09/20/05 — Sober review: Forget scapegoating, focus on improvements

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Sober review: Forget scapegoating, focus on improvements

Critiques can be of great value. An objective review of what went right and what went wrong in the response to Hurricane Katrina could lead to life-saving refinements in communications and commitment of personnel and equipment.

This isn’t to suggest that the spate of politically motivated blame-placing and name-calling serves any useful purpose.

But there apparently were some weaknesses that could be avoided in the future.

Helicopters are tremendously important in hurricane rescue and damage assessment operations. But in some areas during Katrina, National Guard helicopters were in short supply. And helicopters, while equipped with flood lights, are limited during nighttime operations.

But as frantic aerial searches were under way in the flooded areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, Air Force drones equipped with infrared and optical sensors were sitting idle at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. These are ideally suited for search operations.

Unfortunately, use of the unmanned Predators for natural disasters isn’t mentioned in Homeland Security and Pentagon plans. Consequently, there apparently was some hand-wringing — and resultant indecision — over jurisdiction and whether use of the Predators might constitute “illegal spying on American civilians,” according to one news report.

That sounds ludicrous in the midst of a natural disaster, but red tape and turf sensitivity are facts of bureaucratic life.

National Guard units also were hamstrung by having to use outmoded radio communications equipment that wasn’t compatible with units used by regular armed forces people.

These and other problems shouldn’t be reasons for mercilessly chastising the powers that be, but to make adjustments and refinements for future contingencies.

We should focus on making improvements, not political or jurisdictional scapegoating.

Published in Editorials on September 20, 2005 9:54 AM