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September 11, 2005
Louisiana Failed To Follow A Flawed Plan: Florida

Today's Palm Beach Post takes a look at the Katrina response from a Floridian point of view, one that has plenty of experience with hurricane devastation and response. The verdict of Florida's emergency response officials is that not only did Louisiana fail to properly plan and train for an eminently forseeable disaster, but it also failed to follow the flawed plan it had (h/t: CQ reader Barnestormer):

One thing Florida knows is hurricanes.

Florida emergency planners criticized and even rebuked their counterparts -- or what passes for emergency planners -- in those states for their handling of Hurricane Katrina. Gov. Jeb Bush, the head of Florida AHCA and the head of Florida wildlife (which is responsible for all search and rescue) all said they made offers of aid to Mississippi and Louisiana the day before Katrina hit but were rebuffed. After the storm, they said they've had to not only help provide people to those states but also have had to develop search and rescue plans for them. "They were completely unprepared -- as bad off as we were before Andrew," one Florida official said. ...

Louisiana also lacked an adequate plan to evacuate New Orleans, despite years of research that predicted a disaster equal to or worse than Katrina. Even after a disaster test run last year exposed weaknesses in evacuation and recovery, officials failed to come up with solutions. ...

But the most recent Louisiana emergency operations plan doesn't address how to evacuate in the case of flooding from storm surge, saying simply that "The Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Area represents a difficult evacuation problem due to the large population and its unique layout."

It continues, "The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating."

That part of the EOP occurs on Page 13, under Part II-B, Assumptions. The plan assumes those resources would be available for use, and yet no one at the state level thought to ask for them until a day after the flood waters submerged them almost to their roofs. No one even thought to move them to higher ground before the storm hit New Orleans so that they could ferry people in and out of the city. Instead, after the levees broke on Tuesday morning, FEMA had to arrange for buses out of Houston to travel over damaged roads to get to the outskirts of New Orleans, which they did on Wednesday evening -- not a bad turnaround time considering the widespread road damage and travel hazards Katrina caused.

However, the plan does discuss, in rather generic and passive terms, how to plan evacuation into the response. The EOP section that deals with evacuation, Part III, states clearly that even a voluntary evacuation should initiate local transportation assets to assist in getting people out who cannot transport themselves. This is Part III-B, 1.a.7-8, which lays out the expectations of local officials:

7. Local transportation resources should be marshaled and public transportation plans implemented as needed.

8. Announce the location of staging areas for people who need transportation. Public transportation will concentrate on moving people from the staging areas to safety in host parishes with priority given to people with special needs.

When that escalates to a "recommended" evacuation order, the language gets stronger for the local authorities, who must then "mobilize parish/local transportation to assist persons who lack transportation or who have mobility problems [section III-B 2.a.2]."

That means that Nagin's call on Friday for a recommended evacuation should have prompted him at that point to start the buses rolling -- and Blanco's office should have made sure that happened. Not only should they have provided oversight on Nagin's response, they had the responsibility to provide Nagin with regional and state transportation resources specifically for evacuation of at-risk populations, according to section III-B 2.c.6:

6. Mobilize State evacuation traffic control active and passive resources and people. Position barriers and people where they can take up their duties within an hour of being ordered to do so.

Did this get done? Blanco didn't even know about buses until three days after landfall, and at least five days after "recommending" that New Orleans residents evacuate the city. When the evacuation order escalated to "mandatory", the plan called for the locals to assertively mobilize all transportation resources for evacuation assistance [3.a.5] and for the state to take charge of the evacuation of at-risk populations [3.c.4]:

4. Direct the evacuation and shelter of persons having mobility limitations, including persons in nursing homes, hospitals, group homes and non-institutionalized persons.

Did Louisiana and Governor Blanco follow any of its plan? Based on the report we read in the New York Times yesterday, it appears that Blanco didn't even know what the plan required, or even have any knowledge of the resources and responsibilities that the state government had.

Also note the date on Lousiana's EOP. Its last revision came in January 2000. No one in Louisiana has updated this plan despite the events that followed after that date:

* 9/11
* Hurricane Ivan (Sep 2004)
* Natural Hazards evaluation of LA/NO response (Nov 2004)

Florida officials have called this correctly. The response to Katrina and its unnecessarily deadly consequences started years ago, when Louisiana and its officials refused to take emergency planning seriously and neglected to make what slight planning did take place known to the various agencies expected to respond. No amount of federal intervention could have overcome the mistakes made by state and local response agencies in the days and hours before landfall, and even afterwards the reluctance of Blanco to allow federal authority to take over the area cost more time and lives while she dithered.

Sheer incompetence. Louisiana needs to ask itself why their elected officials left them so vulnerable to this kind of disaster.

UPDATE: Llamaschool, in the comments, thinks that I left out two points in which the locals responded to avoid being disproven in my thesis. However, if all that the state and local authorities did was to fulfill two points of their EOP, that definitively shows that they didn't accomplish hardly any of the rest of it.

As far as police exhorting people to go to the Superdome, that isn't what the response plan called for. First, that relied on people to self-evacuate, when the response plan clearly indicated that the evacuations should have buses ready for that kind of movement for those who could not self-evacuate -- the poor people that Kanye West and others accused Bush of "murdering" last week. The Superdome was meant as a last-resource refuge, after the buses got the people out of the city. And that evacuation was to take place before a hurricane hit the city, not three or four days afterwards.

Go back and read the plans, Llamaschool. It is not a restaurant menu where one selects one from Column A and two Column B and declares their responsibilities at an end. The state and local authorities are responsible for implementing their entire plan, and they faild miserably at doing so.

UPDATE II: Welcome, Instapundit readers!

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 11, 2005 8:13 AM

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