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May 8, 2007
Who is to blame for Greensburg's slow response?
The Governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, is blaming the lack of some military equipment that is deployed to Iraq as hampering the Greensburg Kansas disaster recovery effort. Two things come to mind that should make reasonable people question the governor's comments on this matter, and her competence to hold office.
First, this so-called "needed equipment" has been deployed from the Kansas National Guard for several months.
Second, from 1955- 2004 Kansas averages 55 tornados a year that touch down.
A prudent governor would know these two facts and make necessary arrangements. A governor has several options to bridge this short fall. Among a state government's options are the national strategy for emergency response, that is coordinated through the Department of Homeland Security and facilitated by memoranda of agreement between states for providing support, manpower, and equipment for emergencies; and contracted support, negotiated as part of the state's emergency response plan, is another.
The citizens of Kansas, and all states' citizens, should ask some tough questions of their governors. What else have our governors failed to plan for that has a high likelihood of happening? Floods, fires, and earthquakes are the most common.
It seems that we have a pattern of governors who fail to prepare their states and blame, or plan to blame the federal government. Louisiana (Hurricane Katrina), and California (Sacramento's levee problem) come to mind as examples of governors that have passed the buck or have laid the groundwork to do so. Are the governors' responses for all disasters going to be to blaming someone else for their failings to plan? It seems that "play one" in states' emergency playbook is to blame the federal government for their lack of preparation and response.
If the governors of our states are good for nothing more than passing the blame to the federal government, then perhaps the federal government should federalize all emergency response, and take the funds back that they have allocated to states to prepare for responding to disasters.
Several problems are clear from the Greensburg disaster.
First, it is clear from Kansas' poor response to this disaster in Greensburg that state governments have learned little from Hurricane Katrina.
Second, The Kansas Adjutant General, and all state adjutant generals, have a large responsibility to advise the governors on emergency response plans, wargame and rehearse the plans, identify short falls that they identify, and correct the plans as needed. The Kansas Adjutant General either failed in his duty to assess and advise or the governor failed to listen to his advice.
Third, DHLS holds some blame for not holding the Kansas State Government's feet to the fire in their responsibilities for preparing emergency response plans, and assisting through wargaming these plans to determine feasibility and suitability.
This should be a wake-up call to all states to not take anything for granted. Assess, plan, wargame, reassess, validate, prepare and rehearse. Finally, don't depend on the federal government to bail you out.
Gerd Schroeder is a Major in the US Army. He has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He does not speak for the US Army or the Department of Defense.
Update: Further thoughts from In From the Cold.