September - October, 2005

P.O. Box 190, Mount Holly, Virginia 2252
Volume 35, Number 5, Jerry Strope, Editor

"The end result is vastly improved coordination among federal, state, local and tribal organizations to help save lives and protect America’s communities by increasing the speed, effectiveness and efficiency of incident management."

Final sentence of the National Response Plan, issued earlier this year.

In This Issue:


Charley Erdmann, Where are you?

Now that Congressonal committees are holding hearings and taking testimony on what happened in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, the full scope of failure is coming into view. For example, it seems that FEMA director Michael Brown sent the Region 1 director, Marty Bahamonde, to New Orleans several days before Katrina made landfall. Bahamonde was the only FEMA official in the city until teams arrived three days after Katrina struck. He sent Brown an e-mail two days after landfall telling him "thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water" and got no response. He got a copy of an e-mail from Brown’s entourage concerning where Brown might get a good restaurant meal in Baton Rouge. At the time, Bahamonde was at the SuperDome, eating an MRE, urinating in the hall along with 50,000 others, and sleeping on the garage floor. This may have contributed to his conclusion that "The leadership from top down in our agency is unprepared and out of touch."

Bahamonde’s testimony before a Senate subcommittee chaired by Susan Collins (R-ME) raised a number of questions not answered in published testimony. Why was he sent from Region 1 (New England) to New Orleans, which is in Region 3 (the Gulf Coast?) He was in e-mail contact with Region 3 director David Passay but not anyone Region 3 may have had in the city. In earlier testimony, Michael Brown stated that Bahamonde was sent to New Orleans to be liaison to the mayor. Bahamonde denied being liaison to anyone and he certainly wasn’t with the mayor.

The mayor, Ray Nagin, a black, had prepared a message (not released) telling residents that if a major hurricane struck, the city could not afford to evacuate the 134,000 people who lacked transport-ation. So those with no cars, no resources, and no place to go were left behind while a fleet of some 150 school buses that might have carried thousands to safety in a single trip sat idle. One excuse, according to John Leo, was that running buses out of the city would not have been practical in an emergency. But a young black man commandeered a bus, picked up fleeing residents one by one, and drove them all to the Houston Astrodome. Apparently, he had not been told that busing wouldn’t work.

In all of this, one never learns the name of the city’s emergency management director, who should have made the necessary arrangements. He may have been the mayor’s brother, for all we know. What we do know is that Charley Erdmann would have done it right.

Charley Erdmann was the civil defense director of New Orleans during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, one of the very best in the country. His emergency plans were fully developed and his mayor knew what they were. Charley had a deep concern for his levees. One nuke that breached the levees, he maintained, would be the end of New Orleans. So evacuating the city was his emphasis, which leads us to ask, Where was Charley Erdmann when New Orleans needed him?

The mass media gave Americans a ringside seat as New Orleans descended into chaos: victims without food, water or shelter; weeping mothers; sick children; dead bodies lying on the street; hoodlums shooting at rescuers; old people and children left alone and un-attended. At least, that is what Mortimer Zuckerman says we saw. John Leo said the city was responsible for the primary failure and the social breakdown that followed.

According to Leo, the State performed miserably, too. And Ed Crane, president of Cato Institute, pointed out that Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco waited another 24 hours after the feds offered help, "presumably to show her independence." The law requires a request for aid from the state before the federal help can get rolling and it took three days to get it. This may explain some of Bahamonde’s testimony. He stated that shortly after his arrival in New Orleans he learned from city officials that only 40,000 of the 360,000 military rations expected from FEMA had arrived, as well as only five of 15 promised water trucks. Perhaps the rest were held up because of Governor Blanco’s behavior.

Although Marty Bahamonde testified that there was systematic failure at all levels of government to understand the magnitude of the situation in New Orleans, the harshest criticism was aimed at the slowness of the federal response and specifically FEMA. Mike Brown was removed from incident command on-site and resigned as FEMA director shortly thereafter. R. David Paulison, director of the Fire Admin-istration, has taken over. Despite the fact that FEMA staff performed well in other Gulf states and in follow-on hurricanes Rita and Wilma, there have been serious proposals to replace or subordinate FEMA. On September 26, George Bush suggested making the Defense Depart-ment the lead agency under certain circumstances. "It may require change of law," said the President. "It’s very important for us as we look at the lessons of Katrina to think about other scenarios that might require a well-planned significant federal response—right off the bat—to provide stability." (read ‘terrorist attack’ here) This led to a torrent of op-ed pieces and editorials on the merits of using the military in domestic emergencies. The military, especially the Army, takes a dim view of such proposals as exemplified by the headline, Fighters, Not First Respond-ers. The Bush Administration is also considering changes in the law that would make it unnecessary to get a request from the governor before taking action. Clearly, there is room here for several congressional investigations and subcommittee hearings. Whatever happens, the Federal Response Plan needs improvement to warrant its last sentence (our quotable quote) or it will remain a real laugher.

Pyongyang Commits to Denuclearize

It was indeed great news to read the headline in the New York Times: North Korea Says It Will Abandon Nuclear Efforts. After a two-year standoff over the North’s nuclear weapons programs, it was good news. The agreement turned out to be a near thing and may also be-come a sometime thing.

The US, North Korea and the four other nations participating in negotiations in Beijing signed a draft accord on September 19 in which the North promised to abandon its nuclear program, rejoin the Nonproliferation Treaty and submit to IAEA inspection. The signing rescued a diplomatic process that was on the verge of collapse. Chris Hill, the chief US negotiator, said before the agreement was reached that he was determined to end the discussions and return to Washington without an agreed-to joint statement of principles. The break-through came at the last minute, after US negotiators had prepared to close the negotiations. The Chinese, who had nurtured the joint statement throughout this fourth round of negotiations, apparently made one last proposal, which was successful.

The euphoria of a signed agreement lasted almost precisely 24 hours. On September 20, North Korea announced it would not begin to dismantle its nuclear weapons program until the United States first provides a light-water nuclear reactor. Suddenly, the media became aware that a lot of issues such as the schedule of events were yet to be negotiated. With respect to the schedule, the North wants all the goodies before it shuts down the program, whereas the US wants the dismantling verified by the IAEA before giving the North anything. The task for the Chinese and the other members will be to gradually build a workable schedule acceptable to all. The North began informal negotiations at the extreme end since building a reactor would take five years or so while they continued to build weapons.

The reaction of the Bush Admin-istration was dismissive. "Life is too short to overreact to every statement coming out of Pyongyang," Hill said upon his return from the negotiations in Beijing. "We are not surprised by these sorts of statements. There probably will be more of them." Hill indicated that North Korea’s demand would be discussed at the next round of negotiations, which will begin in mid-November. He ruled out any decision on a reactor until the North rejoined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and agreed to international supervision. Under the tentative agreement, South Korea will provide the North with the energy it says it needs. Hill also noted that the agreement is not with the US alone but also with North Korea’s neighbors. "That means something in Asia," he said.

Iran Still a Problem

The six-nation agreement to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula echoed in Vienna where the IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, quickly called for talks to replace international confrontation over Iran’s nuclear activities, saying negotiations had proved their worth in getting North Korea to renounce its nuclear program. Nonetheless, the day after the Korean accord, US and European diplomats resumed efforts to bring Iran before the UN Security Council by drafting a resolution for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35 board-member nations to vote on. ElBaradei criticized both Iran’s intransigence and US-EU calls for Security Council involvement as examples of "confrontations and political brinkmanship."

Two days later, on September 22, the European Union decided to postpone its push to refer Iran to the UN in the face of strong opposition from board-member nations China and Russia. The text was introduced at that board meeting but any vote on referral will come at the earliest when the board meets again in November.

Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign policy has become shriller and its nuclear policy more menacing since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president. On Wednesday this last week of October, he said in a speech that "Israel must be wiped off the map." Secretary of State Condi Rice rebuked Ahmadinejad for this statement and Friday the UN Security Council condemned his remarks. Needless to say, such declarations do not encourage the belief that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at peaceful production of energy for civilian purposes.

Watchdog groups now allege that Ahmadinejad has placed the military firmly in control of his nation’s nuclear program, undercutting his government’s claim that the program is intended for civilian use.

Since the next issue will be in your hands in January, accept my best wishes for the Holiday Season and the coming year.

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