What a difference a change of administrations makes. After several years of non-stop hectoring about Bush and the bungled response to Katrina, the New York Times offers an op-ed about how “All Disasters are Local.”
AMERICA seems to have dodged a bullet with the swine flu epidemic — yet this was more the result of the virus being less deadly than feared rather than of any government coordination.
Despite billions spent since 9/11, we are still not well prepared to react to disease outbreaks, terrorist attacks and natural disasters — a fact Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has been frank about in her brief time on the job. She has ruffled feathers by criticizing a $25 million national-security exercise the department undertook in 2007 as being too expensive, too unrealistic and “too removed from a real-world scenario.” But her frustration is well founded and indicative of larger fundamental flaws.
The big problem is that coordination among state and local governments and Washington has been only incrementally improved in recent years. The national exercise system is broken, focusing too much on senior officials and neglecting training at the state and local levels. There is a better way.
The author then goes on to talk about the need for low-level training, rather than just showpiece enactments to make the bigwigs look good. And as for Katrina? Way down past the jump, we have just this:
The degree of personal trust at the tactical level, not money or machines, is the single most important determinant of how well communities will deal with threats and disasters. But these relationships must be established in training so that first responders are not handing out business cards to one another on the way to the disaster. In addition, preparation can sort out any questions as to what the military’s proper role will be in a disaster and spare us the sort of legal haggling that helped hamstring the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
Now, that would be an interesting story to hear. Legal haggling stymied the federal response? That’s actual news. When, where, by whom and why? Since we didn’t hear about it, I’ll bet it wasn’t Bush’s folks doing the haggling.
But I guess that would spoil the narrative.