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There are many lessons to be learned from this catastrophe and we can start by ignoring those officials who say we shouldn't play "the blame game." This is exactly the right time to play that game in order to learn everything that went wrong and who or what was responsible for making it go wrong. Hopefully, there will be an independent commission to investigate the response to Katrina and why it was a debacle. The Bush administration doesn't want it but, as we saw with the 9/11 Commission, they have a way of changing their minds when they feel the heat of public opinion.
For fire departments, at least one lesson is clear: determine whether your Plan A for mass-casualty disasters is up to date and ready to go. Then start working on Plan B, which is the one you will have to use when state and federal governments fail to deliver the help that was promised in Plan A.
Hal Bruno, a Firehouse contributing editor, retired as political director for ABC News in Washington and served almost 40 years as a volunteer firefighter. He is a director of the Chevy Chase, MD, Fire Department and chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.