Playing the blame game

by Beacon Staff • September 28, 2005

As Hurricane Katrina gives way to another big story in the news, we the American people have to remain cognizant of who is responsible for the lack of leadership during hurricane relief efforts so that such a crisis never occurs again.

In his book All Politics is Local, the late Thomas "Tip" O' Neill Jr. conveyed the idea that our leaders need to know how to be effective on a local level in order to be successful on state or national levels. Although it is easier to start at the top and place all of the blame on our officials in the federal government, I would say that leadership or lack thereof starts from the bottom and works its way up. With this in mind, the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, had a great responsibility to his citizens before the hurricane struck to work on evacuating the area as quickly as he could.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) online news, however, the mandatory evacuation plans were announced on Aug. 28 "less than 24 hours before the hurricane struck early the next morning." The article also said that at the same press conference, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said, "President Bush had called and personally appealed for a mandatory evacuation." It also stated that "the night before [the press conference], National Hurricane Director Max Mayfield had called Mayor Nagin to tell him that an evacuation was needed."

After the mandatory evacuation was called for, Nagin failed the people of New Orleans by not following the city's evacuation plans. According to The Washington Times, "reports show [Mayor Nagin] failed to follow through on his own city's emergency-response plan."

The report also estimated that about 150,000 people were not able to evacuate because hundreds of available New Orleans school buses were not used in the evacuation.

Nagin's mistakes became even more noticable when an Associated Press photo showed 2,000 school buses under water and parked in a lot, which wereunused in the evacuation-a fact that prompted Lisa Myers of NBC News to ask, "Why weren't those buses sent street by street to pick up people before the storm?"

Nagin's failed leadership on these two occasions cost the people of New Orleans valuable time and transportation resources for their evacuation.

Nagin's incompetence was shown when, on a whim, he informed people that it was safe to return to the city despite the fact that there was no drinking water and Hurricane Rita was on the way. This decision was made against the advice of President Bush and Nagin soon reversed it. The mayor should not have assumed that New Orleans was safe for the return of its people.

Governor Blanco also failed her constituents in the aftermath of Katrina. According to The Washington Post, "Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday [after the hurricane had hit Louisiana on Monday]." Blanco should have acted as soon as she knew the magnitude of the hurricane that was destroying parts of her state.

It is easily concluded that the response to Katrina showcased a failure of those in positions of power on many levels.

The responsibility of leadership, however, does not solely fall with the President. Local officials, such as Mayor Nagin, must also carry the burden.

The next level of leadership in government is on a state or county government-in this case Governor Blanco.

President Bush may be responsible for the federal government's response to Katrina but before they began responding, the leaders of New Orleans and Louisiana had already shown poor leadership on a local level and they should be criticized for it instead of people placing all of the blame on the President.

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