, or AL? NO! Do any of those situations require the same approach to relief? Of COURSE not! But that's what you'd get if the Feds were the lead planners on every disaster. You'd get a cookie-cutter approach to unique problems.

I don't know about you, but the system we have is the best one. The one Achilles heel we have with this system is when you've got piss-poor leadership at both the local and state levels. IMHO, that's what we're seeing in New Orleans. The damage in parts of Mississippi and Alabama, and even rural parts of LA, are just as bad as the problems are in New Orleans - and in some cases even worse. In those other locales, we've either got competent local leadership or competent state leadership. From what I've seen, we've got a failure of both in N.O.

Unless you want the Feds to put some DC-bound administrator or some General or Admiral in charge of New Orleans, you can't blame DC for the problems there, and from what I've said above, there are some damn fine reasons NOT to put those folks in charge. In fact, there are legal constraints like Posse Comitatus that keep us from putting the Feds in charge in many ways, so to do this would be illegal as well as stupid.

At least that's what I think.



Blogger Pirate said...

I concur completly. I have a suggestion on my blog that needs to get out there so we can get the survivors on their way.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Former Military Chick said...

Terrific observation.

2:22 AM  

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