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calendar   Saturday - September 10, 2005

Jeb Bush Says LA & MS Disaster Planning Sucked

Lack of Plan Hurt Katrina-hit States’ Response
(PALM BEACH POST - Tallahassee)

One thing Florida knows is hurricanes. Florida emergency planners criticized and even rebuked their counterparts—or what passes for emergency planners—in those states for their handling of Hurricane Katrina. Gov. Jeb Bush, the head of Florida AHCA and the head of Florida wildlife (which is responsible for all search and rescue) all said they made offers of aid to Mississippi and Louisiana the day before Katrina hit but were rebuffed. After the storm, they said they’ve had to not only help provide people to those states but also have had to develop search and rescue plans for them. “They were completely unprepared—as bad off as we were before Andrew,” one Florida official said.

And how Louisiana and Mississippi officials have handled Hurricane Katrina is a far cry from what emergency managers here would have done. Mississippi was in the middle of rewriting its disaster plan when Katrina struck. Officials there were still analyzing what went wrong during Hurricane Dennis earlier this year when Katrina overtook them. Search teams from Florida were rescuing Mississippi victims before law enforcement officers there were even aware of the magnitude of the disaster. Louisiana also lacked an adequate plan to evacuate New Orleans, despite years of research that predicted a disaster equal to or worse than Katrina. Even after a disaster test run last year exposed weaknesses in evacuation and recovery, officials failed to come up with solutions.

“They’re where we were in 1992, exactly,” said Col. Julie Jones, director of law enforcement for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in a reference to Florida’s state of emergency preparedness before Hurricane Andrew devastated southern Miami-Dade County. Since then, Florida has created what many consider a model emergency management system, initially developed by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles in response to Andrew and beefed up considerably by Gov. Jeb Bush in response to more than a dozen storms that have hit the state since he took office in 1998, including a record four hurricanes last year. The state, under Bush, has learned even from storms that did not hit here. Bush was mortified by the long, stalled lines of cars fleeing from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and ordered a study of evacuation alternatives that led to the state’s current plan to convert certain highways to northern-only routes.

Meanwhile, Florida’s western neighbors haven’t faced as many storms, and their emergency preparedness apparently has not evolved as Florida’s has. Local and state officials in Mississippi and Louisiana, as well as federal officials, simply weren’t prepared to deal with a disaster of Katrina’s magnitude, according to observers, citizens and national experts on the scene after Hurricane Katrina wreaked catastrophic damage on the Gulf Coast. One of the biggest differences between how Florida and other states handle natural disasters lies in the degree of cooperation between cities, counties and the state. In Florida, they are in constant communication with one another as storms advance and during the recovery phase. Not so elsewhere, as first responders from Florida discovered at dawn the day after Katrina made landfall. Search and rescue crews from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were poised in Pensacola on Sunday night in anticipation of Katrina’s landfall Monday.

After scouting the Panhandle and determining it was OK Monday morning, Jones said she called Mississippi officials to see if they needed help. “They said, ‘We don’t know,’ “ she said. “Monday night, Mississippi said ‘We still have not been able to evaluate the damage, so please go.’ So Monday night, we were at the border ready to go, and we were in Mississippi by 6 a.m. Tuesday. So before Mississippi could wake up and say, ‘OK, we have to start doing assessments,’ Florida was in those two counties, in Jackson and Harrison.”

Jones’ crews made the first rescue in Mississippi at dawn the day after Katrina made landfall, and they spent a week in the area, ferrying Mississippi Marine Patrol officers whose vessels were destroyed by Katrina. Florida law enforcement officials in each county hold monthly conference calls to discuss disaster coordination, but it wasn’t until after the storm hit that these Mississippi officials were making a plan of what to do. “The biggest frustration for us was sitting down and trying to get all the emergency managers in a county to sit down in their emergency operations centers and talk about a plan,” Jones said.

Part of the problem was that Mississippi officials were in the process of rewriting their state emergency plan when Katrina hit, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lea Stokes said. They hadn’t yet evaluated post-Dennis hurricane response surveys when the Category 4 storm and its 20- to 30-foot surge wiped out 75 miles of coastline. Stokes and other Mississippi officials also blame problems responding to Katrina on its size and impact on telephone services. Land lines, cellphones and even satellite phones were useless, Stokes said.

“It was not so much a communications breakdown as it was a communication device breakdown,” said Biloxi spokesman Vincent Creel. “So if we’d have had carrier pigeons, we’d have been using them. We’d have used smoke signals, but we didn’t have water.” Florida’s emergency management chief, Craig Fugate, said just having any old plan isn’t enough. It has to be adequate and a state needs an experienced organization well-versed in putting it into effect. “I’ve heard comments made in other disasters that the first thing they did was throw the plan away because the plan was worthless,” Fugate said. “A plan should not be some requirement. It should truly reflect what your real needs are, and what your real resources are.” Louisiana’s plan doesn’t do either.

Not only did Louisiana and Mississippi fail to prepare, they refused to accept help from the the one state who could have helped them before Katrina hit. Are you starting to get the picture yet? The idiots in Louisiana and Mississippi had much rather blame FEMA than admit they didn’t know what the f**k they were doing and refused to accept help from those who did. DAMN!


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Posted by The Skipper   United States  on 09/10/2005 at 10:40 PM   
Filed Under: • Outrageous •  
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