When Hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana and Alabama Gulf Coast in August of 2005, the relief efforts left a lot to be desired. Blame for the fiasco fell squarely on the shoulders of President George Bush.
The reality was different. Certainly Bush should have come in for a fair share of the blame for the government’s inadequate response. But what was lacking in 2005 was cooperation between the federal government and state and local officials. From the beginning, Louisiana Democrats in New Orleans and Baton Rouge sought to shift blame for their own incompetence and even panic on to the federal government. The result was chaos.
Such is not the case today with either Hurricane Harvey or Irma. The biggest difference between Katrina and today’s storms is competence and cooperation by government officials at all levels.
President Donald Trump said on Saturday that his administration continues to monitor Irma as the Category 3 hurricane heads for a projected collision with southern Florida on Sunday.
“We’re as prepared as you can be for such an event,” Trump said during a meeting with members of his cabinet at Camp David, the Maryland presidential retreat.“This is a storm of enormous destructive power and I ask everyone in the storm’s path to heed all instructions, get out of its way.”
A video of the president’s brief remarks was posted on Trump’s Twitter page. The president was flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis as he spoke to other administration officials.
The White House said the president and his team also received a briefing on Hurricane Jose, a Category 4 storm that is projected to move away from the Caribbean Islands, but could still cause flooding in certain areas. Trump also commended federal agencies for “remaining focused on Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in Texas and Louisiana,” according to a White House readout from the summit.
The president later wrote on Twitter that Floridians need to “heed the advice” of their governor, Rick Scott.
“‘If you’re in an evacuation zone, you need to get to a shelter…there’s not many hours left,” Trump wrote, quoting Scott’s comments made during a press conference in Tallahassee on Saturday.
Perhaps politicians have learned the lessons from Katrina. That’s almost certainly true as there were several post-storm investigations into what went wrong with recommendations on how to fix things.
But the bottom line is that cooperation will only work if there are people competent at doing their jobs managing the situation. There’s been nary a peep from the media about the way FEMA has handled the federal response to the crisis. This despite the fact that you know the media was hovering, waiting to pounce on any sign of a breakdown.
Trump, the state governors, and the big-city mayors have proven that when faced with a life-and-death challenge, most of them can rise to the occasion. It may have helped that most government officials involved in preparations for the storm and the relief efforts were of the same political party. Partisanship certainly played a role in the Katrina response, or at least in the way the response was reported — as did racial politics.
For a while, the media’s biggest complaint about Trump was that he didn’t cry or something when he first visited Texas. But there was little criticism of the way that Washington responded to the crisis or their coordination with Governor Abbott’s administration in dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane.
We will see how the administration responds to Irma’s aftermath, but everything appears in place to assist citizens in need.