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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Katrina and Military Preparadness

Wondering what was happening with the military before Katrina made landfall? Daniel Henniger at Opinion Journal covers it.
The "strategy" is a three-month-old document called "Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support." It describes the Defense Department's plans to defend the U.S. from a WMD attack or deal with the rubble and mass casualties of such an attack. Traditionally DoD has always helped civil authorities contend with the ruin of natural disasters. That Katrina's massive scale mirrored a WMD attack, obliterating a city, is a coincidence. But it raises the question of whether the states, or relatively vulnerable states like Louisiana, are up to the job of being "first responders" to a WMD attack or its natural equivalent. If they are not, we need to change some laws.

The popular impression left the past week-- that the government was wholly unprepared for Katrina--is not true. Significant U.S. military assistance was on alert throughout the week prior to Katrina's landfall. Why those highly trained and drilled assets did not move into New Orleans sooner is a question that should now sit at the center of a debate over who should have the authority--the states or the federal government--to be the "first mover."
According to accounts provided by several sources involved with preparations for Katrina, the Pentagon began tracking the storm when it was still just a number in the ocean on Aug. 23, some five days before landfall in Buras, La. As the storm approached, senior Pentagon officials told staff to conduct an inventory of resources available should it grow into a severe hurricane. Their template for these plans was the assistance DoD provided Florida last year for its four hurricanes.

And a week earlier than this, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued an executive order delegating hurricane decision authority to the head of the Northern Command, Adm. Timothy J. Keating. Four days later, as the tropical storm soon to be named Katrina gathered force, Adm. Keating acted on that order.

Before the hurricane arrived in New Orleans, Adm. Keating approved the use of the bases in Meridien, Miss., and Barksdale, La., to position emergency meals and some medical equipment; eventually the number of emergency-use bases grew to six. And before landfall, Adm. Keating sent military officers to Mississippi and Louisiana to set up traditional coordination with their counterparts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As well, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England ordered the movement of ships into the Gulf.

By the Pentagon's account, it carried out these preparations without any formal Katrina-related request from FEMA or other authorities. The personnel behind the massive military effort now on display in Louisiana--airlift evacuation, medical, supply, and the National Guard--was on alert a week before the hurricane. According to Assistant Secretary McHale, "The U.S. military has never deployed a larger, better-resourced civil support capability so rapidly in the history of our country."

So where were they on the two days of globally televised horror? Why, for instance, didn't DoD fly all this help close to New Orleans as soon as it saw Katrina coming? The answer, in military argot, is that you don't deploy troops beneath a bombing run; Katrina predictably would have wiped out any help put in her uncertain path, just as she rolled over the Big Easy's wholly unprotected "first responders."
Reading the whole thing is recommended, but some excellent points are made which tend to counter a great deal of whining and misinformation being spread about what "should have happened."

Posse Comitatus precludes things like deploying the 82nd Airborne to act as "law enforcers" as some people called for. Read a summary and history here.

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