With the inauguration of Barack Obama, there’s a lot that’s been said recently about George W. Bush’s legacy. Many have said that the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was what tipped the scales against Bush. In particular an inordinate number of black celebrities and groups, such as Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Ludacris and the NAACP flayed President Bush for his lack of response, saying, “Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
Of course, when talking about the celebrities we’re talking about people who largely have very little education. In the case of the NAACP, they are mostly well-educated, and it seems they’re just screaming about it because it’s politically correct to do so. There’s more to it than anyone has thought to point out so far, though. I don’t like the fact that Bush is largely labelled as being responsible for the lack of help after the storm. It is patently untrue.
Anyone who has followed my work knows that I’ve worked as a corrections officer and I’m now an EMT. I work part-time for a local fire department. I’m very well-versed in the chain of command and the incident command structure. In a fire department, unless the fire is across the street you don’t respond to an incident unless you’re dispatched to it; responding without being dispatched is known as “jumping the call.” Police departments will give out a call and ask who is closest to respond. However, in the case of a major incident, regardless of the scale of damage or destruction, initial responsibility rests on the shoulders of local authorities.
Just like in the fire department, you don’t jump a call. If a building explodes in downtown Phoenix, the Department of Public Safety (a state-run organization) doesn’t walk in and say, “hey, I’m taking control of this situation, we’re gonna take care of this for you!” No. It doesn’t work that way. Phoenix authorities would assess the situation, decide what they need, and make a formal request for assistance.
That’s when the state comes in and the incident command structure includes state authorites. They assess the situation, and if they feel they’re properly equipped to handle it, they go on with dealing with the crisis on their own. If they decide it’s too much for the state to handle, the governor declares a state of emergency and requests federal help, including whatever resources needed (which may include the National Guard, disaster funds, FEMA help and additional fire departments from other states sending personnel). The federal government cannot act until their help is officially requested.
In the case of hurricanes, when a local or state authority realizes that something is about to happen, they can declare a state of emergency in advance and request federal help before the crisis even starts. This can set aside all kinds of resources and make concessions for evacuations, including transportation for people who don’t have any. Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin had that opportunity, as did then-governor Kathleen Blanco (who would have had the authority to act in advance as a hurricane would have affected the whole state).
When it became apparent that a direct hit from Katrina was probable in New Orleans, Blanco and Nagin did nothing. They issued a voluntary evacuation order, but by not making it mandatory there was no government provision for public transportation to be used. Nagin waited until a mere 19 hours before landfall to issue a mandatory evacuation order, and by that time most of those who could have aided those without transportation were long gone. They still failed to declare a state of emergency, however, and no help was requested.
The storm came and went, and in the aftermath the worst came true and then some. At this point, Blanco and Nagin could have declared a disaster area in Louisiana, but they waited for that, too. By the time they finally did, the federal government had already called up National Guardsmen to get ready; they couldn’t deploy the help, however, until they were asked. Once the local and state authorities asked for help, help came from the four corners of the Earth (literally–even Sweden and Germany sent help!).
But before the truth could even be brought to light, people were blaming Bush and FEMA for the disaster. It was all their fault, they argued, because they failed to act in a timely manner. The reality is that they were ready to act, but by law they couldn’t because the locals–who were originally responsible for getting ready–didn’t ask.
Accusations are still being regurgitated by emotional non-thinking people who just want to blame Bush for everything. He doesn’t care about black people, he didn’t want to help because the people left behind were mostly black, the government was slow to react because the victims were largely poor (and black), blah, blah, blabbity-blah. Let’s not be proactive and look at ALL of the possibilities. That might actually require critical thinking. We’re not used to that.
In fact, aerial photos taken of a city bus lot were published. The lot was FULL of school and public transit buses that could have been used for a mandatory evacuation, but they were left to be ruined in the floodwaters. When asked why the buses weren’t utilized before the storm, Nagin wheedled, “they weren’t insured for that purpose.” Okay…so instead of taking the chance at having a wreck with a bus and being sued by a handful of occupants, you’d rather be sued by hundreds of families who lost loved ones because you didn’t get off your duff and help? Oh, wait, I forgot–that’ll never happen because it’s all Bush’s fault!
Bush has done a lot of questionable things. Some of what he’s done has been inexcusable, like the crap sandwich bailouts. Katrina, however, is NOT his fault. He didn’t make the storm happen, he didn’t make it hit New Orleans, and if the incompetent mayor of New Orleans and governor of Louisiana had done what needed to be done to prepare for the impending doom, it wouldn’t have been as horrible as it was. And if I have to watch one more re-run of Geraldo Rivera shouting at the camera in front of the Superdome, I think I might puke.
Direct your anger at those who are really responsible for not being ready. They were both DEMOCRATS, and one of them was black. There was no racism involved in this cluster. Grow up.