Position:FEMA was unprepared for Hurricane Katrina

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The position that the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, (abbreviated FEMA in the US) was unprepared for Hurricane Katrina is by far the majority view of Americans, including George W. Bush, who called its response "unacceptable" on television in early September.

Whether Bush's personal response was also unacceptable is another position:George W. Bush ignored his duty in August.

The arguments for this position are overwhelming:

  • In 2000, FEMA defined three high-risk scenarios for the US, one of which had already occurred by 2001 (so its credibility was high); the most costly of the three was a major Category IV or V hurricane striking New Orleans. It was preparing for this event as a high priority, and has continued to do so. It cannot possibly be the case that the event was unanticipated or underestimated.
  • Preparations were interrupted by FEMA being placed under US Homeland Security department. Its funding amalgamated with those concerned with airport security, the no-fly list and other terrorism related expenditures. Since the Iraq occupation is presented as being one of these expenditures, FEMA was competing with this too. However, during this time, the US Army Corps of Engineers retained continous responsibility for levees so if there are organizational problems, it would be within FEMA, not USACE
  • The Hurricane Pam exercise had more or less simulated the actual events, and recommended followup actions, but the required followup was not taken. It was a positive failure of the Congress and Bush administration not to do so.
  • The persons in charge of FEMA, Joe Allbaugh and Michael Brown, are both close personal associates of Bush. Allbaugh, director of FEMA during the first two years of the Bush administration, was a Bush campaign manager and chief of staff. In March 2005, he became a lobbyist for KBR, which is now profiting from the Hurricane Katrina cleanup, leading to moral hazard and conflict of interest and quite possibly high treason considerations. Brown was simly unqualified, having never served in any emergency response capacity. There have been many calls to fire Michael Brown in recent days. Despite calling the response "unacceptable", Bush said "Brownie's doing a hell of a job."
  • After the events, credible stories of total breakdown and direct interference with municipal emergency response functions emerged. One of the most damning was Aaron Broussard's quote on Meet The Press in which he listed "three quick examples" of federal neglect:
    • "We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago."
    • "we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, "Come get the fuel right away." When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. "FEMA says don't give you the fuel."
    • "Yesterday--yesterday--FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice."
  • Broussard also noted that the local, state, and National Guard were doing their jobs: "Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, "No one is getting near these lines." Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America--American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis. But I want to thank Governor Kathleen Blanco for all she's done and all her leadership. She sent in the National Guard. I just repaired a breach on my side of the 17th Street canal that the secretary didn't foresee, a 300-foot breach. I just completed it yesterday with convoys of National Guard and local parish workers and levee board people. It took us two and a half days working 24/7. I just closed it." - story

There seem to be no arguments against the position that FEMA was unready. Accordingly, it pays to ask why, and examine more controversial positions:

deliberately unprepared

A stronger position, that FEMA was deliberately unprepared, is a much more controversial position. However the arguments for this position include:

  • The Bush administration profited directly from FEMAs timely preparation and response to Florida hurricanes - in pre-2004 election season hypothesized to have helped win Florida for Bush. It is not possible that they did not know the political importance of being prepared. If FEMA was unprepared, it was by choice.
  • The steep rise in oil prices directly benefits Bush, his donors, and family.
  • The Gross National Product will go up as a direct result of Katrina's $100B rebuilding effort; No matter how much damage is done to well-being or to population happiness, this cashflow statistic is deemed to be important by politicians of a certain type.
  • New Orleans votes Democratic. Why should Bush care about it?

arguments against

  • The above arguments are all indirect evidence
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