Thursday, September 08, 2005

Common Sense in a disaster

Bobby Jindal, the highly regarded Congressman from Louisiana, who very nearly won the governorship in 2002 wrote in the OpinionJournal today:

BATON ROUGE, La.--Over the past few days, America has been both moved and disturbed by television footage of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. But for those of us in Louisiana still struggling to cope, the troubling images are of opportunistic politicians playing the blame game while there is so much real work to do.

Rather than point fingers, we should be fixing the situation on the ground. And that will include taking steps to ensure that red tape doesn't stifle the continued security and rebuilding efforts.

There have already been a number of instances in which an overly inhibitive bureaucracy prevented an appropriate response to the disaster. For example, on Wednesday of last week a company called my office. With only three hours before rising waters would make the mission impossible, they were anxious to send a rescue helicopter for their stranded employees. They wanted to know who would give them a go-ahead.

We could not identify the agency with authority. We heard that FEMA was in charge, that the FAA was in charge, and that the military was in charge. I went in person to talk with a FEMA representative and still could not get a straight answer. Finally we told the company to avoid interfering with Coast Guard missions, but to proceed on its own. Sometimes, asking for forgiveness is better than asking for permission. [emphasis added.]

I don't think you could have a better summation than that.

Jindal hits the nail on the head with regard to leadership:

That's why we need, in the future, a single, strong leader with the power to override the normal process restrictions and get things done. That individual must be identified from the very beginning. But below that person, other individuals up and down the line need to know they can make obvious and sensible calls in an emergency.

If I have a beef with the federal response, this is it. If a situation looks increasingly parlous and the local leadership is rudderless and indecisive (Nagin and Blanco) then the right decision for President Bush would have been to say: "Governor, I cannot give you 24 hours, I am nationalizing the Louisiana National Guard RIGHT NOW." It flies against federalism and states' rights for which the LEFT would have roundly criticized him but it would have been the right thing to do and may have saved lives.

Finally it seems, as usual, the media prefers to concentrate on the bad rather than the good:

Spending my days on the ground in Louisiana last week, I did not see much television. But I understand that some media let the violent and destructive acts of a few overshadow the many acts of compassion and heroism.

Contrary to the pictures you may have seen, the vast majority of New Orleanians did not take to the street with weapons--far more risked their own safety to help neighbors and strangers.

When first responders said they needed more flat boats to pick people out of the water, they were overwhelmed by the line of volunteers. When people at a shelter in Baton Rouge announced they needed drinks, within hours they were flooded with more Gatorade than they could possibly use.

Churches throughout Louisiana opened their doors to take in evacuees. Individuals organized a network to open their homes to strangers, using phone trees and the Internet to link up those in need with those who care. Evacuation centers are flooded with volunteers and supplies.

Many rescue and relief workers, themselves victims of Katrina, have not left their posts for days. Health-care staffers have hand-ventilated patients. Law enforcement officials braved high waters and violence. People from all over the nation are contacting me, especially people in areas recently devastated by their own tragedies, to offer assistance.

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