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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Katrina evacuation: more questions

This article, KATRINA: DOT Audit Probes Katrina Evacuation Fiasco landed in my inbox last night, and its implications are disturbing:

The U.S. Department of Transportation may hold the key to one of the biggest unanswered questions from Hurricane Katrina:

Why did it take nearly a week for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to mobilize private buses to evacuate thousands of city residents desperately seeking rescue from the horrific conditions in the Superdome, the Convention Center and the open tarmac of Interstate 10?

Ray Nagin has taken a lot of heat for how he handled the New Orleans evacuation in the face of Katrina, but did you know FEMA has a contract with the FAA (which in turn contracts with a logistics company) to handle emergency evacuations? I didn’t. I bet it won’t surprise anyone to learn that apparently FEMA didn’t know about it, either:

By all accounts, the FAA and Landstar failed miserably to help the citizens of New Orleans escape from their drowned city. And when the crisis hit, FEMA, whose bungling during Katrina has become legendary, was unaware that it had even contracted the operation to FAA, or that FAA had subcontracted the work to Landstar

Beyond the FEMA implications, however, I’m somewhat confused by this comparison to how the Rita evacuations were handled in Texas:

FEMA's record during Katrina contrasts sharply with how Texas handled Hurricane Rita, which hit the Gulf region shortly after Katrina.

About a day before Rita's landfall, Pantuso said, he received a call from the Texas Office of Procurement asking how they could direct buses during and after the storm. The bus association, using the spreadsheets it put together during Katrina, did a "blast e-mail" to companies in about 14 states and "within an hour and a half had heard from 30 to 40 companies." As a result, that evacuation went smoothly.

If a Texas state agency initiated the evacuation call to the American Busing Authority (apparently circumventing FEMA and the FAA altogether), who actually dropped the ball in Louisiana? This article implies that the responsibility resided with FEMA. Is that true? And why would the protocol for Rita have been different?

As ever, I suspect we’re not getting the whole story…