Blaming Local Authorities

Yes, I agree that there’s plenty of blame to go around. I’m sure that local authorities made some poor or slow decisions. But the Bush administration’s new coordinated effort to blame local authorities for the hundreds or thousands of deaths that have happened in Katrina’s wake is despicable:

In public statements and even more bluntly behind the scenes, Bush administration officials have questioned local efforts to rescue thousands of people who were stranded for days without food, water and shelter, resulting in death of an unknown number of Americans.

But in addition to just being despicable, this attempted line of blame-shifting is nonsensical.

Think about it for a moment. The rescue effort now involves tens of thousands of military personnel, and even with that massive influx of manpower the process is still taking days. How many police officers did New Orleans have? A total of just 1500. Similarly, moving the estimated 100,000 people in New Orleans who did not have a car would have required at least 2,000 buses. Yet the city of New Orleans possessed just a few hundred. Obviously there were more buses in outlying communities, but of course those communities also had their own people to move, so that doesn’t help much.

My point is simple: even if all local resources had miraculously survived the hurricane intact, and were used to maximum effectiveness (I don’t know if they were or weren’t, but it’s irrelevant) there’s no way that those resources would have been able to deal with Katrina by themselves, either before or after the storm. Attributing the disastrous response to Katrina to inadequate efforts by local authorities seems fairly ridiculous to me.

There’s a good reason that the federal government has a long history of being the primary responder to major disasters even when they only have a local impact – local governments simply do not have the resources.