Your e-mails: After Katrina
CNN.com users on what's next for government
(CNN) -- Government response to Hurricane Katrina was sharply criticized at all levels. CNN.com asked readers whether government -- at any level -- should be restructured to respond better to the next disaster. Here is a sampling of those responses, some of which have been edited:
Our local and state government handled the Katrina disaster with no professionalism. Our federal government did not do much better. In the case of Katrina it was well known if a storm of this size were to hit this area, we would have flooding, deaths and destruction. The levee was going to break; anyone who has lived here in this area knew that. Our government on all levels failed the people -- especially the poor, sick and elderly. Let's elect some officials that at least have some common sense to take care of business.
We have structure in our government. What we don't have are informed people. If the governor and mayor had implemented the emergency plans, prior to and after the disaster, New Orleans' people would be in much better shape. Many would still be alive. Their local and state government let them down. This is not a federal issue! People needed to help themselves and not sit and wait for the federal government to rescue them. That is done on a local level.
For starters, I would like to see at least on the county level a means of backup emergency communications systems. My vision is to be equipped with satellite phones and a satellite Internet system connected to a generator. This way, if there was ever an event where you lost all power, you would be able to contact the outside world. The satellite phones would be a quick way to communicate your situation [to] the state and federal agencies. The satellite Internet system would allow local officials to send and receive e-mails to state and federal agencies and you would be able to retain these e-mails.
I think the government in New Orleans should rebuild the levees using better material that will hold up under a storm surge. I also think if they had an evacuation plan in place, with routes out of the city better detailed, with maps set out at every conceivable place, even the homes of residents, there may have been more lives saved. I think the U.S. government should make this mandatory and work hand-in-hand with all governments, starting from the president all the way down to the mayors. The lack of response was very bad; this never should have happened. I do not think any one government was to blame, all were slow to respond. This was a catastrophe that could have been prevented, if they had just planned ahead.
Eliminate the Homeland Security Department, and bring FEMA back. It should be obvious that the only thing Homeland Security has done is to give billions to those states that backed Bush. Homeland Security failed us! Elimination of the politically appointed management team that doesn't know anything about emergency preparedness is essential.
Your question addresses two separate problems. Restructure the U.S. Government, HELL YES! However, that will not overcome the welfare class the U.S. government has created by paying for people to not work, paying for illegitimate children and generally misleading the underclass to believe that not being responsible for their lives was OK because the government was going to be their parents. This isn't about a city fighting mother nature, but about a cultural difference in the U.S. that is going to lead to race/class war. Let's go back to "if you don't work, you don't eat".
My whole perspective on the restructuring issue really has to do with the perspective of the local and state governments that ran this last catastrophe. Part of this issue is FEMA's fault and most of that stems from having someone in there who is incompetent in the job they hold. But as far as the structure of the local and state governments and the whole "state's rights" issue, there needs to be a "safety net" of accountability constructed so that not just one person is calling all the shots, if the governor isn't properly doing her job, and there is someone else there who is aware that there is a hesitation, then there should be an override in the assistance. It should not be left up to two people (the governor and the mayor) to be the deciding factors in this decision. If the original plan of evacuation failed, then it has to be reworked until it is done right and smoothly, the plan should not be set aside and then "adjusted" when the time is upon them to do something. The federal government did all they could do in the frame they had to work in. They had to go by the laws of "state's rights" before doing anything as far as assistance. This is really a matter of accountability restructuring.
The United States Coast Guard should be designated he first responder at the federal level. The Coast Guard is one of the five armed forces of our country and possesses a sophisticated command and control system nationwide. As a military service you have the discipline and fast response to operational requirements without the Department of Defense being directly involved. The Coast Guard has units throughout the country and interfaces with all the D.O.D. services on a daily basis. I think it is wrong to consider our fighting forces as a lead in disasters. The Coast Guard has and is participating in all our wars but also has numerous other missions dedicated to helping people.
I believe each county has a director for emergency response; these individuals could make up the backbone of the new organization. A presidential decree could, most likely, make all law enforcement and emergency responders, as well as officials with decision making power in regard to the allocation of resources, such as county school bus fleets, county and city construction equipment, power line and cable crews, and local forest fire fighting equipment, as part of the a new Civil Defense Department under Homeland Security. All of these people could have this assignment as a collateral duty, it merely being part of the responsibilities they already have because of their current positions.
FEMA had for decades been the response that capably met natural disasters in the U.S. After being put into Homeland Security, FEMA has been relegated into just more layers of bureaucracy, thus making it ineffective. FEMA needs to be able to operate independently, such as a position in the president's Cabinet. Anything less and it is not able to help our citizens when these disasters occur. Yes, put FEMA back where it can and will be useful! Weather events have nothing to do with Homeland Security. Separate the apples from the oranges.
The government must be restructured. For the simple reason that we no longer have the money to support all the different branches of government. These tax cuts have drained us of the power to be effective in the wake of these horrific events.
I volunteered in Houston for the American Red Cross for Katrina and Rita. The infrastructure was chaotic at best. There was no plan of action to assist victims' long-term so they were and are still being shuffled around to different states and different shelters. I brought one young man home with me who was homeless before the hurricane hit. There are many who were in that position. Our government needs to create a Human Aid program here in the United States to help those who are living in unlivable conditions. It is admirable that we spend billions of dollars helping the poor, homeless and hungry in our neighboring countries, but why are we overlooking those here in the U.S.? ... So you ask, do we need to make some changes in FEMA and our Homeland Security? Obviously. How? Go back to human needs. We need to utilize our vast country to ensure emergency housing. We need to utilize U.S. produce companies such as Hormel, Farmland and Kraft to produce long life shelf foods warehoused for emergencies.
I don't think the "structure" of government is the problem here. The real disaster here was not so much the hurricane, but the total failure of government at all levels to act in the best interests of people. Instead, our self-serving elected officials assigned important jobs to incompetent, and or corrupt cronies, with no qualifications. This is an embarrassment to the entire country. Are we the leading democracy in the world, or a banana republic?
The federal government, in the form of the National Guard, should initially have complete jurisdiction over all natural and manmade disasters within the United States. Jurisdiction should be handed back over to state and local officials once the federal government sees fit. It seems apparent that the National Guard is the only division of the current military that has been trained to act in a law enforcement capacity and this area needs to be improved upon as well. Other divisions of our military should only be used in the event of a national catastrophe as they are not trained to handle any form of civilian crisis.
I think that restructuring is not the issue. I think that disaster relief cannot be structured, that is why it is called a disaster. What needs to happen is to have competent leaders all the way through the chain of command. None of our leaders acted competently. We need people who can make important decisions in a few minutes not days. We need leaders who can think on their feet. This is not just about President Bush. All of the leaders did nothing but cry for help. We needed action not a woman crying on TV. We needed that woman to figure out what to do! If restructuring means putting new people in charge then yes I am for it. We need leaders who lead us to safety not victory.
I think that the people making the decisions to evacuate, how to evacuate, where to assemble in the event of a catastrophic occurrence and devising a plan for such events should not be elected officials. This should be someone working with experts on "what if" scenarios. Their position should be leader of such occurrences, taking it out of governor's and mayor's control. Let's face it, how much training do governors and mayors have in dealing with this kind of situation? The storms have been an eye-opener to everyone. Now let's learn and make better for the next time.
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