This question really gets to the core of federalism and it also gets to the core of a realistic approach to what people expect and can do and what government can do, what one can expect and for which roles governments are positioned to serve and in the case of hurricane Katrina, respond.
Local governments, by definition, are in the best position to know what the risks are in an emergency situation; they know their own territory, their own people and what is needed.
For example, natural disaster risks are different in Minnesota, St. Louis and New Orleans where, large snowfalls, Mississippi River flooding and a strong hurricanes are unique risks, respectively, to each area. Therefore, these localities are in the best position to know, plan and carryout responses for these types of risks. If there is a snowfall in Minnesota, the snowplows go out in every locality in the area to keep the streets clean for safe passage of the citizens. If the snow piles up quicker than anticipated and roads become impassable, then the first responders in the area are also equipped with snowmobiles so that they can respond to emergencies and carry out their duties. When I lived in Bufallo, New York, this occasionally happened. The State of New York National Guard was called out once and a curfew was put in place, where people were not allowed to go out, since cars were getting stuck in the snow and people died in the cold. So, when the problem was too much for the city government to handle, in this case, the state was called upon for further assistance.
Obviously, a disaster can be so large and devastating, that it over-whelms the local and state's governments ability to respond effectively and therefore, the federal government is asked to assist. Further resources, those of the government and other states, are pulled in from outside the immediate vicinity to assist with relief efforts. However, the federal government, rightly, does not have primary responsibility for disaster relief until this benchmark is reached. And remember that this is a benchmark set up by the local governments, not by the federal government themselves.
One should recall the example that I used earlier, a snowstorm in Minnesota. The theorectical problem I used did not get to the point where the federal government was needed to respond, since the local government was prepared for this level of storm. Additionally, rarely would a city of New Orleans need to prepare for a snowstorm of the magnitude that Minnesota would and rarely, if ever, would Minnesota need to prepare for a hurricane flooding over dikes, since there are none there. St. Louis, on the other hand, may have to prepare for both, but neither of the same magnitude of New Orleans or Minnesota.
So, there are various levels of risk depending upon where the city is located to prepare for and various needs depending upon population. Plans on how to prepare are best devised by the localities since they are intimately familiar with the issues necessary for making decisions.FEMA
, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is designed, as it should be, to assist localities when local resources are overwhelmed. They too need to plan on various different response scenarios when locals are overwhelmed.
With hurricane Katrina, those potential response scenarios included moving materials in place prior to the hurricane hitting, which was done, and then waiting for the requests for assistance and evaluation of what is needed and where. Personnel are a more difficult matter with an organization like FEMA, since it is difficult to predict exactly where a catastrophe will happen, what the level of damage will be, what exact resources are needed and where to put these people since you do not want the FEMA personnel to also be victims of the disaster and therefore become part of the problem. So, by definition, FEMA can not be expected nor should we ever expect that a federal US Government agency be charged with first response capability. It is just an impossible job. And ultimately doomed to fail. Given what has happened in New Orleans, and this differs from the experience of where the hurricane hit directly, Mississippi, done a poor job given the capabilities and the responsibilities of the US government in situations such as this? What markers were set down to measure success or failure? Is it response after the disaster? Preparedness before? I have heard very little from the US press with actual facts on what is expected as compared with what was done. All I have heard are emotional blathering from some who were unfortunate enough to be caught up in the disaster and some of those that are trying to score political points at the expense of the others. In my opinion, the American press has done one of the poorest jobs in the disaster. They are wholly unprepared to report since they are tainted with promoting an agenda or political points instead of doing their primary job and that is reporting news.
But I digress. My ultimate point is that the US government cannot and will never be everything to everybody.
And this last line, I feel is the problem with the American left today and also the tone of the coverage of the Katrina response by the press... let me repeat...
The US government cannot and will never be everything to everybody
The American left, for some odd reason, wants things centrally managed in the USA. This, in my humble opinion, is a recipe for disaster and if the FEMA response is after looking at the facts, considered a disaster, then this will be another example of a failure of soviet style central planning. So the left's desire for central planning and its potential failure here should be very troublesome for them. Of course, most of them think that everything is the fault of George W. Bush, but I think that normal people know that not everything can be the fault of one man. I never did like the idea of centrally planned national responses except those that involve international diplomacy or war. But that issue os one for antoher post. FEMA was created in 1979
by the Carter administration, merging many different disaster response organization in different agencies under one roof. Its mission is...
FEMA's mission remains: to lead America to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from disasters with a vision of "A Nation Prepared."
So, do you think that the US is prepared for every possible emergency? I don't think so. Do you think that we should be prepared for every possible emergency? I don't think that this is a realistic goal. Do you think that the response to hurricane Katrina was adequate? I think that we have to see when we are looking at what we wanted to achieve and how the response was carried out. I don't think that anyone is even remotely qualified to answer that question now. But I think that we were well prepared and we got the best kind of federal government response that we could expect given the nature of the disaster and what we should expect of them.