Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Katrina/Rita Lesson 1: Protection

As we all know now, the levees in the New Orleans were not adequate to withstand the wind and rain from hurricane Katrina. The problem was recognized at least 40 years ago when hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans in 1965.

President Johnson ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to improve the levees. Construction projects of that size do take time. The initial plan was stopped in 1977 after an environmental group, Save Our Wetlands, won a lawsuit concerning the Corps's environmental study. Rather than jump through all the hoops all over again, including gaining the political approvals again, the Corps switched to a simpler plan to shore up the levees to handle a category 3 hurricane instead of continuing with the initial plan to reduce the storm-surge pressure on the levees.

Over the years since 1965, Congress never appropriated money to build levees to withstand a category 4 or 5 hurricane. During that time, Louisiana's senators and representatives earmarked money for dozens and hundreds of specific projects, but those projects did not include improving the levees. Since the environmental group sued to stop the initial project, no president (3 Republicans and 2 Democrats) has requested the funds to improve the levees. The state of Louisiana and the local governments in the New Orleans also failed to provide funding for improving the levees.

The lesson is twofold. First, the environmental laws are flawed because they do not take into account the safety of people, which should be the highest priority. Second and most important, people will postpone high-cost projects designed to protect people from an infrequent but catastrophic event. The financial and political cost today is high, the political benefit today is small, and the potentially high cost in lives and property damage is in the indefinite future.

Without the pressure of a recent disaster, government and voters are reluctant to pay the necessary but high price to protect people's lives and property at some indefinite time in the future. This is an unfortunate aspect of human nature and the political process. Until voters demand better, nothing will change.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Series on Lessons from Katrina and Rita

Tomorrow, I will begin setting forth the lessons we should have learned from hurricanes Katrins and Rita. We will start 40 years ago when the problems started and go through today.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Rita is Over; Blogging to Resume

Blogging has been slow lately because of preparations for hurricane Rita and the aftermath. Now that power has been restored, blogging shall resume.

Newsday Poll on International Freedom Center

Newsday is conducting an online poll regarding the International Freedom Center (IFC), which is being planned by a liberal group as an anti-American center near the planned memorial for 9/11 victims at Ground Zero. The vote as of Monday at about 8:00 a.m. is 96.5% against the IFC.

An alliance of 15 major 9/11 family organizations opposes the IFC. The 9/11 families have been joined by the 22,000 members of New York’s Uniformed Firefighters Association, which lost 343 active members and 3 retired members in the 9/11 attacks, and the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, the state’s largest firefighter organization consisting of 110,000 volunteer firefighters, many of whom participated in the rescue and recovery effort at Ground Zero. In addition, more than 46,000 people from all over the country have signed an online petition calling for the liberal planning group to remove the IFC from the memorial site. Even Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has come out against the IFC.

If you want to vote, go to http://www.nynewsday.com/news/local/manhattan/nyc-wtc-poll0923,0,4578562.poll?coll=nyc-homepage-breaking2.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Occupied New Orleans

Last week, Cindy Sheehan said, "George Bush needs to stop talking, admit the mistakes of his all around failed administration, pull our troops out of occupied New Orleans and Iraq, and excuse his self from power." What kind of nut believes that New Orleans is "occupied" and that our occupying troops should pull out of New Orleans? People who make such remarks are not to be taken seriously.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Volunteering in Houston

This week, the proprietors of Quite Right helped at the convention center in Houston, where a few thousand of the evacuees from the New Orleans area have been sheltered. The evacuees need help, and we were happy to be a part of the huge volunteer effort in Houston to help them.

Volunteering has been a rewarding experience. We met a few of the evacuees as part of our volunteer work. The evacuees we met are good people in hard circumstances. Some of them have already been placed in longer term housing. (The shelter facilities are good, but they are only a temporary measure. People need better living arrangements, and the evacuees are being helped in finding apartments in the area.)

Quite Right encourages everyone to help in whatever way they can.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Biden Quizzes Roberts

From Power Line, we get a flavor of the questioning of John Roberts by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The hearing proceed[ed] rather calmly and respectfully -- until Biden had his turn. ... Biden spent nearly nine of his 30 minutes of question time delivering an opening statement, then said: "Let me get right to it."
Biden ... asked Roberts directly about abortion.

"That is in an area where I think I should not respond," Roberts said.

"Why?" Biden demanded. When Roberts tried to explain himself, Biden interjected "that is not true" and, shaking his head sadly, said, "aw, judge, judge."

Specter tried to referee. "Wait a minute, Senator Biden," the chairman said. "He's not finished his answer."

"He's filibustering, senator," Biden responded.

To Roberts, Biden said: "Go ahead. Go ahead and continue not to answer."

Biden was caustic and personal. ...

Roberts got his revenge when Biden quizzed him about gender discrimination. Biden cut the judge off repeatedly, saying "my time's running out."

While Biden fired off a series of questions without allowing Roberts to answer, the nominee finally replied: "Well, I was about to lay it out. You said you didn't want to hear about it." The room filled with laughter. Biden did not smile.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Sen. Landrieu Embarrasses Herself and Democrats

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) was on Fox News Sunday. Chris Wallace asked her questions about the response in Louisiana to hurricane Katrina. Residual Forces has the transcript. Here are some of the comments:

LANDRIEU: I am not going to level criticism at local and state officials. Mayor Nagin and most mayors in this country have a hard time getting their people to work on a sunny day, let alone getting them out of the city in front of a hurricane.

...

LANDRIEU: In other words, this administration did not believe in mass transit. They won’t even get people to work on a sunny day, let alone getting them out ...

...

WALLACE: Well, look in the picture here. There were hundreds of buses in parking lots. The city and the state.

LANDRIEU: That is underwater. Those ...

WALLACE: It wasn’t underwater before the ...

LANDRIEU: Those buses were underwater. Those buses ...

WALLACE: They weren’t underwater on Saturday; they weren’t underwater on Sunday.

LANDRIEU: We had two catastrophes. We had a hurricane and then we had a levee break. When the levee broke, not only did New Orleans go underwater, but St. Bernard when underwater and St. Tammany Parish went underwater.

WALLACE: But they weren’t underwater on Sunday.

LANDRIEU: And Plaquemines went underwater. And because the mayor evacuated the city, we had the best evacuation between Haley Barbour and Kathleen Blanco of any evacuation I’ve seen. I’m 50 years old; I’ve never seen one any better.

WALLACE: But there were a hundred thousand people left in the city.

LANDRIEU: They did a hundred thousand people left in the city because this federal government won’t support cities to evacuate people, whether it’s from earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes. And that’s the truth. And that will come out in the hearing.

...

LANDRIEU: Now is not the time for finger-pointing. Now is the time to rebuild. So, I’m asking the White House to stop sending out press releases blaming local and state officials.

WALLACE: But, Senator — I’m sorry. This works better if I get to ask some questions here.

LANDRIEU: I know. That would be fine.

WALLACE: OK, thank you. But you’re the one who’s done the finger-pointing. You were the one who, on the Senate floor, talked about the federal response being incompetent and insulting to the people of Louisiana. You were the one — if I might — and, I want to ask you, also, because you’ve also pointed the finger at the Bush administration for failing to spend enough on flood control. Here’s what you said this week on the Senate floor. Let’s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANDRIEU: They gambled that no one would notice if Louisiana’s critical and vital role in our national economy was threatened. And Washington rolled the dice and Louisiana lost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: But here is what the Washington Post found in an article this week, Senator. And let’s put that up on the screen if we can: “The Bush administration’s funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton Administration’s for its past five years.”

And, Senator, the article went on to say that Louisiana politicians, in too many cases, were involved in pork, rather than in trying to protect the city of New Orleans. And let’s go back to the article. Let’s put up another part of it: “For example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia flunked a Corps…” — that’s an Army Corps of Engineer — “… cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the agency to redo its calculations.” So, question, Senator: Is it just the president who gambled and lost or, frankly, did a lot of Louisiana politicians, including you?

LANDRIEU: The president gambled and lost, and I’ll tell you why, if you’ll let me answer this question. Number one, it is true that the president gave slightly more than Bill Clinton. But what is also true is Bill Clinton was running the largest deficit created by the Reagan administration before him and the Bush administration before him. President Bush was running a surplus. Yet, when he had a surplus, he didn’t invest it in levees and flood protection for people from Miami to Orlando to New Orleans to Biloxi or to Mobile. He had other priorities.

Sen. Landrieu was dodging the questions but still got caught by her own rhetoric. She got it backwards on which president had deficits and which had surpluses. She had it thrown in her face that she was blaming Pres. Bush while saying that this was not a time to cast blame. She said the mayor could not get city workers to work on a regular day, much less when a hurricane was coming. She pointedly refused to admit what is obvious to the whole country, that New Orleans had busses available before the hurricane but did not use them and did not protect them for later use. She claimed, contrary to all the facts, that the evacuation of New Orleans was the best she nas ever seen. And what point was she trying to make when she brought up mass transit?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Federal, State, and Local Relationships in Emergency Planning and Response

An article on Tuesday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette helps to clarify the relationship between local, state, and federal agencies in responding to an emergency.

The key to emergency management starts at the local level and expands to the state level. Emergency planning generally does not include any federal guarantees, as there can only be limited ones from the federal level for any local plan. FEMA provides free training, education, assistance and respond in case of an emergency, but the local and state officials run their own emergency management program.

Prior development of an emergency plan, addressing all foreseeable contingencies, is the absolute requirement of the local government --and then they share that plan with the state emergency managers to ensure that the state authorities can provide necessary assets not available at the local level. Additionally, good planning will include applicable elements of the federal government (those located in the local area). These processes are well established, but are contingent upon the personal drive of both hired and elected officials at the local level.



The author takes a specific look at the New Orleans emergency response plan.

I've reviewed the New Orleans emergency management plan. Here is an important section in the first paragraph.

"We coordinate all city departments and allied state and federal agencies which respond to citywide disasters and emergencies through the development and constant updating of an integrated multi-hazard plan. All requests for federal disaster assistance and federal funding subsequent to disaster declarations are also made through this office. Our authority is defined by the Louisiana Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act of 1993, Chapter 6 Section 709, Paragraph B, 'Each parish shall maintain a Disaster Agency which, except as otherwise provided under this act, has jurisdiction over and serves the entire parish.' "

Check the plan -- the "we" in this case is the office of the mayor, Ray Nagin who was very quick and vocal about blaming everyone but his own office.



As Irish Pennants comments, "Would that journalists would acquaint themselves with disaster management procedure before mouthing off." I second that.

As you evaluate the adequacy (inadequacy is probably more accurate) of the response to the disaster in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, consider the roles of the local, state, and federal agencies.

Louisiana State Officials Refused to Let Red Cross Enter New Orleans with Supplies

Yesterday, Major Garrett, a reporter for Fox News Chennel, broke the story that Louisiana state officials blocked the Red Cross from delivering supplies to the Superdome in New Orleans. Shortly after breaking the story on Fox, Garrett was interviewed by Hugh Hewitt on his radio show. A transcript of part of the interview follows (HH is Hugh and MG is Major Garrett):

HH: You just broke a pretty big story. I was watching up on the corner television in my studio, and it's headlined that the Red Cross was blocked from delivering supplies to the Superdome, Major Garrett. Tell us what you found out.

MG: Well, the Red Cross, Hugh, had pre-positioned a literal vanguard of trucks with water, food, blankets and hygiene items. They're not really big into medical response items, but those are the three biggies that we saw people at the New Orleans Superdome, and the convention center, needing most accutely. And all of us in America, I think, reasonably asked ourselves, geez. You know, I watch hurricanes all the time. And I see correspondents standing among rubble and refugees and evacuees. But I always either see that Red Cross or Salvation Army truck nearby. Why don't I see that?

HH: And the answer is?

MG: The answer is the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security, that is the state agency responsible for that state's homeland security, told the Red Cross explicitly, you cannot come.

HH: Now Major Garrett, on what day did they block the delivery? Do you know specifically?

MG: I am told by the Red Cross, immediately after the storm passed.

HH: Okay, so that would be on Monday afternoon.

MG: That would have been Monday or Tuesday. The exact time, the hour, I don't have. But clearly, they had an evacuee situation at the Superdome, and of course, people gravitated to the convention center on an ad hoc basis. They sort of invented that as another place to go, because they couldn't stand the conditions at the Superdome.

HH: Any doubt in the Red Cross' mind that they were ready to go, but they were blocked?

MG: No. Absolutely none. They are absolutely unequivocal on that point.

...

HH: ... Now Major Garrett, what about the Louisiana governor's office of Homeland Security. Have they responded to this charge by the Red Cross, which is a blockbuster charge?

MG: I have not been able to reach them yet. But, what they have said consistently is, and what they told the Red Cross, we don't want you to come in there, because we have evacuees that we want to get out. And if you come in, they're more likely to stay. So I want your listeners to follow me here. At the very moment that Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans was screaming where's the food, where's the water, it was over the overpass, and state officials were saying you can't come in.

HH: How long would it have taken to deliver those supplies, Major Garrett, into the Superdome and possibly the convention center?

MG: That is a more difficult question to answer than you might think. There were areas, obviously, as you approached the Superdome, that were difficult to get to, because of the flood waters. And as the Red Cross explained it to me, look. We don't have amphibious vehicles. We have trucks and ambulance type vehicles. In some cases, after the flood waters rose as high as they did, we would have needed, at minimal, the Louisiana National Guard to bring us in, or maybe something bigger and badder, from the Marines or Army-type vehicle. They're not sure about that. But remember, Hugh, we were transfixed, I know I was. I'm sure you were and your listeners were, by my colleague, Shep Smith, and others on that overpass.

HH: Right.

MG: ...saying, wait a minute. We drove here. It didn't take us anything to drive here.

HH: Right.

MG: Why can't people just come here?

HH: I also have to conclude from what you're telling me, Major Garrett, is that had they been allowed to deliver when they wanted to deliver, which is at least a little bit prior to the levee, or at least prior to the waters rising, the supplies would have been pre-positioned, and the relief...you know, the people in the Superdome, and possibly at the convention center, I want to come back to that, would have been spared the worst of their misery.

MG: They would have been spared the lack of food, water and hygiene. I don't think there's any doubt that they would not have been spared the indignity of having nor [sic] workable bathrooms in short order.

HH: Now Major Garrett, let's turn to the convention center, because this will be, in the aftermath...did the Red Cross have ready to go into the convention center the supplies that we're talking about as well?

MG: Sure. They could have gone to any location, provided that the water wasn't too high, and they got some assistance.

HH: Now, were they utterly dependent upon the Louisiana state officials to okay them?

MG: Yes.

HH: Because you know, they do work with FEMA. But is it your understanding that FEMA and the Red Cross and the other relief agencies must get tht state's okay to act?

MG: As the Red Cross told me, they said look. We are not state actors. We are not the Army. We are a private organziation. We work in cooperation with both FEMA and the state officials. But the state told us A) it's not safe, because the water is dangerous. And we're now learning how toxic the water is. B) there's a security situation, because they didn't have a handle on the violence on the ground. And C) and I think this is most importantly, they wanted to evacuate out. They didn't want people to stay.
(Hat tip to Cynical Nation)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina Timeline

Rightwing Nuthouse (don't let the name put you off; the blogger is sane) has prepared a good timeline of the events in the response to the hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katrina Response Blame Game

It didn't take long after hurricane Katrina went through the Gulf Coast region. The blame game is being played in earnest. All the relevant facts have not yet been broadcast. As we consider who should have done better, we need to consider the following:

- Who in government is responsible for the levees on Lake Pontchartrain?

- Who designed the levees?

- Who constructed the levees?

- Who determines whether to order an evacuation?

- Who is responsible for security in New Orleans, especially the Superdome and the convention center?

- Who is responsible for storing emergency and relief supplies in nearby areas?

- When did the governor authorize the president to intervene?

- How well did communications work in the New Orleans area?

- How well did the different agencies coordinate their activities?

- Why (other than flooding) has the response in Mississipi been better than in Louisiana?

We have the answers to some of these questions, but not all. Beware of the people who are quick to blame Pres. Bush for everything, even things that are the responsibility of state and local government and that could have been addressed in previous administrations. The answers do not matter to the attack dogs who hate Bush and want to blame him for anything and everything without regard to the facts or the truth.

Proud of Response by Houston and Texas

I live in Houston, Texas. Houston is providing food and shelter for 25,000 to 30,000 evacuees from the devastated New Orleans area. The residents of Houston and neighboring communities are volunteering in large numbers to help the evacuees. The response has been so great that some volunteers are being turned away. Donations have been pouring in at such a rapid pace that some of the reception points have had to stop taking donations because they have run out of storage space.

One individual effort deserves special mention. The last Houston Texans preseason game was last Thursday night. The owner of the Texans, Bob McNair, made a challenge grant of up to $1 million to match donations made during the game. The request for donations to aid the victims of Katrina was made several times during the game.

Houston is housing evacuees at the Astrodome (16,000), facilities near the Astrodome (4,000?), the convention center (4,000 and rising), and several smaller facilities around the area. The effort to provide shelter has been bipartisan. The Astrodome is a Harris County facility inside the city of Houston, which has jurisdiction for police and other services. Harris County's chief executive is a Republican, and Houston's mayor is a Democrat. They worked together to take care of the evacuees. The governor of Texas is a Republican, and he ordered state government agencies to act and schools to accept evacuee students. San Antonio, run by Democrats, is housing 25,000 evacuees. Dallas has 10,000 to 20,000. Corpus Christi, Amarillo, Lubbock, and other Texas cities have made facilities available for evacuees.

The overwhelming response by Houston and Texas makes me proud to live here.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Has Global Warming Increased the Number and Power of Hurricanes?

Has global warming increased the number and power of hurricanes? No, according to an article from National Review Online:

Has global warming increased the frequency of hurricanes? One of the nation's foremost hurricane experts, William Gray, points out that if global warming is at work, cyclones should be increasing not just in the Atlantic but elsewhere, in the West Pacific, East Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. They aren't. The number of cyclones per year worldwide fluctuates pretty steadily between 80 and 100. There's actually been a small overall decline in tropical cyclones since 1995, and Atlantic hurricanes declined from 1970 to 1994, even as the globe was heating up.

It seems that Atlantic hurricanes come in spurts, or as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts it in more technical language, "a quasi-cyclic multi-decade regime that alternates between active and quiet phases." The late 1920s through the 1960s were active; the 1970s to early 1990s quiet; and since 1995 — as anyone living in Florida or Gulfport, Miss., can tell you — seems to be another active phase.

But if hurricanes aren't more frequent, are they more powerful? Warm water fuels hurricanes, so the theory is that as the ocean's surface heats up, hurricanes will pack more punch. An article in Nature — after questionable jiggering with the historical wind data — argues that hurricanes have doubled in strength because of global warming. Climatologist Patrick Michaels counters that if hurricanes had doubled in their power it would be obvious to everyone and there would be no need to write controversial papers about it.

Indeed, if you adjust for population growth and skyrocketing property values, hurricanes don't appear to be any more destructive today. According to the work of Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado, of the top five most destructive storms this century, only one occurred after 1950 — Hurricane Andrew in 1992. An NOAA analysis says there have been fewer Category 4 storms throughout the past 35 years than would have been expected given 20th-century averages.

(Hat tip to Ace of Trump)