Role of Government and Military in Disaster Management
One of the critical roles of the government through the relevant agencies is disaster management. Disaster management involves detection, warning, evacuating and offering assistance in the resettling process. The government during organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) and security agencies such as the National Guard is charged with helping manage disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods. However, FEMA had given a wrong prediction of a hurricane “Pam” to hit New Orleans according to David Helvarg’s “The Storm this Time”. The role of these stakeholders is best exemplified in the book “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers and in the article “The Storm this Time” by David Helvarg (Eggers 20).
The government and the military of the United States failed to perform their role in the management of the hurricane Katrina. Although FEMA issued an early warning 72 hours before its occurrence, it failed to meet some of its key mandates (Burns 2). The book by Dave Eggers is a nonfiction personal memoir of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Muslim who lives in New Orleans. In august 2005, he remained behind, and his wife Kathy and their children were evacuated to high grounds due to the hurricane warning. When the hurricane struck his neighbourhood and damaged the nearest levees, the water flooded the area up to the second floor. He uses a canoe he had bought earlier to supervise his property while helping those affected by the hurricane Katrina. He is distributing the little supplies he had, helping abandoned pets, and ferrying neighbors to higher grounds.
On a mistaken identity, he is later arrested with three of his friends. They are detained at a jail in the greyhound bus station without charge. This shows the racial stereotyping as they are arrested on suspicion of terrorism because of their Islam background. They are arrested by a group of national guardsmen and local state and out of state police in one of his rental properties. For 23 days, his family does not know his whereabouts as he was denied medical care or a phone call to his family.
The National Guard and the police failed in their duties by the ease with which they contravened the constitutional rights of the U.S. citizen. Zeitoun is treated brutality during the arrest with a due process being not followed. They do not make an effort to gather any evidence or secure his residence after the arrest. He is denied in his right of a phone call to let his family know of his whereabouts. They do not allow him access to a lawyer. He is detained for a long time without any charge, where he is finally charged with looting of property worth $500 with a bail of $75,000, a fee ten times the normal.
When he is finally released, the police deny giving him back his wallet and other documents such as his driver’s license and permanent residence card. He gets home to find his home looted as the police had failed to secure it after the arrest. This shows the ease with which security forces can contravene the constitutional rights of individuals. During disasters such as hurricane Katrina, the constitutional rights of individuals, especially minorities such as Muslims, are violated. The city sets up a temporary jail at the Greyhound bus station which has received a comparison to the Guantanamo bay. People are detained in jail without any charge for days. The security agencies should be able to maintain constitutional rights even in the face of adversity.
Zeitoun explains of how there happened massive looting within days of hurricane Katrina. The security forces are supposed to be in guard not only of constitutional rights, but of people’s property as well. Ironically, some of the police officers do the looting themselves. They broke into stores to steal cigarettes and tobacco which they exchanged with the National Guard for gasoline. A New Orleans officer Donald Lima confesses in looting gasoline for the official and home purposes. He also confesses in stealing from a number of stores. This is a complicated setback to the security agencies; another relapse on the part of the agencies involved.
According to the book, the main character Zeitoun helps his neighbors get to higher grounds while supplying some of them with some of his foodstuffs. He also takes on the task of helping stray animals around his neighborhood. He achieves this by using a second hand canoe. It is ironical that the agencies charged to perform these duties are not able to manage it. The Louisiana National Guard with the tasks it was supposed to perform during the hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of such an inability. According to David Helvarg’s “The Storm this Time”, it failed to provide the necessary aid to more than a million refugees and victims in the state. Only 5,700 guards were available to handle all refugees and victims who suffered from the flood.
The national guard of Louisiana was unable to handle the high number of victims due to some of the members serving in Iraq. Around 3,200 members of the National Guard were located in Iraq at the time of occurrence (Pickup 17). The equipment used by these members of the force in Iraq could have been beneficial in helping the National Guard at home to handle the disaster effectively. The high water trucks, satellite communication gears and fuel tanks used in the war in Iraq could have contributed to manage the aftermath of the disaster well by the National Guard.
The homeland security failed to mobilize its resources on time to provide a needed help after the disaster. They bear larger blame than those serving elsewhere in other counries such as Iraq. Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security Department tried to explain their unpreparedness by that they had not expected such a massive disaster. This was an enormous disappointment on the part of the agency as FEMA had earlier predicted a hurricane that would flood New Orleans a year earlier (Menzel 145).
FEMA had leadership issues with President Bush appointing his chief campaigner from Texas, Joe Albaugh, to be the leader of the agency. He brought along his friend, Michael Brown, to be his assistant. The new FEMA management had no relevant experience in disaster management. The leadership change and resignations in the agency made it not to operate at its optimum. Most of the top management officials at the organization had no previous disaster management experience. The organization had earlier issued a warning of a hurricane “Pam” to occur in New Orleans. However, the agency did not issue a sufficient warning to other agency, especially the Homeland Security office. Therefore, Michael Chertoff complains as the lack of a timely warning as the cause for the delay in mobilizing the resources to help the victims of hurricane.
The New Orleans agencies and security forces were not competent to manage the disaster effectively. They did not receive any federal support for about 96 hours. The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA did not mobilize their resources in time to manage the disaster (Cooper 352). Lack of effective communication and management in the two organizations led to the failure in duties. New Orleans and the Gulf were left without any support from the federal agencies for a long time that led to many unnecessary deaths, injuries and hardships. Zeitoun becomes the hero of his neighborhood by using his second hand canoe to move around helping his tenants, neighbors and stray animals. These duties are supposed to be performed by agencies such as the National Guard, federal agencies and local and state offices. There is a breakdown in coordination between the federal, state and local disaster management agencies. They do not respond appropriately leaving individuals such as Zeitoun to help themselves and those around him (Vollen et al 60).
However, some agencies such as the National Hurricane Center issued an early warning of 72 hours (Haddow 17). This minimized the number of deaths and victims of hurricane. The citizens of New Orleans and the Gulf were able to evacuate to higher grounds to escape the bursting levees. Kathy, the wife of Zeitoun, and their four children escape to safer ground before the levees burst. Zeitoun remains behind to take care of the family property, and when the floods come, he uses his canoe to move around. The response of other agencies was timely according to the warning issued by the National Hurricane Center. One of the agencies that were timely in their intervention was the coast guard that was present to perform rescue activities. They carried out about 6,400 rescues in the areas flooded. They flew around in helicopters during four days helping those affected by the floods.
The government and the military agencies need to be at their best so as to manage the disasters. They did not fail unconditionally, but there has been a lapse at the vital moments such as during the hurricane Katrina. The lapses are witnessed as reported through David Helvarg’s “The storm this Time” and Dave Egger’s “Zeitoun”. Reforms are necessary to ensure no such lapses in the future.