Friday, September 09, 2005

Planning for disasters: NOT!

The New York Times has a front page story today with two flabbergasting admissions about our government’s planning for emergencies. I just can’t believe it. The story is here; it will soon be accessible only for $$.

The first admission is:
“Hurricane Katrina had exposed a critical flaw in the national disaster response plans created after the Sept. 11 attacks. According to the administration's senior domestic security officials, the plan failed to recognize that local police, fire and medical personnel might be incapacitated.”

Can you believe that? I’ll bet EVERY serious study of emergency preparedness (such as earthquake studies in San Francisco) knows better than to assume that local police, fire and medical personnel are not as affected by the disaster as everyone else.

The second admission is equally amazing: During the flood, feds realized that there were legal problems affecting centralized control. For example, the easiest way to send in army forces required President Bush to pre-empt the Louisiana Governor taking away her control and (gulp) responsibility.
"Can you imagine how it would have been perceived if a president of the United States of one party had pre-emptively taken from the female governor of another party the command and control of her forces … ?”

Well let me tell you how the imagining should have taken place. You “play act” disaster scenarios in advance, with people seriously thinking out the roles of each key participant. That’s how you discover these chain-of-command “gotchas” for sure. We’ve been spending billions to prepare against terrorist attacks, but apparently we’ve skipped the “serious thought” part.

In general, I do not like to second-guess emergency responses, because hindsight is such a powerful obscurant, but these two admissions are simply unacceptable.

No comments: