Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Spin First, Save Lives Seven Days Later

Brown's failures in planning for and executing the FEMA response to Katrina are reason enough to fire him now.

But there's something else his Aug. 29 memo to Secretary Chertoff reveals. And this is why Brown should be swiftly and unceremoniously kicked out the door, so fast and so hard that he lands flat on his butt on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Money quote:
Brown's memo told employees that among their duties, they would be expected to "convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public."

"FEMA response and recovery operations are a top priority of the department and as we know, one of yours," Brown wrote Chertoff. He proposed sending 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days.

Knocke said the 48-hour period suggested for the Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate training. "They were training to help the life-savers," Knocke said.

Employees required a supervisor's approval and at least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland, Florida or Georgia. "You must be physically able to work in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day," Brown wrote.

The role of FEMA is not to "convey a positive image of disaster operations." The role of FEMA is to coordinate relief efforts, to make sure that anyone still stranded is rescued before they die, and that those rescued get food and shelter.

FEMA doesn't do this to make themselves look good. They do this because the people are tax-paying citizens, and they deserve not to drown in their attics or die of exposure on the Chalmette Slip waiting for a boat that never comes.

That's where a lot of spin of this memo will stop. But let's look at the meat for a minute -- because it's another reason -- perhaps an even more obscene one -- that Brown has got to go now.

Five hours after Katrina hit land, Brown requested 1,000 agents on the ground in 48 hours and 2,000 within seven days. The delay was necessary so they could be trained.

Now it's bad enough that the people who were supposed to respond to the storm not only weren't on the ground before the storm, but they weren't even trained before the storm, and had to be delayed for a week for training.

But it's even worse, because the training is precisely so they can work "in a disaster area without refrigeration for medications and have the ability to work in the outdoors all day."

What about all the people in all the parishes and counties who died waiting to be rescued in those seven days? Waiting while no one at the federal level seemed aware their parishes and counties existed? They died because they couldn't live without refrigeration or medications or food or water.

And a lot of them died because the FEMA director couldn't get his agents trained and in place before Katrina struck -- this with all the articles and plans and the tabletop exercise from 2004. Anyone remotely aware of those things -- like another formidable blogger or, say, myself -- might have realized early on Saturday that Katrina was lined up to be the Big One.

That would have been 48 hours before landfall.

But FEMA director Michael Brown couldn't put two and two together and get four. He didn't even realize there was math involved. He failed to order the agents until after Katrina hit, and then they weren't trained, and then once they were, they failed to figure out all which areas were affected.

The only thing they followed through on were the attempts to spin.

They failed there, too.

Mr. President, please. Michael Brown has done far too much damage. Toss his delaying, denying, butt-kissing ass out in the street.


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