Thursday, August 31, 2006

Innovative Emergency Management

A year ago, I wrote at length about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s inadequate and inept response to Hurricane Katrina. By doing too little too late, F.E.M.A. turned a natural calamity into a man-made disaster.

The Bush administration tried to deflect criticism by arguing that the Louisiana state government and the city of New Orleans were primarily responsible for the mistakes which led to the deaths of more than 1,500 people. Katrina, however, hit three states, making it a federal problem from the very beginning. And as details emerged, it became clear that the administration had ignored warnings from hurricane experts and civil engineers. In remarks eerily similar to the claim five years ago that nobody had anticipated the use of airliners to attack buildings, George Bush, Jr. claimed that nobody had anticipated a breech of the levees holding Lake Pontchartrain. In fact, a White House teleconference video proved that he had been warned of precisely that eventuality.

But the deeper story of F.E.M.A.’s failure remained hidden until this week, when Democracy Now aired a report by Greg Palast on the emergency evacuation plan prepared before Katrina struck.

The government contracted a private company, Innovative Emergency Management, to generate the plan. After all, as the right-wing is so fond of saying, private enterprise is more efficient than government. I.E.M. received $500,000 for their efforts.

Unfortunately, the exact nature of their efforts is unclear. F.E.M.A. reportedly contends that they never received an evacuation plan from I.E.M. When Palast visited I.E.M. headquarters in Baton Rouge to request a copy of the plan, company officials responded by calling security.

Perhaps one day I.E.M.’s work will become known. In any case, another hurricane season is upon us; and there will be hurricanes next year and the year after that and the year after that. So the government has hired a firm to analyze what went wrong in 2005. It’s a little company in Baton Rouge called Innovative Emergency Management.


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