Day 900

Lest we forget that there’s a war on in Iraq, we’ve now reached 900 days since the invasion.

The Global War on Terror is 1,455 days old.

On Friday, the length of the GWOT passes that of the American Civil War.

The Daily Briefing

Is there a domestic threat equivalent to the President’s Daily Briefing? The now-famous PDB (formerly prepared by the CIA Director and now under the auspices of the Director of National Intelligence) covers international intelligence and situations, but surely there’s something similar on the home front. I wonder what the ones from August 26-30 would have to say about Hurricane Katrina?

Why Did the Convention Center Relief Take So Long?

I was in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans last fall for the Macromedia MAX2004 conference. I was only there for a few days, and it was my first and only time (so far) in New Orleans, so I don’t claim any expert knowledge.

But, as someone who has some problems walking distances once in a while, I do remember making the mistake after a day wandering around New Orleans’s cemeteries and the French Quarter of walking over to the Convention Center from my hotel and having to walk a looong way to find the registration desk, down at the far end of the building. The Morial Convention Center is over a half-mile long, not too far if you know where you’re going, but it seems much longer if you don’t.

One thing that came to mind as I was watching television coverage of the thousands of people waiting days for food, water, and rescue, was that US90 goes right over the south end of the center. As each correspondent asked why relief hadn’t gotten there yet, and people like FEMA chief Michael “Brownie” Brown expressed surprise that anyone was even there, I was thinking about the freeway ramps that dropped down from the freeway to practically the front of the building. Police were reportedly on the ramps preventing people from getting onto the freeway and crossing over to the unflooded eastern bank of the Mississippi River on the Greater New Orleans Bridge (or walking anywhere else). They would have been literally on top of the starving, thirsty throng, just a hundred-fifty feet or so up, there would have been no way to miss them or to see that they weren’t getting any supplies.

If security had actually been an issue, supplies could have been tossed off the overpass onto the area around the convention center in the kinds of high-impact containers they use to drop supplies from planes. But seriously, how much security was needed to get a truck down a half-mile ramp from the bridge overpass to the front of the conference center?

Continue to Think

CNN Live Saturday co-anchor Tony Harris — apparently suffering already from disaster fatigueoffers his helpful survival skills to an obviously stupid victim of Hurricane Katrina (3 September).

HARRIS: Some New Orleans residents evacuated to Baton Rouge are wondering what next and they’re frantically searching for missing family members. One of them is Dorian Browder. She joins us on the phone from Baton Rouge. Dorian, hello, how are you?


HARRIS: I’m doing well. Dealing with the how are you part of the question, the how are you part of the question, how are you?

BROWDER: Not well at all at this time.

HARRIS: All right, tell me what the last day or so has been like for you?

BROWDER: A living hell, a living hell. That’s putting it mildly. A living hell.

HARRIS: So describe for us your living hell.

BROWDER: OK. One of the first things I want bring forward (PH) is I’ve treated like I was less than human. It has been a very, very inhumane treatment. Everywhere I try to turn for help, no one is helping me. Be it FEMA, the American Red Cross, whatsoever.

They have treated me like I was not even a human being. You go there for any type of assistance, I was turned away. I went to the main facility here in Baton Rouge on Mayfair. They had boycotted the place and everything, I was inquiring about my elderly mother that’s been left in New Orleans and was missing. They said they couldn’t help us, that they had no database. However, I had just came from the state troopers here in Baton Rouge, and they said they had the database. It’s been a back and forth chaotic situation, no one knows nothing.

HARRIS: Dorian, how did you get to Baton Rouge?

BROWDER: In a car. I came in a car.

HARRIS: Where are you staying now?

BROWDER: I’m staying at a motel called Baymont Inn and Suites.

HARRIS: Do you have children?

BROWDER: Yes I do sir, I have two sons.

HARRIS: How old are they?

BROWDER: I have a 23-year-old and a 17-year-old. And it has been a devastation to them.

HARRIS: Do you have food and water?

BROWDER: No. No. Someone donated some moneys to us, and that’s how we’ve been serving.

HARRIS: Someone donated money to you and that’s how you were able to live?

BROWDER: That’s how I was able to — be able to get to the room. Up until last night, I was sleeping in a car.

HARRIS: So, you were sleeping in a car?

BROWDER: Yes, sir, for several nights.

HARRIS: Where will you go? Where will you turn to begin to put your life back together? What is the next thing you will do in this effort to put your life back together again?

BROWDER: Sir, at this time, I don’t know. I have no home to go to. I have no job. I have nothing at this time. Nothing that I can see.

HARRIS: All right, here’s — they’re small but they’re important questions. Do you have a bank account?

BROWDER: Sir. I had a small savings of maybe $8 in the account.

HARRIS: All right. So, FEMA, FEMA will ultimately have to help you. That’s where you have to turn for help, you understand that, correct?

BROWDER: OK, sir, we called and I did — I gave them some information, but at this time, we haven’t had no response.

HARRIS: And no family — I’m trying to help you move forward. Do you understand what I’m trying to do here?

BROWDER: Yes. I’m understanding.

HARRIS: I’m trying to help you move forward and get some help. You have been able to contact any family member in other states?

BROWDER: No, sir. None that can help me. I have no members outside of this state that can help me. They’re not financially able to help me.


BROWDER: So, it’s like I’m between a rock and a hard place.

HARRIS: All right, continue to think. All right, continue to stay in the moment. Continue to think and continue to find ways. Think of ways to move your individual situation forward. I’m sure there are people in Baton Rouge, if you can reach them, who will be able and willing to help you. Stay positive, and keep moving forward.

BROWDER: That’s the only thing I keep (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the thing is, it’s like every time you try to move forward here to go to these facilities for people to help you, they’re not really helping you.

HARRIS: All right, where are you staying right now? Just quick.

BROWDER: At the Baymont Inn and Suites.

HARRIS: All right, maybe someone will hear this, maybe we can make a call and get help to you and the others who are in a similar situation. Dorian, thank you.


HARRIS: Thank you, Dorian.

Disaster Fatigue

It’s been heartening to see that some of the news media — particularly the cable channels — have been willing to ask questions about what the hell is going on when it takes days for food and water to move just a couple of miles to people crying for help, when cameramen and reporters can get there.*

But I do have to wonder how long they’ll stick with it. CNN’s Aaron Brown was already talking about “disaster fatigue” on last night’s show.

And let us remember what the big story for most of the news programs was a week ago. On Friday, August 26, while the US was involved in a war in Iraq (which I think is still going on) each of the following prime-time cable news shows (there may be more) devoted significant portions of their programs to Natalee Holloway, who had disappeared nearly three months before.

Several of those shows have spent much of the summer on that one story. Here’s hoping that they’ll spend a comparable amount of time following up on the fate of victims of Hurricane Katrina.

* For that matter, if security for a supply caravan was seriously an issue (something I’m having a hard time imagining) food could have been dropped or lowered on the convention center area from the Greater New Orleans Bridge (US90), which passes directly over the southwest end of the Morial Convention Center.

How Long Does It Take to Drive From Shreveport to New Orleans?

Tom Foreman, a Washington reporter for CNN, reported on American Morning (3 September) that FEMA had boasted prior to Hurricane Katrina’s landfall that they had “pre-positioned” supplies and personnel in an arc throughout the South so that they could respond as soon as Monday evening.

They even put out a
press release
about it.

Homeland Security Prepping For Dangerous Hurricane Katrina
Residents in path of storm “Must take action now”

Release Date: August 28, 2005
Release Number: HQ-05-173

. . .

“There’s still time to take action now, but you must be prepared and take shelter and other emergency precautions immediately,” said Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response. “FEMA has pre-positioned many assets including ice, water, food and rescue teams to move into the stricken areas as soon as it is safe to do so.”

. . .

FEMA is moving supplies of generators, water, ice and food into the region for immediate deployment once the storm passes. FEMA’s Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) and Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) are also staged for immediate response anywhere in the region. The funding and direct federal assistance will assist law enforcement with evacuations, establishing shelters and other emergency protective measures.

FEMA has deployed USAR teams from Tennessee, Missouri and Texas to stage in Shreveport, LA.. USAR teams from Indiana and Ohio are staged in Meridian, MS. Two teams each from Florida and Virginia and one team from Maryland are on alert at their home stations.

A total of 18 DMATs have been deployed to staging areas in Houston, Anniston and Memphis. There are 9 full DMATs (35 members per team) and 9 strike teams (5 members per team) in these staging areas.

. . .

FEMA prepares the nation for all hazards and manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, trains first responders, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.

No Level Too Low

It’s bad enough that FOX News has been the TV home of Iran-contra criminal Oliver North, but this morning Neil Cavuto lifted up a rock so that Bernard Kerik, he of the 9/11 love shack, could raise his tainted voice.

Who Coulda Thunk 2?

From CNN’s Paula Zahn NOW (2 September), responding to the question “How did the government blow it?” This is a portion of Richard Falkenrath’s answer:

RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: We are focused on New Orleans in this conversation. But that is not the extent of this disaster. This disaster extends down the Gulf Coast. And so, again, the flood was predicted. People knew that this was a serious risk. But having it occur simultaneously with a horrific hurricane down the coast, all the way to Alabama almost, was I think beyond the planning parameters for the federal government.

This is completely ridiculous. The “doomsday” scenario for New Orleans involved a hurricane large enough to create a storm surge that could top either the Mississippi or Lake Pontchartrain levees. Does Falkenrath seriously think a Category 4 or 5 hurricane could flood New Orleans without affecting any part of the rest of the Gulf Coast? Or is he just blowing smoke up someone’s butt?

Bad Connection

From CNN’s Paula Zahn NOW (September 1), in an interview with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA):

ZAHN: When an assessment can actually be made, what do you think the death toll might go up to in your state?

LANDRIEU: Paula, I don’t know what the gas prices are going to go up to, but it’s going to affect everyone in the country. We are the energy coast. We are the only energy coast in the nation.

ZAHN: Senator, Senator, sorry. Sorry to interrupt you. I know the signal is not clear at all. Actually, what I was asking you about was the death toll, because the governor of your state has predicted…

The Bad Bush Official/Bad Bush Strategy

Chertoff vs. Bush

I’ve been pondering this paradox for the past day and wondering how the apparent good-cop/bad-cop routine of the Bush administration officials vs. Bush himself is going to play out.

On the one hand there’s Chertoff and FEMA’s Michael “Brownie” Brown saying people should have gotten out of Dodge before the disaster. On the other, Bush (and Brownie) are saying nobody could have predicted the levee breach (aka “the disaster”).

I’d be interested in seeing a reporter ask Chertoff to reconcile the statements. The hurricane’s winds weren’t the reason the evacuation order was issued.

New Orleans Braces for Powerful Katrina

By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer
Sun Aug 28, 7:45 PM ET

NEW ORLEANS – A monstrous Hurricane Katrina barreled toward New Orleans on Sunday with 165-mph wind and a threat of a 28-foot storm surge, forcing a mandatory evacuation of the below-sea-level city and prayers for those who remained to face a doomsday scenario.

. . .

A grim Mayor C. Ray Nagin conceded Katrina’s storm surge pushing up the Mississippi River would swamp New Orleans’ system of levees, flooding the bowl-shaped city and causing potentially months of misery.

. . .