Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Blanco and Nagin: A Timeline of Ineptness

Following is a lengthy timeline of Hurricane Katrina from the point meteorologists premised that coastal Louisiana could be impacted by the storm. This text is taken from various news articles quoting hurricane experts, Louisiana political figures as well as text from the City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. It's interesting to note that local and state political leaders hesitated in their response despite warnings from President George Bush and National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield. A very insightful article written by the Charlotte Observor a day before Hurricane Katrina came ashore should garner your sincere attention. It details events during the days leading to zero hour in addition to a prediction of how New Orleans would suffer if a direct hit would occur. After reading this timeline, it's clearly evident (to me at least) that blame squarely rests on the shoulders of two people and one organization — Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness. For instance, Nagin said he was alarmed about the storm's potential path and the lack of time to fully prepare for such a large storm. This despite a clearly stated plan by the Office of Emergency Preparedness which details the responsibilities of the mayor, governor and all political figures/organizations involved in times of emergency. In closing, let me make something very clear. All facets of government from local and state to federal all shoulder various degrees of blame. I hold a non-partisan view and it's up to the reader to do their own research to validate or refute my personal views. Unlike many partisan followers, I challenge you to reach your own conclusion(s).


Thursday, August 25: Karl Loeper, a forecaster for AM-640 WVLG in The Villages reports, "Charts show it will hit the coast of Fort Lauderdale on Friday morning at 8 o'clock, and then by Saturday morning at 8 o'clock, it should be across South Florida and sitting just southwest of Port Charlotte." He speculated that "once the storm reaches the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it is projected to head toward New Orleans."


Saturday, August 27: Forecasters today issued a hurricane warning for coastal areas from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama- Florida border, meaning hurricane conditions are expected in those regions within 24 hours. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour declared states of emergency this afternoon as mandatory and voluntary evacuations of low-lying coastal areas began. Both states said earlier they will direct traffic on Interstates 55 and 59 from the afternoon to head inland. A direct hit by Katrina would be devastating to New Orleans, a port of almost 500,000 in the Mississippi River delta that depends on a series of pumps and levees to keep the city dry. "We, collectively, are among the world's foremost authorities on protecting ourselves from a major hurricane threat," Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard told residents at a briefing today with Blanco. "Remember what you've learned throughout the years in the greater New Orleans area in fighting hurricanes." New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said he probably would call for an evacuation this afternoon or tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 27: With forecasters saying Hurricane Katrina is likely to slam into southeast Louisiana or nearby on the Mississippi Gulf Coast early Monday, low-lying parishes called evacuations Saturday. "Right now, it looks like Louisiana is in line for a possible direct hit," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. "We know that we’re going to take the brunt of it. It does not bode well for southeastern Louisiana." Mandatory or voluntary evacuations were called on Grand Isle, Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island, and in the parishes of St. Charles, Lafourche, Terrebonne, Plaquemines and St. Bernard. "This is not a test," Mayor C. Ray Nagin said at a news conference. "This is a Category Four." He said he would probably ask people to leave at daybreak Sunday. Because the storm is so big, he said, the Superdome may be used as a shelter of last resort for people who do not have cars, and the bus system would set up pick-up points across the city. People should "start to look at their hurricane plans, get their supplies, get their medications in order, clean up storm drains and get ready. Because it looks as if we’re going to get hit," he said. At the Day Dream Inn on Grand Isle, owner Jeanette Gruboyianes wasn’t leaving. Most permanent residents don’t, she said. "You have to have money to evavcuate. If you don’t have it, you ride out the storm," she said. "You know, at this juncture, all we can do is pray it doesn’t come this way and tear us up."

Saturday, August 27: Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency late Friday, making it easier to implement emergency procedures, including evacuations, if necessary. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said he will make a decision about evacuations and other emergency procedures today about noon. "If it continues to shift to the west, then we know we'll have to take action," Nagin said Friday night. The Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness already had mobilized its crisis action team and has plans to activate its Baton Rouge emergency operations center today at 7:30 a.m., spokesman Mark Smith said. State officials convened a conference call with emergency preparedness directors from southeastern Louisiana parishes Friday at 5 p.m. to update officials on the forecast and state plans, Smith said. On Friday night, Nagin said he was alarmed about the storm's potential path and the lack of time to fully prepare for such a large storm. "This storm really scares me," he said. He said city officials would not be able to make a decision about evacuations and other emergency measures until today, giving residents scant time to prepare. The state plan calls for evacuation plans to be put in place 50 hours before a storm hits. "That's why I'm trying to stress to everyone now to get prepared," Nagin said. Meanwhile, on Grand Isle, a Police Department dispatcher said late Friday afternoon that no special preparations had begun on the island.

Saturday, August 27: Hurricane Katrina will test a new evacuation strategy for Mobile County if the storm threatens the Alabama coast. Instead of a countywide evacuation, an order instead can affect just one or more of four zones: south of Interstate 10 to Dauphin Island; downtown and suburbs along Mobile River to Mount Vernon; west Mobile from I-10 to U.S. 98; and then north to the county border. Officials will evacuate each zone depending on the size of the storm and its threat to that particular area, notifying residents through the news media. An official evacuation order gives police arrest powers, which are seldom used.

Sunday, August 28: New Orleans officials launched a voluntary evacuation plan for residents and issued mandatory evacuation orders for those living in the lowest-lying neighborhoods. "We're strongly advising citizens to leave at this time," New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said Saturday afternoon, stopping short of ordering a mandatory evacuation of his below-sea-level city. "We want everyone to not panic, but to take this very seriously. Every projection still has it hitting New Orleans in some form or fashion."

Sunday, August 28: "This has the potential to be as disastrous as the Asian tsunami. Tens of thousands of people could lose their lives. We could witness the total destruction of New Orleans as we know it," Ivor van Heerden, director of the Lousiana State University Hurricane Center. More than 1 million people could be left stranded away from home as emergency authorities attempt to pump out the water, a task that may take as long as three weeks. The newly homeless would be left with little food, no electricity and no transportation as cars are replaced by boats. Emergency officials fear that nearly 287 years of history could be destroyed in just hours and that half of the old Victorian homes could be lost along with the old brick buildings of the Vieux Carre, the French Quarter. The nightmare scenario gets worse: sewers could back up, spreading disease like malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, West Nile Virus and dengue fever, all of which pay calls at one of the nation's biggest and oldest ports. Coffins could pop out of the shallow ground. Above-ground fuel tanks might break moorings to become boat bombs. And toxic chemicals could spill into the mix if petrochemical plants to the west break up. Hurricane Katrina was in position Sunday to be the second-strongest storm to hit the United States, behind the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 that destroyed Matecumbe Key and killed nearly 500 people. "This is potentially one of the worst storms ever," said University of Miami meteorology professor David Nolan. Katrina's threat was so acute that President Bush joined the chorus of officials who urged New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to order a mandatory evacuation, issued Sunday morning after lower-lying areas outside the city were cleared Saturday. The criticisms of Nagin came from above as well. Numerous officials urged him to evacuate the city, but he worried about the legality of ordering people out when New Orleans has few safe hurricane shelters for them to evacuate to. Also, National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield in Miami called Nagin at home Saturday night and told him: Get people out of New Orleans. "I could never sleep if I felt like I didn't do everything that I could to impress upon people the gravity of the situation," Mayfield said. "New Orleans is never going to be the same." When a grim Nagin issued the mandatory evacuation order Sunday, he said: "We are facing a storm that most of us have feared. ... God bless us." In Jefferson Parish, south of Orleans Parish, officials also issued an evacuation order - which also enables them to seize boats and buildings - and prepared for widespread suffering. Let's watch. Let's pray. Let's leave," Jefferson Parish President Aaron F. Broussard said at a news conference. If the levees hold but the water spills over, the water will be almost impossible to remove, considering the pumps will be swamped and shutdown. Some of the city's pumps sit in houses made in the 1890s, said Stevan Spencer, the Orleans Levee District's chief engineer. "It all really makes you wonder what the French were doing when they built this place," Spencer said.

Monday, August 29: Authorities in New Orleans ordered hundreds of thousands of residents to flee on Sunday as Hurricane Katrina strengthened into one of the strongest storms ever seen and barreled toward the vulnerable US Gulf Coast city. Mayor Ray Nagin warned that the dangerous hurricane's storm surge of up to 8.5 metres could topple the low-lying city's levees and flood its historic French Quarter when it makes a second, and more powerful, assault on US shores. It killed seven people in Florida on Thursday. "Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I had better news for you but we are facing a storm that most of us have feared," Nagin told a news conference after reading out a mandatory evacuation order. "This is a threat that we've never faced before." President George Bush declared an emergency in Louisiana and Mississippi, a measure that allows federal aid to be deployed. "We will do everything in our power to help the people and communities affected by this storm," Bush said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities."

Tuesday, September 6: City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (NOTE: Since my original post, the City has removed public access to the emergency management plan for obvious reasons. However, it can be found here in PDF format.) "The City of New Orleans requires that every City/Parish agency prepare an Agency Disaster Report assessing their ability to respond to any disaster or emergency that may either affect their agency or which may call upon that agency to perform response or relief efforts. Each agency, as part of the assessment process , is required to address numerous issues, including the disaster role of the agency, the validity of existing plans and procedures, the training of employees in their disaster response roles, family preparedness, and emergency use and acquisition of resources. Once the self-assessment is completed, each agency is then required to develop and implement, with the assistance of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, a Long Term Action Plan which will enhance their emergency preparedness and disaster response." Items of note in the emergency management plan include, but aren't limited to:
  1. Certain hazards, such as a hurricane, provide some lead time for coordinating an evacuation. However, this can not be considered a certainty. Plus, the sheer size of an evacuation in response to an approaching hurricane creates the need for the use of community-wide warning resources, which cannot be limited to our City's geographical boundaries. Evacuation of major portions of our population, either in response to localized or citywide disasters, can only be accomplished if the citizens and visitors are kept informed of approaching threats on a timely schedule, and if they are notified of the need to evacuate in a timely and organized manner. If an evacuation order is issued without the mechanisms needed to disseminate the information to the affected persons, then we face the possibility of having large numbers of people either stranded and left to the mercy of a storm, or left in an area impacted by toxic materials.
  2. For our most serious threat, hurricanes, information from the National Hurricane Center in Miami and our local office of the National Weather Service, can reach the general population through local governments and mass media outlets. It is the responsibility of the Office of Emergency Preparedness to guarantee that not only is the public alerted, but that other emergency response organizations and personnel are alert and in position to meet the real or potential threat.
  3. Warning for an emergency requires notification at two levels: notification of public officials and response organizations and the warning of the general public. The mechanisms chosen to accomplish these critical events must be rapid in execution and comprehensive in application.
  4. General evacuations that may result from an approaching hurricane will be ordered by the Mayor of the City, upon the recommendation of the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness. The area affected by the warning may range from blocks and portions of neighborhoods, to the entire city.
  5. The Office of Emergency Preparedness has the overall responsibility for reception and dissemination of warning information through the city.
  6. The safe evacuation of threatened populations when endangered by a major catastrophic event is one of the principle reasons for developing a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. The thorough identification of at-risk populations, transportation and sheltering resources, evacuation routes and potential bottlenecks and choke points, and the establishment of the management team that will coordinate not only the evacuation but which will monitor and direct the sheltering and return of affected populations, are the primary tasks of evacuation planning.
  7. Authority to issue evacuations of elements of the population is vested in the Mayor. By Executive Order, the chief elected official, the Mayor of the City of New Orleans, has the authority to order the evacuation of residents threatened by an approaching hurricane.
  8. The Hurricane Emergency Evacuation Standard Operating Procedure is designed to deal with all case scenarios of an evacuation in response to the approach of a major hurricane towards New Orleans. It is designed to deal with the anticipation of a direct hit from a major hurricane. This includes identifying the city's present population, its projected population, identification of at-risk populations (those living outside levee protection or in storm-surge areas, floodplains, mobile homes, etc.), in order to understand the evacuation requirements. It includes identifying the transportation network, especially the carrying-capacity of proposed evacuation routes and existing or potential traffic bottlenecks or blockages, caused either by traffic congestion or natural occurrences such as rising waters. Identification of sheltering resources and the establishment of shelters and the training of shelter staff is important, as is the provision for food and other necessities to the sheltered. This preparation function is the responsibility of the Office of Emergency Preparedness.
  9. Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the Mayor of New Orleans in coordination with the Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, and the OEP Shelter Coordinator.
  10. The SOP, in unison with other elements of the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, is designed for use in all hazard situations, including citywide evacuations in response to hurricane situations and addresses three elements of emergency response: warning (formulates a comprehensive system for public information, early recognition of impending storms, and dissemination of emergency warning), evacuation (formulates an effective procedure for orderly evacuation of residents and visitors within available warning time) and sheltering (formulates a comprehensive system of accessible shelters of adequate size).
  11. The City of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas. Those evacuated will be directed to temporary sheltering and feeding facilities as needed. When specific routes of progress are required, evacuees will be directed to those routes. Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life saving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedures as needed.
  12. As established by the City of New Orleans Charter, the government has jurisdiction and responsibility in disaster response. City government shall coordinate its efforts through the Office of Emergency Preparedness.
  13. The authority to order the evacuation of residents threatened by an approaching hurricane is conferred to the Governor by Louisiana Statute. The Governor is granted the power to direct and compel the evacuation of all or part of the population from a stricken or threatened area within the State, if he deems this action necessary for the preservation of life or other disaster mitigation, response or recovery.
  14. Evacuation notices or orders will be issued during three stages prior to gale force winds making landfall (Precautionary Evacuation Notice: 72 hours or less; Special Needs Evacuation Order: 8-12 hours after Precautionary Evacuation Notice issued; General Evacuation Notice: 48 hours or less).
  15. TASKS: Mayor - initiate the evacuation, retain overall control of all evacuation procedures via EOC operations, authorize return to evacuated areas; Office of Emergency Preparedness - activate EOC and notify all support agencies to this plan, coordinate with State OEP on elements of evacuation, assist in directing the transportation of evacuees to staging areas, assist in the evacuation of persons with special needs, nursing home, and hospital patients in accordance with established procedures, coordinate the release of all public information, request additional law enforcement/traffic control (State Police, La. National Guard) from State OEP; New Orleans Police Department - ensure orderly traffic flow, assist in removing disabled vehicles from roadways as needed, direct the management of transportation of seriously injured persons to hospitals as needed, direct evacuees to proper shelters and/or staging areas once they have departed the threatened area, release all public information; Regional Transit Authority - supply transportation as needed in accordance with the current Standard Operating Procedures, place special vehicles on alert to be utilized if needed, position supervisors and dispatch evacuation buses; Louisiana National Guard - provide assistance as needed in accordance with current State guidelines.
  16. Shelter demand is currently under review by the Shelter Coordinator. Approximately 100,000 Citizens of New Orleans do not have means of personal transportation. Shelter assessment is an ongoing project of the Office of Emergency Preparedness through the Shelter Coordinator.
  17. Feeding and food and supply distribution sites shall be established following a disaster in geographically distributed sites across the Parish. Feeding sites shall be established by Mass Care, in conjunction with Food and Water. The Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army shall provide the lead in establishing and operating these sites. The Second Harvest Food Bank shall provide leadership in the acquiring and distribution of food and water.
Sunday, September 4: Bush Tries to Blame Blanco, Documents Say Otherwise

Sunday, September 4: FEMA Planned to Leave New Orleans Poor Behind

This, of course, is my opinion based on the facts.


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