Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Blind Leading the Blind

Is Secretary Chertoff incompetent, or worst?

Question: Mr. Secretary, two questions. One is, are you satisfied that you have enough Guard forces there? And secondly, how long do you think it will take to evacuate --

Secretary Chertoff: I'm satisfied that we have not only more than enough forces there and on the way. And frankly, what we're doing is we are putting probably more than we need in order to send an unambiguous message that we will not tolerate lawlessness or violence or interference with the evacuation.


Let me say, by the way, that I know there are hospitals that have patients who need care. We have been very focused on evacuating them. We do prioritize, meaning that we go to hospitals and take the most critically needy out first, and then work our way down as -- we get the people who are sick, but perhaps not in a life-threatening situation.

And, in fact, yesterday, I happened to see on TV someone was calling from a hospital and complaining they weren't being picked up. And I called the operation center and I said, are you guys on top of this, and they said they were, and they made it clear that they, again, have a process in place which sets priorities and they're following that process.

Let me see if I understand this correctly. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security: 1) knows that there are hospitals in the affected areas, 2) knows these hospitals have patients in need of transport, and 3) knows there's a focus on evacuating them.

And how does Secretary Chertoff know all of this? By watching TV and calling a guy to get some third-hand (hopefully) information. Incredible!

[Update: Good news. All patients and staff from Charity and University hospitals have finally been evacuate, according to Don Smithburg, head of the Louisiana State University hospital system.]

Question: Do you think that FEMA should have had buses available for the evacuation at the time the evacuation order was first declared? And secondly, obviously here and now in retrospect, but did DHS and FEMA under estimate this and not have sufficient resources on the ground?

Secretary Chertoff: Actually, I think there was an extraordinary effort to put resources on the ground and pre-position them. As I said, the President declared states of emergency before the hurricane made landfall. So that enabled us not only to put large quantities of water and food and tarpaulins and generators in place, but it also allowed us to actually start flowing that out in advance.

So are we to understand that supplies weren't put in place in advance *on purpose* at the Superdome and the Convention Center (you know, the spots where tens of thousands of people were told to go)?

Clearly, this is not the time for finger pointing. But neither is this the time to play slick politics with people's unimaginable suffering and lives. If the current situation in New Orleans doesn't merit an honest response, and a constructive assessment from people like Secretary Chertoff, I don't know what does.

On a related note. When I heard* this morning that the President had suspended Posse Comitatus to allow 7,000 active duty troops to come to New Orleans, I wasn't sure this was such a good idea. However, after watching the evacuation efforts by the Texas National Guard at the Superdome, I must say: our military's efficiency and professionalism are impressive.

*I heard that on either MSNBC or CNN, but haven't found anything online confirming it. If I do, I'll update with a link.


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