1. During a moment of real and severe crisis has the Department of Homeland Security proved that it is ineffective and unprepared to deal with a national crisis? Why or why not?
Yes, at this stage it appears that the DHS is certainly unprepared and has so far been less effective than citizens could reasonably have hoped.
I don't think anyone's expectations are that a city the size of New Orleans, and a land somewhat larger in area than the mainland of Great Britain (which is heard on the radio this lunchtime, and which really gives me some sense of the scale of the disaster), could have been completely evacuated in a matter of two or three days.
Apart from the people who didn't have the means or the opportunity to leave - not least the elderly, sick and infirm - (and think of the trouble NO would be in if all the healthcare workers and the police department had decided to leave too!), some people would just be too stubborn to go anywhere and try to ride out the problem.
But it occurs to me that the relief efforts of an area this size - especially the NO and Biloxi metropolitan areas - could easily have been planned in advance. After all, there is an excellent precedent for the air supply of most of resources necessary to sustain life in America's relatively recent past - The Berlin Airlift
Admittedly, Berlin was merely blockaded, rather than mostly flooded and partially destroyed; fresh water was not really a problem; and there were serviceable airfields within the city - but food, clothing, fuel and the like were required, and the US has at it's disposal large numbers of helicopters, which do not need to land on anything in the city to freight in supplies. The broad principle is something that could have been adatped and applied by someone with vision, I think.
The logistical challenge of organising relief supplies and delivery methods on the required scale are not something that could be organised from scratch at the drop of a hat - or at the breach of a levee - but then, one of the purposes of an entity like the DHS would, I am perhaps naive to believe, be planning for such contingencies, however unlikely they might seem.
This is especially true since, unlike most of Northen Europe, large parts of the USA are prey to natural disaster that might well include ones on this scale. Not just earthquakes, but hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, avalanches, and so on. 2. Considering the National Weather Service stated the severity of the aftermath on Sunday before the hurricane hit, is the response 5 days later acceptable? Why or why not?
I don't think it's acceptable
, but I think maybe the DHS was created in and has acted within a particular context - prevention of terrorism being seen as the first and foremost responsibility. Even though events like Katrina and her consequent waves of chaos and tragedy (well, that's THAT reunion tour out the window
- please forgive the gallows humour) are within their remit, it seems pretty clear that nearly everyone's expectation until now was this narrowly defined. 3. Given the performance demonstrated so far do you have confidence that the Department of Homeland Security is equipped to deal with a terrorist threat?
I think part of the problem in the wake of Katrina is that rather more emphasis seems to have been placed on terrorism than on natural disasters, and even in this area, rather more emphasis on prevention than on mitigation of the aftermath of any attack.
Had the reverse been true, while the existence of the department would be much less politically acceptable, there would presumably have been transferable plans for evacuation and relief that would have been in place by now.
But, at it's formation, prevention of terrorism on US soil was the primary and paramount purpose (apologies for the alliteration) of the DHS - understandably so.
And - given the kind of secrecy necessary to avoid warning terror cells illustrated in this article
- the DHS might well have been highly successful in this part of it's remit and we wouldn't be any the wiser.
Maybe the response to the 9-11 attacks in NYC and the wider nation gave a false sense of security that rescue and relief would largely take care of itself - the heroism evinced by the NYPD, NYFD, and many ordinary New Yorkers (and Washingtonians & Penssylvanians) was in every way commendable, but perhaps lend credence to this idea. While they were very large, only two buildings were destroyed, and less than fifty others were so much as shaken.
The sheer physcial scale was simply not comaparable to the damage following Katrina. 4. If you believe there is a problem, what should be done to fix the problem?
The first priority has to be getting on with the business of rescue and relief with a sense of purpose that seems to have been absent until now. Then the levees need to be repaired temporarily so the damage doesn't get any worse, while a more permanent solution is sought.
Then, once reconstruction is underway (which isn't
, as far as I can tell, within the DHS remit), then
people can concentrate on the political fall-out. No doubt those politicians perceived to be responsible will suffer at the ballot box, and rightly so, but the future form and direction of the DHS is also a political issue, if not necessarily a party political one.
Bearing in mind what I've said about the context of the creation of the DHS, I think maybe the handling of this crisis by the overall instiution is forgiveable
. This time.
The context of its existence needs to be significantly broadened to focus as much on evacuation, rescue and relief as on prevention of terrorism, and they need to do a lot more thinking of the unthinkable about the possible scale of what it might be asked to cope with, up to and including - I don't know - the forced evacuation, rescue and relief of an entire state
, rather than just one or a few cities.
The USA has the San Andreas fault, which could knock over some rickety buildings, but could also put most of California on the sea bed and give Sacramento a beachfront. It has Yellowstone, which could rumble enough to scare a few mountain lions, or could cover the entire midwest with red hot ash several feet deep. It has Mount St Helens, which could do what it did last time, or could turn the people of Seattle into the kind of pumice stone statues we've been digging out of the foothills of Vesuvius for two thousand years.
It has the possibility of a Canary Island volcanic eruption or landslip creating a tsunami that could wash away most Eastern Seaboard cities, not just get them a bit damp.
It also faces the unlikely but conceivable eventuality of a stolen nuclear or thermonuclear device being detonated in Central Park, Coit Tower, Fox Plaza, the Old Town Hall, or anywhere else, by some murderous lunatic in the name of their own twisted idea, which may (or may not) be inspired by Islam.
Now, such scenarios may be the stuff of nightmares. They might be the worst possible outcomes of already unlikely events. And any governmental effort to help the people affected in the aftermath of anything like these events may be the equivalent of putting a cold flannel on the forehead of a person with a fever - palliative more than curative.
Such things DO happen. We have known that forever, and are periodically reminded of it. And there ARE things that can be done, individually and collectively, so that at least some people survive them who otherwise would not have done. And, surely, if it is the job of any type of institution to consider how to optimise the survivability of such things, it is the job of governments
. What else are they for
As has been pointed out often by many of those on the political right, if government has any function at all, it is to at least attempt to ensure the safety and security of its citizenry.
So I have no sympathy at all
with the view that we're all on our own and have to do as best we can without any expectation of help from governments in situations like those faced by the people left in New Orleans and other Katrina-d areas.
That attitude, far from preventing the chaos and anarchy and uncontrolled crime and roaming gangs and so on - all of which are supposedly happening inside NO (with little in the way of convincing evidence to support these assertions, I must say) - is what causes
things like them to happen.