September 30, 2005

LESSONS FROM KATRINA and the response:

Accounts from local officials of widespread looting and unspeakable violence — which now appear to have been significantly overstated — raised the specter at the time that soldiers might be forced to confront or even kill American citizens. The prospect of such a scenario added political and tactical complications to the job of filling the city with troops and set back relief efforts by days. . . .

Washington’s experience in Louisiana has prompted the White House to seek ways to shoulder locals out of the way if another similar disaster crops up in the future. President Bush has asked Congress to consider mechanisms that would allow him to quickly place the Pentagon in charge of such disasters, making it easier to use assets such as the 82nd Airborne Division, highly trained, regular Army soldiers who specialize in moving to an area quickly and securing it. As it was, cumbersome federal regulations generally prevent Mr. Bush from sending regular Army troops to enforce order in American cities unless they are expressly invited by a state’s governor.

For the Federal Emergency Management Agency, rumors of lawlessness simply delayed on-the-ground relief efforts and turned even routine errands into a cumbersome exercise. One official, who was posted at the Superdome, said federal rescuers and doctors were required to secure armed escorts even for short trips across the street.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Austin Bay thinks that federalizing, and militarizing, disaster response is probably a mistake.