Sunday, September 04, 2005

Mr. Larry Johnson is a former CIA analyst and Deputy Director for the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism and is currently the CEO of BERG associates. He blogs at No Quarter:


"The unfolding disaster along the Gulf Coast is only going to get worse, unfortunately. I spoke today to a friend in Louisiana who has two sons that serve in the Louisiana State Police. There are still stories not fully covered by the media. My friend's boys, for example, were in a shootout last night with a rampaging gang in New Orleans. When the sun goes down the jackals come out. We will see more images of Americans shooting Americans in the coming days.

Another big surprise is the virtual surrender and retreat by the New Orleans Police Department. One State trooper, for example, caught and disarmed a New Orleans police woman who was trying to break into a jewelry store. This has been a failure of leadership across the board, starting with the Mayor then the Governor and finally President Bush.

The body count is going to go thru the roof. Only now are mortuary teams preparing to enter New Orleans. The obvious failure to cope with the aftermath of the hurricane is the fault of Federal, State, and local officials. Consider the levee breach. A friend of mine experienced with crisis response was completely puzzled why Federal and State authorities did not seize and sink barges in the openings. That is an expedient solution to a levee collapse.

The inept response to this disaster is an ominous harbinger of things to come if terrorists hit us with the big one. Ignore for a moment that fact that this scenario in New Orleans had been identified as a potential threat we should prepare for. We should recognize that a terrorist armed with a nuclear weapon could not inflict the physical damage that the hurricane caused. Although a surprise terrorist strike could cause more casualties, only a sustained aerial bombardment could match the force and fury of Mother Nature.

The crisis response to a hurricane is the same as a response to a terrorist attack. Restoration or services, remediation, and humanitarian help are the same regardless of whether it is man made or nature made. The biggest problems in any response are always the same--chain of command (i.e., figuring out who is in charge) and communication. It is inexcusable for the Bush Administration officials to claim they had no way of anticipating this disaster or planning for it. At least they've been consistent. We now know that the failure to plan for the aftermath in Iraq was but a precursor of things to come at home.

Hopefully this debacle will inspire the Republican controlled House and Senate to get off their ass and demand the Bush Administration explain how it will respond if terrorists detonate a nuclear device in the harbor of New York City or Los Angeles. We don't know if or when such a tragedy will happen, but we do know it is something that could happen and that we should be prepared to handle. That is the purpose of holding crisis management exercises. You work on problems and potential solutions before you are in the midst of an actual crisis.

Given the scale of the disaster along the Gulf Coast it is essential that the response be Federalized and that NORTHCOM be put fully in charge of coordinating and directing the humanitarian and crisis response operation. Unlike the current head of FEMA, the Commander of NORTHCOM is an experienced officer who knows how to command large scale operations"
From what I understand, there was no levee collapse, but rather a flood wall collapse, which is slightly different. I caught a NO engineer talking about how this was something that wasn't fixable in a time frame shorter than about 20 years.

The big problems are going to be blind spots that everybody has been flinching away from fixing, like NO's inability to survive a category 4+ storm. They knew they had a problem since Betsy tore through in 1965. 40 years later, the chickens have come home to roost.

My personal "favorite" nightmare is the oil and gas tanks in northeastern NJ. Given the right weather conditions (just the right wind, just the right atmospheric conditions) blowing up a significant amount of tanks would create a toxic cloud that would wander over manhattan and sit there, for days. The facilities over there are huge, very important, almost impossible to either move or secure, and threaten millions if they ever go up at the wrong time.

Nobody wants to face fixing the problem as it's a cross-jurisdictional nightmare. That's the marker I'd look for all across the nation, the security disaster elephant in the room.

Always good to hear from you TM.

I have not heard about the floodwall/levee distinction though my common sense tells me that losing either would be bad.

I find your " Bhopal in Jersey scenario" disturbing and the political unwillingness to deal with these cross-jurisdictional problems all too likely as there is no political profit for a politician in tackling problems with a two decade time frame ( beyond jobs of course - perhaps it can be cynically sold that way to get Congressmen desperate about military base closure to do the right thing).
Cool Blog, I never really thought about it that way.

I have a Hurricane Katrina blog. It pretty much covers hurricane related stuff.

Thank you - and keep up the thoughts!
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