Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Department of Homeland Insecurity

Five hours after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, sent a memo to Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security, asking that 1,000 DHS employees be sent to the Gulf Coast in two days. Brown added that an additional 2,000 employees be sent within seven days. Why the delay of 48 hours in sending the first federal rescue workers? So they could be trained to help the local rescue people.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said that among duties of these employees was to "convey a positive image" about the government's response for victims.

Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged Tuesday the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged.

Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as "this near catastrophic event" but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, "Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities."
Brown's memo told employees that among their duties, they would be expected to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public."
Knocke said the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. "They were training to help the life-savers," Knocke said.

Employees required a supervisor's approval and at least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland, Florida or Georgia. "You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day," Brown wrote.

Can you believe that five hours after a Category 5 hurricane everyone knew was on its way actually reached land, the director of FEMA was asking for time to train employees in disaster rescue work? Can you imagine if, on 9/11, New York City's Fire Department chief had asked the city for two days to train the firefighters before sending them to the World Trade Center?

And what did that training actually consist of, once it began? Mary at The Left Coaster finds out that it was telling firefighters to hand out fliers and phone numbers to hurricane victims and educating them about sexual harassment.

As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.

Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.

Michael Brown should resign, obviously. But so should the man who appointed him to this job. Brown is a lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for Congress, held some minor political posts in his native Oklahoma, and, most famously, was asked to leave his job as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association amid numerous lawsuits over his enforcement of rules. He has absolutely no professional experience in disaster management. He should never have been hired. That he was hired speaks volumes about which is the higher priority for George W. Bush: the safety and security of the American people, or rewarding his friends.

No comments: