09/28/05 — Seeing the storm: Inquiries should focus on avoiding Katrina repeat

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Seeing the storm: Inquiries should focus on avoiding Katrina repeat

Former Federal Emergency Management Director Michael Brown is not in the best position to be pointing fingers. A careful, and truthful, analysis of the handling of relief before and after Hurricane Katrina would suggest that there were breakdowns in communication and deployment at the federal level.

But he is right about one thing — and it is a point that will probably be ignored by those who are looking for yet another reason to blame the Bush administration for everything from poverty to global warming.

The hesitation on the local and state level to order mandatory evacuations and to pass the emergency declarations necessary to get federal assistance moving sooner and what by most people’s estimation were ineffective evacuation plans were the main reasons for the mess in New Orleans.

When there is miscommunication and bungling upfront, there is little chance that any agency, especially one that is limited in what it can and cannot do in a state, can catch up enough to save a situation that is already headed downhill.

There is still plenty of reason to look carefully at FEMA’s response and how we could better prepare in case of another emergency. There are some issues that need to be addressed there. Any congressional hearings looking into the Katrina debacle should focus on that angle — making the response better and what went wrong.

What most of us do not want to see and hear is any more grandstanding from politicians determined to capture as much attention for themselves as possible, while doing as much damage as possible to the other party.

If we want to see infighting, camera-hogging and ego-driven politicians asking questions just to hear themselves speak on television, we can always watch a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

This country would be much better served if someone turned the Katrina discussion into more of a solution-oriented inquiry rather than a witch hunt. And, by the way, those who are sitting out the inquiry are part of the problem.

And after we finish talking about emergency response, we need to talk about the reasons there were so many people without cars and in some cases jobs or the ability to get themselves out of the city. We need to address the elephant in the room — the number of people in the city who were on welfare and unable to provide for themselves in an emergency and otherwise. We also need to talk about what to do now. There will be thousands of people with no insurance, no savings and no way to recover from the damage done by Katrina. How will we handle their plights?

FEMA is only one part of this discussion. Katrina should prompt a few more about cities, society and families.

Then, we will have fully explored the issue.

Published in Editorials on September 28, 2005 11:06 AM