Lack of disaster preparedness present at every level
The Department of Homeland Security is being criticized for its handling of Hurricane Katrina but also is critical of states.
HOUSE Republicans have described the response to Hurricane Katrina as a failure at every level, and Hawaii joins many other states self-judged to be inadequate to respond to a catastrophic event
. States should bolster their own preparation for attacks by terrorists or nature, and Hawaii legislators should enact a plan that includes funding shelters.
Democrats walked away from a committee formed last year to analyze Katrina, maintaining it would result in a whitewash. However, the committee's 520-page report is scathing, describing a "national failure" in preparing for and responding to the event. "At every level -- individual, corporate, philanthropic and governmental -- we failed to meet the challenge that was Katrina," the report says. "In this cautionary tale, all the little pigs built houses of straw."
Michael D. Brown, humiliated into resigning as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, claims to have been a scapegoat. However, he admitted having circumvented his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, leaving him unaware of the magnitude of the disaster that had struck New Orleans.
Chertoff responded to a Senate committee that he had wrongly placed confidence in Brown but said, "I am accountable and accept responsibility" for the governmental debacle. He said management lapses, improper deployment of his agency's staff and unreliable delivery of relief supplies led to the failure.
The report also criticizes Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for their delays in ordering a mandatory evacuation from the city until 19 hours before Katrina's landfall. Contractors, the Red Cross and media that made false reports contributed to the problems.
Vulnerable to hurricanes and other unexpected upheavals, Hawaii needs to be ready for the worst of events. The state's top priority is a legislative package to build more shelter space, says Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state's adjutant general and head of civil defense.
A Department of Homeland Security review of state preparedness programs includes Hawaii among 21 states that reported to be less than confident about their evacuation plans in case of a catastrophe. Obviously, Hawaii has special problems in devising such a strategy, and Lee acknowledges that the plan for mass evacuations is inadequate.
However, Hawaii and West Virginia were the only states reporting that their basic plans were not consistent with federal standards. Lenny Klompus, spokesman for Governor Lingle, disputes the report's accuracy, but says it is "impossible" to provide details of the state's self-assessment because of security concerns.
Klompus says federal officials gave the state a high rating during a 2004 visit by then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. This week's review of states gives no details of their self-evaluations so is not revealing.