Blogs by Sherry Gail Heim
It was not the Federal Government's Responsibility
9/5/2005 10:42:03 AM
The finger-pointing at Washington D.C. shows the lack of
research by the press before placing blame. As for
the politicians, it is business as usual, lies and
deception. It really doesn't matter which party you
support, this tragic situation is being exploited for
Don’t Blame Bush for Katrina
Monday, Sept. 5, 2005
George Bush and the federal government are not to
blame for the disaster we have witnessed in the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In fact, the primary responsibility for the disaster
response lies with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin,
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and other local
Yet leading Democrats and their allies in the major
media are clearly using this disaster for political
purposes and ignoring one obvious fact.
This fact – which needs to be repeated and remembered
is that in our country, state and local governments
have primary responsibility in dealing with local
The founding fathers devised a federal system of
government – one that has served us remarkably well
through great disasters that have befallen America
over more than two centuries.
But if we believe the major TV networks, George
Bush, FEMA and the Republicans in Congress are all
to blame for the current nightmare.
Let’s remember that FEMA, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, was created only in 1979. It was
formed to coordinate and focus federal response to
major disasters – to “assist” local and state
Common sense suggests that local and state governments
are best able to prepare and plan for local
Is a Washington bureaucrat better suited to prepare
for an earthquake in San Francisco, a hurricane in
Florida, or a terrorist act in New York?
After the Sept. 11 attacks against the World Trade
Center, no one suggested that the Bush administration
should have been responsible for New York’s disaster
response or that federal agents should have been
involved in the rescue of those trapped in the
Last year, four major hurricanes slammed into Florida.
Governor Jeb Bush led the disaster response and did a
remarkable job, with nothing happening like what we
have seen in New Orleans.
The primary response in disasters has always come from
local communities and state governments.
First responders and the manpower to deal with
emergencies come from local communities: police, fire
and medical. Under our federal system, these local
departments answer to local authorities, not those in
Washington. These first responders are not even under
federal control, nor do they have to follow federal
In addition to local responders, every state in the
Union has a National Guard.
State National Guards answer first to the governor of
each state, not to the president. The National Guard
exists not to defend one state from an invasion by
another state, but primarily for emergencies like the
one we have witnessed in New Orleans and in other
areas impacted by Katrina.
Tim Russert and the Blame Game
The media would have you believe that this disaster
was worsened by a slow response from President Bush
and his administration, though the primary
responsibility for disaster response has always been
with local and state governments.
It is true that federal response was not as fast as it
could have been. The president himself has
acknowledged that fact.
But the press has focused on the first 48 hours of
federal response, not uttering a word about the fact
that New Orleans had 48 hours of warning that a major
Category 4 or 5 would make landfall near the city, yet
local officials apparently did little to prepare.
Obviously, Gov. Blanco did not effectively deploy her
state’s National Guard.
And New Orleans’ city leaders did almost nothing to
evacuate the portion of the population with no
transportation. In failing to follow their own
evacuation plan, these officials did little to pre-
position food, water and personnel to deal with the
I was surprised Sunday to watch Tim Russert, on his
show “Meet the Press,” tear into Homeland Security
Chief Michael Chertoff. During his encounter with
Chertoff, Russert did not suggest once that local
government had any role in dealing with the disaster.
Russert also asked for Chertoff’s resignation.
It wasn’t until after the first 29 minutes of his
show – 29 minutes – that Russert raised the question
of local responsibility. And when he did so with
Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, he did so
in a passing way. Broussard brushed off his question
with a non-answer.
Broussard began his interview claiming that the nation
had “abandoned” New Orleans.
That is nonsense and a lie.
Broussard, who was never identified by “Meet the
Press” as a Democrat, spent much of his time attacking
the Bush administration, as has Democratic New Orleans
Mayor Ray Nagin.
Broussard then ended his performance as he collapsed
in tears with a demand: “For God’s sake, just shut up
and send us somebody!”
His tears didn’t wash with me. My sympathies lie with
the tens of thousands of people who have suffered or
died because local officials like Broussard, Mayor
Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco, also a Democrat,
failed monumentally at their jobs.
As former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial told Russert,
the disaster in New Orleans was “foreseeable.”
In fact, New Orleans has long known that such a
disaster could take place if a major hurricane hit the
The municipality even prepared its own “City of New
Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.”
The plan makes it evident that New Orleans knew that
evacuation of the civilian population was the primary
responsibility of the city – not the federal
The city plan acknowledges its responsibility in the
As established by the City of New Orleans Charter, the
government has jurisdiction and responsibility in
disaster response. City government shall coordinate
its efforts through the Office of Emergency
The city document also makes clear that decisions
involving a proper and orderly evacuation lie with the
governor, mayor and local authorities. Nowhere is the
president or federal government even mentioned:
The authority to order the evacuation of residents
threatened by an approaching hurricane is conferred to
the Governor by Louisiana Statute. The Governor is
granted the power to direct and compel the evacuation
of all or part of the population from a stricken or
threatened area within the State, if he deems this
action necessary for the preservation of life or other
disaster mitigation, response or recovery. The same
power to order an evacuation conferred upon the
Governor is also delegated to each political
subdivision of the State by Executive Order. This
authority empowers the chief elected official of New
Orleans, the Mayor of New Orleans, to order the
evacuation of the parish residents threatened by an
It is clear the city also recognized that it would
need to move large portions of its population, and it
would need to prepare for such an eventuality:
The City of New Orleans will utilize all available
resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened
areas. Those evacuated will be directed to temporary
sheltering and feeding facilities as needed. When
specific routes of progress are required, evacuees
will be directed to those routes. Special arrangements
will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport
themselves or who require specific life saving
Additional personnel will be
to assist in evacuation procedures as
Evacuation procedures for small scale and localized
evacuations are conducted per the SOPs of the New
Orleans Fire Department and the New Orleans Police
Department. However, due to the sheer size and number
of persons to be evacuated, should a major tropical
weather system or other catastrophic event threaten or
impact the area, specifically directed long range
planning and coordination of resources and
responsibilities efforts must be undertaken.
[You can read New Orleans’ Emergency Plan for
hurricanes at its Web site:
The city’s plan also specifically called for the use
of city-owned buses and school buses to evacuate the
population. These were apparently never deployed,
though the Parish of Plaquemines just south of the
city evacuated its population using school buses.
The plan, written well before Katrina was even a
teardrop in God’s eye, was obviously never heeded or
implemented by local leaders.
But why should the New Orleans mayor and Governor
Blanco take responsibility when they can blame George
Bush and the Republicans in Washington?
With congressional elections fast approaching,
Democrats who are out of power in every branch of the
federal government know they need to change the tide
They have apparently seized on the Katrina disaster to
harm the president politically.
Criticism of the federal government’s response is fair
and warranted. But putting full responsibility for
this disaster on the Bush administration is way over
Primary responsibility for this disaster remains with
local officials like Nagin and Blanco, not President
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