It is a prerequisite of any government in place to always be prepared for any disaster of whatever nature whether natural or humanly initiated; it is never known the day, hour or minute when tragedy may befall a nation. A small time disaster is wake up call for major catastrophes, but a country may not be lucky enough and suffer a full blown attack instead of such, hence getting caught ill prepared (Alexander, 1993, p.27). The fate that America as a nation suffered during the 9/11 terrorist attack to the World Trade Centre in 2001 and the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 gave the powerful nation an acid test on their state of disaster preparedness. It was a test to the New York and New Oreland’s local governments through the Fire Department and the Police Force, who were actively involved in the rescue mission aided by the volunteers. This paper will look at the two states responded to these two scenarios and the consequences of their actions then, and in the future.
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Response from the Concerned Parties
Not a single soul knew that the September 11th 2001 would be the way it did, except the organizers, who even anticipated a high scale disaster. Al-Qaeda terrorist affiliated group hijacked four US planes and rammed two of them on the Twin Towers of the WTC killing everyone on board and causing the building to collapse and destroyed other neighboring buildings. A total of 2,974 were killed in the attacks, most of them being civilians from over 90 different nations (Scott, 2005, pp.72-73). The attack got New York off guard, despite previous rumors that warned of a pending attack. Immediately upon being relayed on national broadcasting stations on the fate of the State, literally every person headed to the station to assist; top on the list were police officers who took leaves of absence to get to the spot and help with the rescue mission, recovering bodies from the twisted building. Civilians came in handy from all over the nation to donate blood.
The active involvement of President Bush and the New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani received great praises concerning their responses to the tragedy. The President, through the Mayor declared an official nine day rescue and recovery effort to completely salvage all that could be saved. To be precise, the fate of those who were caught up in the WTC at immediately after the strike seemed to have rested on the public servants and the private firms instead of the countries policymakers. The firemen, medical service department, police and building safety professionals followed later. Among these, the first responders were the New York Fire Department, the Police Department, then the Emergency Management team from the Mayors office and the Port Authority Police Department in that order (Stein, 2003, p.187). Under the leadership of a superintendent, the PAPD released 1,331 officers to help with the process.
The 40,000 plus officers from the NYPD who came for the same mission were headed by a Police Commissioner. The NYPD officers were concerned with the duty of retaining the operational authority. Most of them being drawn from the Special Operation Division and the Emergency Service Unit; the group consisted of mostly Aviation experts and Doctors. The FDNY on its part assigned 11,000 members to the rescue operation, under the leadership of a fire Commissioner. But contrary to the others, the Fire Commissioner did not have operational authority, leaving most of the vital decisions with the Department Chief. The government suspended direct international flights and Canada was used as a diversion point during the Operation Yellow Ribbon period. Through the guidance of the Mayor, the government channeled help to the needy victims. Giuliani helped to set up relief funds meant for financial assistance to the survivors and families of the perished (Stein, 2003, p.191).
The Hurricane Katrina
The New Orleans case presented the same situation like the 9/11 fate. The rescue missions, confused and defiant scrambling for limited rescue means characterized the whole operation. The tragedy occurred at a time when the American government under President Bush was still under recovery period from his response inadequacy to 9/11. Several questions have gone unanswered on the country’s disaster preparedness. Why was one of the most populated states left in such a vulnerable situation for so long? What went wrong with the coordination of the evacuation plan? Why did the people appear so defiant and why did the federal government appeared dilatory despite all the resources at its disposal? (Brasch, 2005, p.47).
It is said nature in every case acts indiscriminately in its fury. And true to that saying, Hurricane Katrina spared no wealth in its path; for the rich and poor alike, all the mansions and hovels before it was brought to their bare roots. But sad though it seemed, the tragedy was treated with disparity, an act which revisited a long standing racial animosity among Blacks and Whites (Brasch, 2005, p.52). The rescues were said to be more interested in saving whites and those high class social individuals while blacks were left unable to save themselves in their thousands. The defiant citizens who refused to honor evacuation orders did not make things any easy for the rescue team, despite the President’s and Mayor’s please to the New Orleans population.
Many of the people believed that the government officials were simply overestimating the extent of the floods; it could not be that bad. It was also hard for them to leave their property unattended to…just in the hands of fate. Chaos and the lawlessness that followed as an aftermath of the hurricane confused the recovery efforts. In an overall sense, the failure to address the tragic situation was attributed to the dynamics of political sophistication in Louisiana and America at large. Cooper reported pointed accusing fingers on the federal government, but left those who seemed to be the real failures of the whole ordeal; the state and local officials, they were meant to be the first responders to the tragedy and the coordinators of the operation. Therefore, any failure or success from the process should have been having shouldered by them (Cooper, 2007, pp.281-283).
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Following Plans and Protocol
The communication system used by the PAPD did not match the standards to meet the demands then. The radios that they used to link information were of low wattage which could not handle multiple commands. The superintendent manning the commanding the rescue process also lacked a procedure to govern his troop. The NYPD were divided into 35 Radio Zones and opened other channels for the whole city. They opened well over 20 radio channels to help in the relaying of the operation, stationing 1,200 operators, civilians and numerous dispatchers at the 911 call desk. For any reports of the fire incident, the calls were diverted to the FDNY who responded to the call. The FDNY organized themselves in nine geographic divisions each containing about six battalions. Every battalion had to be in possession of members from Engine and ladder companies. There were a total of 205 Engine and 133 Ladder Companies. The Fire Dispatch Operations Department took over the handling of logistic matters related to fire from the 911 crew. To link up their operations, the FDNY communicated using analog, point-to-point radios with a total of six radio channels. All the companies involved used a single tactical channel which the chiefs on the control point at the scene would study and interpret and relay the information to the firemen. The point-to-point radios had weak signal strength, thus could only allow communication among individuals in the immediate vicinity. This jeopardized their performance and the entire operation (Stein, 2003, pp.195-199).
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had in the past created a disaster response team, the OEM. The team was charged with three activities during the operation. Their first duty was to monitor all the communication channels of all the companies any groups involved in the operation, their next duty was to develop the overall response of the entire city to incidences of that nature…in this context, they conducted drills and exercises to create awareness to multiple city agencies. Third, and lastly, the OEM acted as the main government branch to manage the disaster emergency responses (Scott, 2005, p.74).
Considering the New Orleans case, the federal government was absolved from direct blames on the failures. It was upon the governor and the emergency response team to supervise and drive the operation. The warning alarms predicting the occurrence and magnitude of the hurricane, but Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin both failed to execute the laid down plans of execution…this was a disgrace to the American society. Before the final landing of the flood, data from weather experts clearly indicated the extent of possible damage and the two leaders could not claim that they were kept in the dark. They knew that they had to evacuate more than one million people and over 300,000 were to be ferried out of the state. If only the plans were followed to the latter, not so many lives would have been lost. The mayor did not get transportation means in time to ferry the willing population earlier enough (Brasch, 2005, p.60).
At its infancy, there were school buses and other means were available. The city boasted of well over 12,000 fleet run, but the Mayor declined to use them. The vehicles were not even repositioned to safe higher ground and were therefore quickly flooded. It was not until things become overwhelming that everyone scrambled for limited space, buses which were available then could not handle the struggle, and the traffic snarl kept so many on hold making them be caught up in the confusion. As a result of the struggle, most of the poor residents were sacrificed in the evacuation process for the rich (Brasch, 2005, p.65). For the best results, the response was to be made more regional than national, therefore calling for the attention of Mayor Nagin’s Office of Emergency preparedness. Report by Brasch on the tragedy research holds it that the Mayor had to be persuaded to contact the national Hurricane Centre President Bush himself had to call him personally to order him to issue mandatory evacuation.
The evacuation order was called so late when already most of the transport means had been grounded; the people were therefore left in the mercy of the storm. Further reports filed in (Cooper et al., 2007, p.320) show that the Mayor instead opted to evacuate the refugees to the Superdome and Convention Centre without preparation on how they would be fed, no sanitary arrangement, no water, and no security…most of them therefore died as a result of these difficulties and some were even raped in the holdup centre. It was a total failure on the Mayor side, but instead of taking the responsibility, Mayor Nagin shifted blame to the governor and the (FEMA) Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Analysis of the overall Performance
There is a distinct line separating the performance of the two state officials on how they responded tragedies. The New Orleans residents were kept in the dark for some time without knowing the predicted extent of damage of the floods. It was not only when things became apparent that alarm was sounded for an evacuation. The information relayed to the public contrasted what was really on the ground. That is what made some residents more defiant to move or honor evacuation orders. Upon the strike o the Twin Towers, the state media tried to assure the public that all was well and there was no cause of alarm. But the mode of communication lacked authority and only sent panic to the entire state. More particularly was the air condition at the ground zero state which was claimed was toxic and dangerous to the rescue workers. The public felt that the problem was graver than it was put by the government. The laxity of the men in charge during the New Orleans hurricane resulted to lack of confidence from the citizens…it was like a case of every man for himself (Stein, 2003, p.199). There was a complete contrast to the New Orleans case; help came in handy from all quarters in response to the 9/11 tragedy. The local government did their level best to save the situation despite the fact that they were caught flat footed.
The damage from both tragedies was extensive. The Hurricane Katrina resulted to a total estimated cost of $100 billion attributed mainly from flooding. Compensation and rebuilding the destroyed city took the largest share. The psychological effect was so high; the hate to the terrorist support countries could not be measured, the suspended international flights, the retaliation cost…the damage ran into billions of shillings. But that which had more weight was the Hurricane Katrina, which had more casualties at the onset. But the rebuilding to achieve former status was not that much as compared to 9/11.
The damage had been done and the American government sought to make a quick recovery to restore the land and stop being a shadow of its former self as it was made to be. International communities have been very helpful to this effect; immediately after the Katrina, there were donations from all corners of the world, as far as Middle East. After the recovery efforts it was back to nation building and clearing the racial hatred that seemed to have characterized the process. With that positivity in place, there will definitely be a complete recovery. Regarding the Terrorist Attack on WTC, efforts have been put targeting international terrorism; an attempt which is seen to be able to address perfectly the world’s safety, especially the Americans and their interests. The world seems to be united in this endeavor and there is no doubt that someday, the battle will be won (Mayer, 2007, pp.281-304).
Both incidences show how concerned the parties were to keep the situation in control. Time was of essence, more lives were being lost every minute. Communication therefore became vital and the same time difficult. Both the first responders of the Katrina and 9/11 tragedy did not wait for orders from the higher offices, but quickly sprang into action to assist their fellow citizens safely evacuated, collective responsibility mattered here. Both cases witnessed conflict of roles, bringing so many players on board for a common purpose without prior to the operation. Some activities had to be conducted jointly but the orders and commands were being issued from different quarters; making the operation to be very difficult. If a disaster overwhelms the local authority, the best action to be taken is to call for assistance from the federal government as promptly as fast as possible. That is what was witnessed in New York, but what did we see in New Orleans? Gov. Blanco simply failed to take control of the matter to keep the states operations in contact with the Mayor and FEMA. The state authorizes the Governor to declare a state of emergency and call for quick federal assistance…Blanco did none of these in time (Brasch, 2005, p.82).
The two cases give the Americans a chance to review the state of their disaster preparedness. The country realized their need to upgrade their contingency plans for responses of such nature. It is a shame for a disaster that was predicted days before stoke not to be contained. What does that leave to incidences of terrorism which happen without any warning? And what of the poor countries with limited resources. The local government should be able to take it upon themselves to be the first responders apart from being prepared.
Alexander, D.E. (1993). Natural Disasters. London and New York: UCL Press and Chapman & Hall.pp.27-34.
Brasch, M. W. (2005). Unacceptable: The Federal Government’s Response to Hurricane Katrina. BookSurge Publishers: Charleston. pp.46-82.
Cooper, C. and Block, R. (2007). Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security. Holt Paperbacks: New York. pp.281-329.
Mayer, J. (2008).The Dark Side: The Inside Story of how the War on Terror Turned into War on American Ideals. Doubleday: New York. pp.267-348.
Scott, D. M. (2005). Understanding the War on Terror. New York: Norton. pp.72–75.
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Stein, H. F. (2003). Days of Awe: September 11, 2001 and its Cultural Psychodynamics: Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. 8 (2): pp.187–199.