Bureaucracy Hindering Efforts
LOCAL: BUREAUCRACY HINDERING EFFORTS TO BRING AID TO KATRINA VICTIMS
Delaware County Daily Times
5 September 2005
NEW ORLEANS -- In addition to the dead and homeless, Hurricane Katrina left behind an emergency response bureaucracy that has made it difficult for some outsiders to assist in the rescue effort, even when they have a lot to offer.
Nicole Johnson Baker, a national diabetes advocate and Miss America 1999, had rounded up a couple million dollars worth of donated cash, insulin, syringes, test strips and other diabetes supplies prior to boarding a plane to Baton Rouge Friday morning. Her goal was to track down the proper health officials and get the supplies to flood victims in Louisiana and Mississippi.
"I have a refrigerator full of supplies in Louisiana now, but it doesnít have a home," Baker said aboard the plane.
Her trip to Louisiana was less than encouraging. None of the officials on the scene could provide Baker with the information she needed to distribute the goods.
"I got closer to an answer, but I didnít get an answer," Baker said on the flight back, more than 12 hours later. "Thatís the harsh reality of it."
(Baker finally got her break over the weekend, a diabetes blog reported Sunday. She was able to confirm a housing location for supplies and establish a network to administer care to diabetes patients in hurricane shelters).
Jim Washington, president of Radnor-based Rajant Corp., ran into a wall when he tried to navigate the bureaucracy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Washington was trying to donate more than $400,000 worth of specialized equipment that emergency responders could use to set up a wireless communications network.
Instead, he got bounced from one FEMA official to another, the last of which told him the agency was concerned about the equipmentís "cyber security." But Rajantís networks are secure enough for its primary customer: the U.S. military.
"Donít tell me about security," said a frustrated Washington during the plane ride back to Philadelphia International Airport.
U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-7, of Thornbury, was able to find someone who saw the value of Rajantís equipment in a disaster situation, but he had to go straight to the top. Lt. Gen. Russell Honore, the three-star general who is commanding Joint Task Force Katrina, said heíd take the equipment and put it to good use, according to Weldon.
Weldon had no problem unloading the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) manufactured by Advanced Ceramics Research, based in Arizona. Every official he talked to seemed impressed by the capabilities of the remote-controlled aircraft, which include cameras that can detect body heat through buildings. A separate set of UAVs manufactured by Chester-based Navmar Applied Sciences Corporation will be used by military teams in the flooded areas, Weldon said.
As vice-chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, part of Weldonís mission Friday was to assess the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, which has been widely criticized as insufficient.
"Part of our problem in America is that many of the bureaucrats that run our agencies like Homeland Security and FEMA have never had actual experience in the middle of a disaster, and itís an entirely different perspective," Weldon said. "One is sitting at a desk doing interviews, pushing pencils and telling people what to do. The other is out there with people screaming at you that youíre not doing enough."
Neither Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff nor FEMA Director Michael Brown had any real experience responding to natural disasters before being appointed to their respective agencies.
"Thatís the problem," Weldon said.
Chertoff was a federal judge and Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Departmentís Criminal Division; Brown was a private attorney from Oklahoma.
After spending an entire day in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Weldon seemed as frustrated as Mayor Ray Nagin has been with FEMAís overall sluggishness.
Asked by a reporter Friday whether he ever thought he would have to take a leadership role during a natural disaster of Katrinaís scale, Nagin responded, "I couldnít have imagined this in my wildest dreams."
The consensus in New Orleans is that FEMA should have.