September 12, 2005

Mega-Disaster "Fog of War" Demands Military Be Forward-Leaning

On September 4, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" that: "It was on Tuesday that the levee -- may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday -- that the levee started to break."

"Officials with the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers said last week that one canal breach came to the attention of corps personnel early Monday, Aug. 29 and another by midday. But the "fog of war" and "massive logistical problems with communications in the hours after the storm hit" created some confusion, said John Rickey, a spokesman for the corps." - Why Levee Breaches In New Orleans Were Late-Breaking News

(read more)

Like so many in Washington, even on Sunday, six days after the levee break, Secretary Chertoff was still mis-informed about the timing of disaster in New Orleans. Michael Chertoff is a lawyer, a Harvard University and Harvard Law School graduate who was previously a federal prosecutor, practicing attorney and United States Court of Appeals Judge. He has no military experience. He has never before been plunged into the "fog of war."
See: Michael Chertoff - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia;
and: Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff;
and also: DHS | Department of Homeland Security | Secretary: Michael Chertoff

Joseph Riley
was the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989. Until Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina, Catagory 4 Hurricane Hugo was the storm causing the greatest damage in the United States. Mayor Riley told media this morning that he is very much looking forward to testifying about the response to Katrina because of his similar experiences with FEMA during Hugo.

Mayor Riley tells an anecdote that deserves to be repeated again and again. Hugo's eye passed directly over the command station for Charleston's city government. As it did, Mayor Riley asked FEMA what advice they had to give him at this time. The response, according to Mayor Riley, was: "Be sure to account for all your expenses."

Hugo veteran Riley has repeatedly insisted that in a disaster of this magnitude, one needs a "military response." As he told the Charlotte Observer last year on the 15th anniversary of Hugo: "You ratchet up the energy level, just the same way you would if you knew the enemy was four miles away and they were ready to take over if you let up for one minute." Charlotte Observer | 09/04/2005 | Hurricane Hugo

Last week, the Birmingham News reported on similarities between the response to Hugo and the response to Katrina: "After the storm smashed into Charleston on Sept. 21, 1989, it took the Federal Emergency Management Agency 10 days to open its first disaster application center in the city. There were tens of thousands of claims and too few FEMA workers to handle the crunch. * * * Then-U.S. Sen. Ernest 'Fritz' Hollings, D-S.C., called the agency 'the sorriest bunch of bureaucratic jackasses I've ever worked with.'"

For News, Mayor Riley also contrasted the difference between long-term rebuilding and the immediate response: "It's the every-minute-counts power, water, food, shelter, patrols, security and all that immediate stuff you need like during a war. * * * Only the military can marshal such resources and future disasters will only cost more," he said. Katrina complaints echo those from Hugo (Birmingham News, Sep. 7, 2005).

This is the exact same conclusion reached by the General Accountability Office twelve years ago in GAO/RCED-93-186: DISASTER MANAGEMENT Improving the Nationís Response to Catastrophic Disasters (July 1993) (PDF)

This GAO report, indicating the essential role of speedy Department of Defense response to a disaster of the scale of Katrina, was published after the outcry about the slow, uncoordinated government response to the Hurricane Andrew catastrophe.

In it, the GAO said:
"For all but the most severe catastrophic disasters, the Red Cross and its large network of volunteers may be well suited to provide mass care and coordinate the efforts of other federal agencies, as was the case with Hurricane Andrew in Louisiana. In South Florida, the Red Cross also responded to the needs of Hurricane Andrewís victims-sheltering those who evacuated South Florida and providing some mass care after the storm. However, the enormous gap between the immediate need and available private voluntary resources in South Florida was inevitable for a disaster of this magnitude."
... "For such disasters, DOD is the only organization capable of providing, transporting, and distributing sufficient quantities of the items needed"

More of these extraordinary "mega-castrophes" will happen, as sure as the sun rises. Some will be long-predicted and ignored consequences of an inevitable natural event of which the target had several days notice (like Katrina). Others will be total surprises (like the attacks of September 11) and may include biological, radiological or chemical attacks, or conventional weapons attacks on special targets such as natural gas tankers in Boston Harbor.

Judge Posner suggests that declaring martial law may be the proper response in such situations: [J]udging from the New Orleans disaster, [emergency response as counter-terror tool] remains completely inadequate. One possible response would have been for the President to declare martial law and place a general who had combat experience (i.e., someone who knows how to coordinate a large number of people in circumstances of urgency and uncertainty) in command of all federal, state, local, public, private, military and civilian response agencies and personnel. The article in the Washington Post this morning that I mentioned notes the bureaucratic logjams that delayed the response; martial law would have overcome them. My idea about how to respond to such a disaster may be excessively dramatic and quite unsound; I am no expert. But ever since 9/11 it has been known that there could well be a terrorist attack utilizing weapons of mass destruction and that, if so, the correct emergency response might involve the evacuation of a city. It is disheartening to think that after four years there are still no plans, preparations, or command systems for dealing with such an eventuality. The Becker-Posner Blog: Katrina, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and Terrorism--Posner

One way or the other, before the next one happens, we need in place a process to quickly install leadership that has succeeded in the fog of war, that knows the importance of training and drill under stress, that knows the impact of planning, logistics, intelligence and communication, that is accustomed to command and control operations in real time, on the ground, in sight of the enemy and in shouting distance of operating commanders. Someone who has the public presence, trust and charisma to assure the world and America that the person in charge will have frank and open talks with the real people who know the real facts, tell his bosses the real story, with all its problems, and make decisions, issue assignments and move out toward the sound of the battle.

Someone about whom no one will say "He doesn't care about black people and people from poor neighborhoods." Someone who knows what its like to save lives with his own two hands under dangerous conditions. Someone whose background and experience is less about talk and theory and more about getting things done and making things happen.

Someone like Colin Powell.
Colin Powell - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In August 2004, Powell discussed foreign policy and much more with P.J. O'Rourke in an interview published in the Atlantic Magazine. Fascinating article, in which he explained the origins of his thinking about international relations, saying: "I'm not an academic and was not raised to be a foreign policy intellectual. I'm fairly well read, but at the same time I'm not an academic. I'm a practitioner, somebody who was raised to see a problem, analyze it, have views about it, and have passion for a solution. I tend to go with my experience. My experience is in the soldierly things. Also, you know, my educational background is a B.S. in Geology and a Masters in Business Administration, data processing. It's not as if I was at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard. Most of my foreign policy senior level education came from the National War College. Till then, I was just another infantry officer."
A Conversation With Colin Powell

Someone like Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who told CNN that he views Katrina as an enemy "that pulled a 'classic military maneuver,' speeding toward land with overwhelming force, surprising and paralyzing the city and countryside and knocking out communications, electricity, water and roads in a 'disaster of biblical proportions.'". - 'Ragin Cajun' general becomes icon - Sep 11, 2005
See also: LTG Russel L. Honore (National Veterans Day Birmingham Speakers).

This is not playing "the blame game." Some say there will be time later to find what went wrong and fix it. Well guess what, we did that after Hugo. We did that after Andrew. We did that after 9/11. We found out what went wrong. It is well documented. We did not fix it.

Posted by dougsimpson at September 12, 2005 08:11 AM