Saturday, January 07, 2006

He's No Brownie

Time Magazine interviewed Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen who is leaving New Orleans at the end of this month. He jumped in after Michael Brown was sacked and did a heck of a job.

Why? Because he knows what he is doing. And what he doesn’t know, he finds out:
I had to get knowledgeable right away on the inner workings of the Disaster Relief Fund and the Stafford Act (the law under which FEMA operates). It's very technical, a lot of arcane issues, and it's played out in very emotional issues like what can be paid for and what can't.

How did you do that?

I read it. I stayed up late at night reading (laughing).
He even did some outside reading:
Actually, my flash of optimism came after reading Rising Tide [John Barry's book about the Mississippi flood of 1927]. Have you read it? I had a sense that if you didn't have New Orleans, you'd have to create one. Because of the requirements of commerce, where it's at on the river and so forth. So it's not a question of whether New Orleans comes back, it's how New Orleans comes back.
I hope he tells the President that.

I’m not so sure about this, though:
When we hit that tipping point and the city flooded, it was not within FEMA's mission, capabilities or competency to go out and direct actual rescue operations. The Coast Guard came in and did it because we're trained to do that. And whatever issues there are with FEMA as an organization, I hope the public does not generalize to a larger responsibility for FEMA.
I don’t think anyone expected Michael Brown to jump in a helicopter and rescue people off the rooftops. Besides, he probably would have dropped them. But we did expect him to have a plan to evacuate (rescue) the people at the Superdome and Convention Center, or to at least know there were people *at* the Convention Center.

Just for kicks, here is FEMA’s mission from their official website:
As it has for more than 20 years, FEMA's mission remains: to lead America to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from disasters with a vision of "A Nation Prepared." At no time in its history has this vision been more important to the country than in the aftermath of Sept. 11th.
Except for, say, in the aftermath of Katrina.

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