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The United States was not ready for the destruction imposed by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. There was not a guide or training manual to reference, everything was unique. Hurricane Katrina moved swiftly and was “under the radar” from its beginning. Starting as a tropical depression on August 23, 2005 and upgraded to a hurricane on August 25, 2005. Hurricane Katrina grew in strength as it approached the Gulf Coast. When Katrina made landfall on 29 August 2005, it was packing 145 miles per hour winds along with 20-30 foot storm surges.
The combination of high winds, heavy rainfall, and storm surge led to the failure of levees of Lake Pontchartrain resulting in parts of the city under 20 feet of water. The storm killed over 1,300 people, and “became the most destructive natural disaster in American history” (Carafano 2005). State and the federal governments came under harsh criticism when the response to the city of New Orleans was slow and inept. Many also asked why the military did not respond sooner to help the clearly overwhelmed state and local governments, mainly after the levees failed in the city of New Orleans.
National Guard troops deployed to the region, and only had enough food and water on had to last an estimated 24 to 36 hours.
The emergency response system failed due to every known means of communication being non-mission capable. Hurricane Katrina destroyed all means of communication leaving the National Response Plan without the means to execute the mission. Communication was essential in order to aid emergency relief. The storm incapacitated cell phones, telephone landlines, and sat phones.
Authorities struggled tremendously to communicate guidance to first responders and mobilized National Guard troops on the ground. Delays on supply trucks were foreseeable and rational. Drivers refused to enter certain areas without police or military escorts. Over 20,000 residents gathered at the Convention center without food, water, and basic essentials. There was also no police presence due to more than 250 New Orleans police officers abandoning their duty. Many believe this was due to the Posse Comitatus Act. Many catastrophes happen around the world every year causing death and destruction, Hurricane Katrina was no exception. In New Orleans, a category four hurricane hit. Damaging winds and major flooding caused many people to lose their lives. Left survivor wondering when help will arrive. Everybody around the world and especially in New Orleans will remember Hurricane Katrina.
For most natural disasters, leadership manages and directs the affected region at the lowest level. Normally, local responders are the first ones on the scene directing relief efforts. However, Hurricane Katrina was different from many other hurricanes and natural disasters. It was nearly instantly a regional catastrophic disaster. According to the National Response Plan, a catastrophic incident is, “any natural or manmade incident, including terrorism that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions. It almost immediately exceeds resources normally available to state, local, tribal, and private sector authorities in the impacted area; significantly disrupts governmental operations and emergency services to such an extent that national security could be threatened” (National Response Plan 2004)
When Hurricane Katrina made landfall, local and state authorities were immediately overwhelmed. After the levees failed, the federal government received criticism regarding its immediate response efforts. Criticism continued as the media broadcasted numerous images of people stranded on rooftops waiting for responders to arrive. The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, said in a radio conference with a local news station, “You mean to tell me that in a place where you probably have thousands of people that have died and thousands more that are dying every day, that we can’t figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need? Come on man. Get off your asses and let us do something… I do not know whose problem it is. I do not know whether it is the governor’s problem. I don’t know whether it’s the president’s problem, but somebody needs to get their ass on a plane and sit down, and figure this out right now” (CNN 2005). Politics played a very vital role in the dissemination of supplies and who had overall authority. Governor Blanco was at odds with the Bush administration during Katrina. The administration was at odds over using the active military to relieve and fill in gaps with local law enforcement. The administration did not want implications that the President was seizing executive authority from a female governor from another party. There was a political “tug of war” as to who had the authority and how would the other be perceived politically. This banter went on until President Bush placed 7,200 active-duty forces in New Orleans.
However, five days after the initial flooding the troops were on the ground. President Bush understood the massive logistical and communication problems that plague relief efforts during Katrina. He lobbied for the military to play a bigger role. President Bush acknowledged that Hurricane Katrina was not a normal hurricane, the system at every level of government was not well-coordinated, and the Armed Forces should have a broader role. The President understood that the Armed Forces were more than capable of massive logistical operations at a moment’s notice. The President was spot on in urging Congress to extend executive authority in the event of natural disasters. He understood that we should leverage our assets. We have an abundance of battle-tested combat veterans in our ranks that have deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Many of these veterans saw the logistical nightmares of these areas. Being able to deploy at a moment’s notice is something that the Armed Forces are accustomed to doing. As a result, the development of an active duty unit to respond to catastrophic domestic events, established by NORTHCOM (Northern Command). The unit would assist state and local law enforcement with relief capabilities under the authority of the National Guard governor.
The nation has a tiered disaster response system. Even though the process is very simple and efficient, it was a major reason in the slow federal response during the initial days after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. The military and the accompanying support did show up, but not fast enough for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. In 2001, President Bush issued Presidential Directive (HSPD)-5 directing, “the ability of the United States to manage domestic incidents by establishing a single comprehensive national incident management system” (HSPD-5 2003). Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5 (HSPD-5) designated the Secretary of Homeland Security as the principal federal official for domestic incidents of national significance. The NRP recognizes that the governor is the Commander In Chief (CINC) for state National Guard assets in a Title 32 status (United States Code 32). It is lengthy and burdensome to bring active duty military forces into the region. When these forces arrive, they usually do not have detailed local knowledge and law prohibits them from performing law enforcement functions. In addition, each entity will have their own military chains of command – one Active Duty troops and one for National Guard troops under state command (House 201).
The guardsmen remained under their respective governor’s control enabling them to provide law-enforcement support in the regions – something Posse Comitatus prohibits active-duty forces from doing in the United States. The Posse Comitatus Act is a United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385, original at 20 Stat. 152) signed on June 18, 1878, by President Rutherford B. Hayes. The purpose of the act is to limit the powers of the federal government in using federal military personnel to enforce domestic policies within the United States. It passed as an amendment to an army appropriation bill following the end of Reconstruction and updated in 1956 and 1981. The act specifically applies only to the United States Army and, as amended in 1956, the United States Air Force.
Although the act does not explicitly mention the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy has prescribed regulations that construed the Posse Comitatus Act force with respect to those services as well. The act does not prevent the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard under state authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within its home state or in an adjacent state if invited by that state’s governor. The Posse Comitatus Act does not cover the United States Coast Guard, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, either, primarily because although the Coast Guard is an armed service, it also has both a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency mission.
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