ThinkProgress offers Right-Wing Myths About No Man’s Land, Debunked:
CLAIM — MAYOR NAGIN LEFT 2,000 SCHOOL BUSES BEHIND IN THE FLOOD: Sean Hannity said, “You would have thought that the 2,000 buses, school buses, that sat in the yards would have been used to help those people that were incapable of getting out on their own, but none of that had happened locally.” [Hannity and Colmes, 9/6/05]
FACT — NEW ORLEANS HAD LESS THAN 300 WORKING SCHOOL BUSES: “The [Orleans Parish school] district owns 324 buses but 70 are broken down.” [New Orleans Times-Picayune, 9/5/05]
CLAIM: LOCAL OFFICIALS DESERVE BLAME FOR LACK OF EVACUATION BUSES : Rick Santorum claimed, “Many didn’t have cars … And that really was a failure on the part of local officials in not making transportation available to get people out.” [Times Leader, 9/6/05]
FACT: LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD REQUESTED 700 BUSES FROM FEMA FOR EVACUATIONS, FEMA ONLY SENT 100: The Boston Globe reported, “On Sunday, the day before the storm, the Louisiana National Guard asked FEMA for 700 buses to evacuate people. It received only 100.” [Boston Globe, 9/11/05]
There’s more, but this bus issue has somehow become the major strike against local officials.
Should local officials be held accountable? Sure. Should they have run those buses that were working? Sure.
I’d be curious if they used those buses in the Hurricane Pam simulation. If not, it’s unreasonable to expect that they would think of that on the spur of the moment. That’s what planning’s for.
In that exercise, FEMA recognized that, in the event of a massive hurricane and flood, state and municipal capabilities would be overwhelmed, the feds would have to step in, out of state troops would have to be brought in, and FEMA would have to take the lead role in organizing the response.
Secretary Chertoff was the guy with the power to act until about 36 hours after landfall, when Brown had the power. He activated the National Response Plan, an action which gave him power to take charge days before landfall:
Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the “principal federal official” in charge of the storm.
But Chertoff — not Brown — was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government’s blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.
According to the Plan:
Standard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the immediate aftermath of an event of catastrophic magnitude. Notification and full coordination with the States will occur, but the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources.
So, Brownie’s out, but he’s not the only one who blew it. Nagin and Blanco have some tough questions to answer, but so do Brown, Chertoff, and Bush. The only way those people can all be questioned in a credible way is before an independent commission.
A lot of changes happened after 9/11, and people may not have realized what powers they had, but it’s their job to know what they can and should do. Maybe Chertoff doesn’t have to resign, and maybe Brown should have resigned only because he never was qualified for the job. The issue isn’t getting someone or other fired, it’s getting the system to work, so that the next disaster doesn’t go as badly.
Again, here’s a thought experiment: terrorists put bombs in levees in the rebuilt New Orleans, instantly flooding 80% of the city. How do FEMA, DoD, National Guard, state and city respond to this crisis? How many people die? How many deaths are acceptable? How badly can they screw up without their partisans demanding changes and answers?