Time to Be Concerned…


t has been four years since 9/11 and the government has had ample time to implement many of the ideas and plans to protect us from a large scale disaster, one that could be brought on by a terrorist attack. Katrina was not a terrorist attack, but it did bring about a disaster that could have shown us how the government would respond to a major disaster. As we all know now, they failed miserably.

It is true that local and state government failed to implement evacuation plans, causing many who wanted to evacuate but could not to suffer needlesly. So yeah, they failed, but the federal governement could have stepped in immediately and boldly to overcome the failures of local government. It did not. But I won’t talk about federal failures to respond adequately. The news people do it enough. Photos say more than enough. And the opinion writers–even staunch supporters of Bush like Kristol and Krauthammer–have expressed their share of disbelief and disappointment with the federal response, and I have nothing more to add to their insights.

But as a citizen of the US and a resident of a “high-value” target–Washington DC area–I am in fear for my family’s life, my neighbors’ life, my life. The Bush administration is responsible for protecting us against enemy atack, and as commander in chief, Bush bears the lions share of responsibility, if not for the actions or inaction of his appointed staff / subordinates, then for appointing political allies who are inexperienced and ultimately inept.

After 9/11, Bush changed the structure of government to better protect us, the citizens. One of the things he did was create a new department, Homeland Security. Further, he placed the heretofore cabinet-level Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) into the new department, effectively taking away much of its ability to respond and act independantly and decisively when needed. Now, FEMA as a branch of Homeland Security has defer to the Director of the Department, which leads to more bureaucratic tape. I suppose that the director of FEMA could have just cut through the red tape and ordered action immediately along the Gulf Coast, and especially in New Orleans. Perhaps, a compassionate person would have done so, a competent person would have done so. Geez, even Gore did so–which is perhaps a bit more presidential than the guy who beat him in 2000. But Michael Brown, when told of the starving people at the New Orleans Convention Center days after Katrina struck, said that it was the first time he had heard of it.

Does that not boggle the mind?

What had he been doing? Was he not paying attention to what was happening in New Orleans? Did he not have a staff to keep him informed? Was he playing dumb? Or is he just dumb? Either is unacceptable. But this begs the question:

How did Michael Brown become director of FEMA in the first place?

His most notable administrative job was as the Judges & Stewards Commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association (he was not fired as some media have claimed), and his responsibilities included “managing the education, appointment and evaluation of judges and stewards for competitions that come under the jurisdiction of the IAHA.” Now, I’m sure these are all admirable qualities, but how does this relate to emergency management? Oh wait, I found this at Time: According to a White House press release from 2001, “Brown worked for the city of Edmond, Okla., from 1975 to 1978 ‘overseeing the emergency services division.’ In fact, according to Claudia Deakins, head of public relations for the city of Edmond, Brown was an ‘assistant to the city manager’ from 1977 to 1980, not a manager himself, and had no authority over other employees. ‘The assistant is more like an intern.’ ”

Oh, great. *rolls eyes* So the director of FEMA knows the ins and outs of choosing judges who judge Arabian horses and was an intern for the city of Edmond. An INTERN! So who appointed this guy? Oh yeah, George Bush.

So here I am wondering. Since 9/11, George Bush has taken away FEMA’s cabinet-level authority and placed it into Homeland Security, in a way taking away its teeth. Then he hires a man whose resume suggests that he had no business being the head of the emergency management arm of the federal government. And Brown’s lack of experience and Bush’s mistake of putting him there in the first place are exposed by a real disaster, inexperience and a mistake that probably cost more than a few lives.

So how does that make me feel about possible terrorist attacks? Does George Bush have the right people in charge? Can we trust this administration to have put in the necessary safeguards to protect us from possible attacks? And if a terrorist attack is successful, will the government take care of us? Or will they take there time as Bush simply does a fly over from above in Air Force One? With these questions in my mind, I read the following in today’s Washington Post.

Terrorism Could Hurl D.C. Area Into Turmoil
Despite Efforts Since 9/11, Response Plans Incomplete

By Sari Horwitz and Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 11, 2005; A01

The U.S. Capitol and the White House have been fortified, police forces strengthened, high-tech security equipment purchased, vulnerable streets closed and checkpoints and barriers erected. In all, federal, state and local governments have spent more than $2 billion to protect the Washington area since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Despite these efforts, security officials in the region concede that they fear another major terrorist strike would result in the kind of chaos and confusion seen along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

Even those who helped spend the money envision gridlock on the Capital Beltway as residents flee after a truck bombing at the Capitol or a chemical attack on Metro. They see D.C. police, U.S. Capitol Police, the FBI, U.S. Park Police and the departments of Homeland Security and Defense scrambling to figure out who is in charge, strained hospitals overwhelmed with thousands of people in need of medical care and confused downtown workers from the District, Maryland and Virginia who don’t know what to do.

On the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation’s capital lacks a comprehensive way to tell people what to do in a state of emergency, especially a terrorist attack with no warning, according to law enforcement and Homeland Security officials involved in emergency preparations.

“What we lack is a coordinated public information system in the event of a major incident,” said David Snyder, a member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ homeland security task force. “What we need is a system that will function instantaneously and automatically every time. . . . That doesn’t exist now.”

Complicating the planning is the fact that officials don’t know exactly what they are planning for. A tornado would require a different response than a dirty bomb at the Capitol or a smallpox attack on Metro. And officials are not going to have to communicate just among themselves but also tell a panicked public what to do and where to go. Sometimes the edict would be to evacuate, other times to stay put.

After watching the bedlam in New Orleans after Katrina, Washington area officials said they are concerned about how much help they would get from the federal government and how quickly it would come.

Yes, I am concerned, probably more concerned than the Washington area officials. If you live in a high-value target area, which would include virtually every major metropolitan area, you should be too.

I find little comfort in the fact that I did not vote for Bush.