Federal funding of Louisiana disaster planning

Already, politicians from both parties are scrambling to explain, blame, and accuse the opposition of neglect or malfeasance in responding to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  One thing is certain; the rants of New Orleans' Mayor Nagin and the silence of Governor Blanco are orchestrated to deflect attention from their gross negligence in responding to this tragedy.

The left and its press allies have already established a meme that accuses the administration of devoting too much money for homeland security and not enough for Corps of Engineer flood control work.  The Times—Picayune, via Editor and Publisher, complained that money required to complete the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) slowed to 'a trickle' since more federal dollars were used to support operations in Iraq.  Of course, those mean, nasty Bush tax cuts also contributed to the under—funding.  The Times—Picayune even got the Army corps of Engineers to pile on when they said,

The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security—— coming at the same time as federal tax cuts —— was the reason for the strain.

Also, this past Tuesday on Imus in the Morning, Newsweek's Evan Thomas (who in the past was one of the few and the proud recipients of the CIA's 'Leak of the Week'), also stuck to the playbook when he said that too much money was spent on all of this homeland security stuff instead of fixing the levees.  Both Thomas and the Times—Picayune act as if funding for flood control would have alleviated the requirement to respond to a natural disaster that caused the flooding in the first place.  Paying for flood control versus disaster response programs is not a zero sum game.  This tactic is a slick misdirection to excuse the failure of local and state leadership and to place the blame on an imagined diversion of federal dollars for those silly homeland security and disaster response programs.  This is a ludicrous notion, and is demonstrably false.

We now know that New Orleans had a plan, but for some reason, it wasn't implemented.  It must have been that damn Iraq War that sucked all the funds from the Louisiana state treasury.  In reality, for over six years the state and the city had raked in taxpayer dollars from the federal Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP) to the tune of 140 million bucks!  How do we know this?  Because the leaders of disaster agencies in the state of Louisiana told us so and also showed us how this money was spent.  As we'll see, they've done quite well feeding at the homeland security trough.

The Louisiana state—level strategy to respond to disasters or terrorist attacks was submitted to the ODP on 31 December 2003.  This was a requirement established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and was the only federal agency in recent memory to actually withhold funds to states until workable, threat—based plans were submitted  for review.  Colonel Jay Mayeaux of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness presented the state's strategy and funding streams to train and equip state agencies for disaster response based upon the state plan.  These agencies include the Fire Service, Law Enforcement, HazMat (Hazardous Materials), EMS, Public Safety Communications, Public Health, and of course Emergency Management.

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2003, ODP grants were allocated in the following amounts: Equipment — $6,633,000, including $1 million for equipment for the Louisiana Urban Search & Rescue Team; disaster and terrorist response exercises — $1,658,000; training —$497,000; planning and administration — $663,000.  In addition to the nearly 9.5 million dollars the state initially received, an FY03 supplemental grant totaling nearly $21 million was allocated that included $17 million for direct assistance to local communities.  When funds granted for urban security initiatives for New Orleans and critical infrastructure programs are thrown in, the total supplemental FY 03 monies given to the state amounts to $31,319,661!

But it gets better.  In FY 04, the ODP granted over $51 million to the state including about $7 million each for Baton Rouge and New Orleans for further work on the urban area security initiative (UASI).  According to state officials, the total for ODP grants to the state of Louisiana from1999 to 2003, including supplemental allocations was $100,502,648!

US taxpayers were also very generous in 2005.  The DHS database shows that Louisiana had several disaster response agencies receive continued funding, including $17,679,253 for the state Homeland Security Grant Program; $2,895,235 for Emergency Management Performance Grant Program; $910,368 for the Metropolitan Medical Response System Program; and $14,531,675 for the Urban Area Security Initiative.  The total amount of federal grants to state of Louisiana for 2005 was $42,669,788.  Since 1999, Louisiana has received over $143 million in direct grants for security, communications, and other disaster response initiatives.  This amount doesn't include direct grants to the city of New Orleans.  For example, in FY03 alone the city received about $6.3 million for first responders and $6.4 million for port security.

And according to the Louisiana State Police, they had specifically planned for a variety of disasters including hurricanes, floods, and hazmat (hazardous materials) incidents.  The State Police were even called upon to assist during Hurricane Isabel in September of 2003 to provide storm surge models, wind and rain forecasts, and storm track models.  In fact, the LSP seems to have wisely spent money on developing a high tech capability to enhance situational awareness, obtaining mapping and geo—spatial imagery technology, aerial photography, petrochemical pipeline information, development of evacuation plans [emphasis added], and communications interoperability.  Where all of this expertise and gadgetry disappeared to when Katrina hit is anybody's guess.

Naturally, the state's federal representatives are fond of getting face time while touting the success of funneling homeland security pork to their home districts.  Just this past July, Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal met with representatives of the Louisiana State Police and the National Guard [emphasis added] at the Louisiana State Police/Louisiana National Guard Emergency Operations Center and Intelligence Fusion Center in Baton Rouge.  The Congressman was impressed with the effort to better protect the nation and the state, and said,

"The security of this nation and of Louisiana are of paramount concern," Jindal continued. "I will continue to work hard on the House Homeland Security Committee to ensure our safety, and I am certain that the Louisiana State Police and Louisiana National Guard are well—equipped to do so as well after viewing their facilities here in Baton Rouge."

So it appears that Louisiana and New Orleans had the plans, they had money, troops, police, the command and control, and a solid PR effort.  But throwing money at greedy politicians hasn't really solved our disaster and terrorist response problems; and never will.  The DHS and politicians of both parties have soaked the American taxpayer for far too long, and we have gotten little or nothing in return.  Now we have suffered a human tragedy greater than the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because we have paid faceless government functionaries to guarantee our safety, thinking they had our best interests at heart.  The American people need to demand accountability from these charlatans, or we will witness a repeat on a far greater scale.

What is frightening is that the Katrina disaster is not unlike a situation our first responders and government agencies would encounter in a WMD attack on a major US city.  There would be massive destruction, and a contaminated 'hot zone' that rescuers could not enter for days, or perhaps for weeks or months.  Survivors would be stranded, infrastructure would collapse, the public health situation would deteriorate, and the bodies would start piling up.  It's clear that responsible agencies in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the DHS have flunked their first test since 9—11.

And don't think that Al—Qaeda hasn't been watching and taking copious notes.

Douglas Hanson is the national security affairs correspondent of The American Thinker.

Already, politicians from both parties are scrambling to explain, blame, and accuse the opposition of neglect or malfeasance in responding to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  One thing is certain; the rants of New Orleans' Mayor Nagin and the silence of Governor Blanco are orchestrated to deflect attention from their gross negligence in responding to this tragedy.

The left and its press allies have already established a meme that accuses the administration of devoting too much money for homeland security and not enough for Corps of Engineer flood control work.  The Times—Picayune, via Editor and Publisher, complained that money required to complete the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA) slowed to 'a trickle' since more federal dollars were used to support operations in Iraq.  Of course, those mean, nasty Bush tax cuts also contributed to the under—funding.  The Times—Picayune even got the Army corps of Engineers to pile on when they said,

The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security—— coming at the same time as federal tax cuts —— was the reason for the strain.

Also, this past Tuesday on Imus in the Morning, Newsweek's Evan Thomas (who in the past was one of the few and the proud recipients of the CIA's 'Leak of the Week'), also stuck to the playbook when he said that too much money was spent on all of this homeland security stuff instead of fixing the levees.  Both Thomas and the Times—Picayune act as if funding for flood control would have alleviated the requirement to respond to a natural disaster that caused the flooding in the first place.  Paying for flood control versus disaster response programs is not a zero sum game.  This tactic is a slick misdirection to excuse the failure of local and state leadership and to place the blame on an imagined diversion of federal dollars for those silly homeland security and disaster response programs.  This is a ludicrous notion, and is demonstrably false.

We now know that New Orleans had a plan, but for some reason, it wasn't implemented.  It must have been that damn Iraq War that sucked all the funds from the Louisiana state treasury.  In reality, for over six years the state and the city had raked in taxpayer dollars from the federal Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP) to the tune of 140 million bucks!  How do we know this?  Because the leaders of disaster agencies in the state of Louisiana told us so and also showed us how this money was spent.  As we'll see, they've done quite well feeding at the homeland security trough.

The Louisiana state—level strategy to respond to disasters or terrorist attacks was submitted to the ODP on 31 December 2003.  This was a requirement established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and was the only federal agency in recent memory to actually withhold funds to states until workable, threat—based plans were submitted  for review.  Colonel Jay Mayeaux of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness presented the state's strategy and funding streams to train and equip state agencies for disaster response based upon the state plan.  These agencies include the Fire Service, Law Enforcement, HazMat (Hazardous Materials), EMS, Public Safety Communications, Public Health, and of course Emergency Management.

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2003, ODP grants were allocated in the following amounts: Equipment — $6,633,000, including $1 million for equipment for the Louisiana Urban Search & Rescue Team; disaster and terrorist response exercises — $1,658,000; training —$497,000; planning and administration — $663,000.  In addition to the nearly 9.5 million dollars the state initially received, an FY03 supplemental grant totaling nearly $21 million was allocated that included $17 million for direct assistance to local communities.  When funds granted for urban security initiatives for New Orleans and critical infrastructure programs are thrown in, the total supplemental FY 03 monies given to the state amounts to $31,319,661!

But it gets better.  In FY 04, the ODP granted over $51 million to the state including about $7 million each for Baton Rouge and New Orleans for further work on the urban area security initiative (UASI).  According to state officials, the total for ODP grants to the state of Louisiana from1999 to 2003, including supplemental allocations was $100,502,648!

US taxpayers were also very generous in 2005.  The DHS database shows that Louisiana had several disaster response agencies receive continued funding, including $17,679,253 for the state Homeland Security Grant Program; $2,895,235 for Emergency Management Performance Grant Program; $910,368 for the Metropolitan Medical Response System Program; and $14,531,675 for the Urban Area Security Initiative.  The total amount of federal grants to state of Louisiana for 2005 was $42,669,788.  Since 1999, Louisiana has received over $143 million in direct grants for security, communications, and other disaster response initiatives.  This amount doesn't include direct grants to the city of New Orleans.  For example, in FY03 alone the city received about $6.3 million for first responders and $6.4 million for port security.

And according to the Louisiana State Police, they had specifically planned for a variety of disasters including hurricanes, floods, and hazmat (hazardous materials) incidents.  The State Police were even called upon to assist during Hurricane Isabel in September of 2003 to provide storm surge models, wind and rain forecasts, and storm track models.  In fact, the LSP seems to have wisely spent money on developing a high tech capability to enhance situational awareness, obtaining mapping and geo—spatial imagery technology, aerial photography, petrochemical pipeline information, development of evacuation plans [emphasis added], and communications interoperability.  Where all of this expertise and gadgetry disappeared to when Katrina hit is anybody's guess.

Naturally, the state's federal representatives are fond of getting face time while touting the success of funneling homeland security pork to their home districts.  Just this past July, Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal met with representatives of the Louisiana State Police and the National Guard [emphasis added] at the Louisiana State Police/Louisiana National Guard Emergency Operations Center and Intelligence Fusion Center in Baton Rouge.  The Congressman was impressed with the effort to better protect the nation and the state, and said,

"The security of this nation and of Louisiana are of paramount concern," Jindal continued. "I will continue to work hard on the House Homeland Security Committee to ensure our safety, and I am certain that the Louisiana State Police and Louisiana National Guard are well—equipped to do so as well after viewing their facilities here in Baton Rouge."

So it appears that Louisiana and New Orleans had the plans, they had money, troops, police, the command and control, and a solid PR effort.  But throwing money at greedy politicians hasn't really solved our disaster and terrorist response problems; and never will.  The DHS and politicians of both parties have soaked the American taxpayer for far too long, and we have gotten little or nothing in return.  Now we have suffered a human tragedy greater than the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because we have paid faceless government functionaries to guarantee our safety, thinking they had our best interests at heart.  The American people need to demand accountability from these charlatans, or we will witness a repeat on a far greater scale.

What is frightening is that the Katrina disaster is not unlike a situation our first responders and government agencies would encounter in a WMD attack on a major US city.  There would be massive destruction, and a contaminated 'hot zone' that rescuers could not enter for days, or perhaps for weeks or months.  Survivors would be stranded, infrastructure would collapse, the public health situation would deteriorate, and the bodies would start piling up.  It's clear that responsible agencies in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the DHS have flunked their first test since 9—11.

And don't think that Al—Qaeda hasn't been watching and taking copious notes.

Douglas Hanson is the national security affairs correspondent of The American Thinker.