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Desperately Avoiding Katrina (Wizbang)

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Desperately Avoiding Katrina

The Politico is reporting that the Obama administration is in something of a "P.R. panic" about the British Petroleum rig explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Signs of that panic were made open today when Robert Gibbs singled out Fox News' Wendell Goler to make the point that his network (Fox) had the temerity to let Michael Brown make inflammatory statements on Neil Cavuto's show. Brown accused the Obama administration of letting the Federal disaster response linger so that the increased damage would give the Obama administration an excuse to ban permanently off shore drilling. I don't believe Brown's speculation, but Gibbs took the bait and made himself look stupid (again).

Gibbs, responding to an oil spill query from Goler, called the network out for failing to challenge Brown, now a conservative Colorado radio host.

"I watched Fox yesterday -- you open both the double doors -- and waaah! -- Here I am," said Gibbs.

As Goler tried to calm Gibbs down, the press secretary began talking about "the special and unique interview with Michael Brown, who for those who weren't let in on the big secret... intimated on Fox -- and it wasn't, didn't appear to be, pushed back on real hard -- that this spill was leaked on purpose in order for us to undo decisions."

"You should call headquarters," he told Goler, and talk to "whoever makes the decision to put people like that on."

Has Gibbs ever offered that advice to any other network? Olberman? Maddow? Nevermind. Matthews? But about the public relations panic that is allegedly consuming the White House, Glenn Thrush at Politico offers this:

Hope and change was Obama's headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama's cool competence -- exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign's waning days -- that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama's brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.

So there was a "little bit of panic," according to one administration official, when White House aides sensed the oil spill narrative getting away from them last week. The White House was particularly alarmed by the rash of stories comparing the Obama administration's initial response with President George W. Bush's sluggish response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Katrina was one of the first issues Obama seized upon after his election to the Senate in 2004 -- and he made a highly publicized visit to New Orleans during the campaign, using the Bush administration response as a metaphor for incompetent and uncaring government.

... Dana Perino, the last White House press secretary under Bush, even sounded sympathetic to Obama's plight. "I don't think this is comparable to Katrina," she said. "But ... they are learning just how hard it is to get situational awareness during a crisis. ... Things are going to overtake them. They are learning this right now."

A timeline of the White House response shows the difficulty federal officials initially had getting a clear picture of the disaster.

The Obama administration should be thankful that they are getting their information from BP and not a Ray Nagin or Kathleen Blanco. But I think the White House is also concerned about failures in the federal response infrastructure such as this:

If U.S. officials had followed up on a 1994 response plan for a major Gulf oil spill, it is possible that the spill could have been kept under control and far from land.

The problem: The federal government did not have a single fire boom on hand.

The "In-Situ Burn" plan produced by federal agencies in 1994 calls for responding to a major oil spill in the Gulf with the immediate use of fire booms.

But in order to conduct a successful test burn eight days after the Deepwater Horizon well began releasing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf, officials had to purchase one from a company in Illinois.

When federal officials called, Elastec/American Marine, shipped the only boom it had in stock, Jeff Bohleber, chief financial officer for Elastec, said today.

At federal officials' behest, the company began calling customers in other countries and asking if the U.S. government could borrow their fire booms for a few days, he said.

A single fire boom being towed by two boats can burn up to 1,800 barrels of oil an hour, Bohleber said. That translates to 75,000 gallons an hour, raising the possibility that the spill could have been contained at the accident scene 100 miles from shore.

"They said this was the tool of last resort. No, this is absolutely the asset of first use. Get in there and start burning oil before the spill gets out of hand," Bohleber said. "If they had six or seven of these systems in place when this happened and got out there and started burning, it would have significantly lessened the amount of oil that got loose."

In the days after the rig sank, U.S Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said the government had all the assets it needed. She did not discuss why officials waited more than a week to conduct a test burn.

This is the sort of criticism that speaks to competency and the Obama administration knows this which is why the mere mention of a name like Michael Brown sets the Obama message machine into overdrive. Criticism of President Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina was Senator Obama's signature issue in his run up to the campaign for the White House. Now that President Obama is encountering the inherent limits and failures of a federal bureaucracy to disasters that occur on his own watch his administration is on defense instead of offense.

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Comments (17)

The Bush administration kne... (Below threshold)
Lee Ward:

The Bush administration knew Katrina was coming three days before it reached New Orleans.

That's a big difference.

People's lives were in danger from the Hurricane and flooding.

Another huge difference.

Lee:You cannot hav... (Below threshold)


You cannot have it both ways. I have no doubt BP will step up and foot the bill but they don't have enough resources to contain the problem on their own. You conveniently let off the state and local authorities in Louisiana for their abject failure during Katrina but want to hold the Obama Administration blameless for their slow response when BP and everybody else could not handle the situation on their own? The feds had a role to play in responding to this crisis and they were too slow in acting. I am not letting them off the hook as easily as you. What goes around comes around and often what is discovered is that government bureaucracies are not as nimble as you would like them to be.

I have to say I am bothered by the administration's rhetoric towards BP on this. Robert Gibbs is the second representative of this administration that has said they had "their boot on the neck of BP" while at the same time they refuse to take a stance that is anywhere near as aggressive towards the real enemies of the state - specifically Islamic radicals who time and again have sought to kill American citizens here and abroad. If they brought that kind of clarity to identifying the real threats to the country you might see fewer attempts.

Lee Ward1)Three da... (Below threshold)

Lee Ward

1)Three days prior to landfall no one knew for certain it would hit NO but Bush admin officials were preparing for disaster.

2)National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield told Ray Nagin to issue a mandatory evacuation order on Saturday BEFORE the storm came ashore.

3) Neither Nagin or Gov Blanco ordered a mandatory evac until Sunday morning. The storm hit Monday morning. Ever been through an hurricane evac, Lee? I have. One day is not enough.

4) Blanco did not ask for federal troop assistance until Wednesday after the storm when she realized she was in a politically untenable position. The only way Bush could send in federal troops before that was to declare Louisianna in a state of insurrection (Posse Comitatus Act). Blanco never figured that out.

You're still relying Obama campaign blather as if it was fact

Lee is all about having it ... (Below threshold)

Lee is all about having it both ways

Barry will never admit to a... (Below threshold)

Barry will never admit to any lack of proper response. He hasn't yet even acknowledged the destruction of the economy under his watch.

Just stating the facts, gen... (Below threshold)
Lee Ward:

Just stating the facts, gentlepeople. Having three days notice is a huge difference.

Lee WardThe US GOV... (Below threshold)
retired military:

Lee Ward



SADLY IT IS ONE WHICH LIBERALS CHOOSE TO NEVER MENTION EVEN THOUGH THEY KNOW ABOUT IT. Your willful disregard of facts is not astounding since you are in fact a liberal.

In 2006, the Democrats took... (Below threshold)

In 2006, the Democrats took the incompetence and inexperience of Michael Brown and used him as the poster boy for the alleged cronyism and "culture of corruption" within the Republican party.

Implicit in their rhetoric was this promise: "Elect us, and these kinds of things won't happen again."

Yet the incompetence the Democrats promised to alleviate is happening right now in the Gulf of Mexico. Regardless of whose "fault" the blowout was, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 explicitly charges the Federal government with oil spill cleanup management, and designates the US Coast Guard as first responders for sea-borne oil spills.

In other words, Lee, Steve Crickmore, and everyone else, you can blame Bush, Cheney, Halliburton, etc. until you are blue in the face. None of that changes the fact that the Feds were responsible for containing and remediating the spill. Their response was sluggish and uncoordinated and ultimately revealed that they were unprepared in terms of equipment, manpower, and response time to follow their own emergency response plans.

As I recall, President Bush was solely responsible for "allowing" 9/11 to happen, even though he had been in office for less than a year at the time. Likewise, there is no reason not to hold the Obama White House responsible for the incompetence of the DHS in containing this spill. If ridding the government disaster response programs of incompetence had really been a priority for Democrats -- instead of an election year gimmick -- we would not have the current disaster that is unfolding right now.

The facts are that the Obam... (Below threshold)
retired military:

The facts are that the Obama admin is reeling around side to side from one emergency to the next.

Here let me do a preemptive Lee Ward.

I blame Bush.

Yeah, Bush knew the storm ... (Below threshold)

Yeah, Bush knew the storm was coming and told the people to evacuate. Obama saw the gusher and has done nothing for 12 days accept a flyover.

Yes, I see the difference now Lee.

The Bush administration had... (Below threshold)
Lee Ward:

The Bush administration had advance notice:

In the days before Hurricane Katrina hit land, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, FEMA Director Michael Brown and other top Homeland Security officials received e-mails on their blackberries warning that Katrina posed a dire threat to New Orleans and other areas. Yet one FEMA official tells NPR little was done.

Leo Bosner, an emergency management specialist at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., is in charge of the unit that alerts officials of impending crises and manages the response. As early as Friday, Aug. 26, Bosner knew that Katrina could turn into a major emergency.

In daily e-mails -- known as National Situation Updates -- sent to Chertoff, Brown and others in the days before Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast, Bosner warned of its growing strength -- and of the particular danger the hurricane posed to New Orleans, much of which lies below sea level.

There was no equivalent warning that the BP deepwater rig was going to blow.

You guys are looking like chumps - doing a heckofa job there, Hughy.

But feel free to show that the Obama administration knew three days in advance that the BP rig was going to explode.

Maybe you should check in with Jay Tea - he's pretty good at making up bullshit that has no basis in fact, but that "feels good" to the teabaggers in the audience.

"Having three days notice i... (Below threshold)

"Having three days notice is a huge difference."

There you go again, Lee. Rearranging time lines and ignoring facts.

Nagin and Blanco had more than three days warning but ignored that for political reasons. Then the storm overwhelmed them and people died. Along with their willing accomplices in the media President Bush got blamed for Blanco and Nagin's cowardice and indecision. Not to mention the negligence of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Presidential leadership is about more than blaming people, a lesson the Obama administration is learning the hard way now.

Lee Ward wrote:<block... (Below threshold)

Lee Ward wrote:

The Bush administration knew Katrina was coming three days before it reached New Orleans.

Well, no. Three days before, New Orleans did not appear to be in Katrina's path.


What would Obama have done? Rushed all the assets to New Orleans based on this information?

But feel free to s... (Below threshold)
But feel free to show that the Obama administration knew three days in advance that the BP rig was going to explode.

Well, you got me there. However, the 9-day delay between the explosion and the pictures of Obama working on the issue seems to be a problem for you.


And, of course, let's not even mention the issue of the lack of fire booms in the Gulf.

Lee, as usual, has his head... (Below threshold)

Lee, as usual, has his head firmly planted up his ass. He's not going to change his mind, he's too busy burning candles to his Obamassiah.

How's that kool aid, Lee?

So far, I count at least 3 ... (Below threshold)
Sky Captain:

So far, I count at least 3 smack downs of Lee Ward in this thread.

Yet he pops back up like a cheap inflatable punching bag.
Fascinating to watch, in a train-wreck sort of way.

Three days of warning for a... (Below threshold)

Three days of warning for a hurricane:

Start prepping in areas well out of the footprint of the storm's probable landfall. Due to the inaccuracy of storm prediction, that means that all of the real prep had to be done 500 to 1000+ miles away.

Once the storm hits, you have a day of nothing. You have to wait for the storm to go away before you can even start moving.

After that, you have to send in teams to clear roadways, inspect bridges, find good places to set up recovery efforts. No, you can't pre-plan this too much, because of how hurricanes do damage. You also have to wait for the hurricane to get completely out of the way (Katrina closed down a lot of the middle part of the US for a couple of days, and destroyed the major westbound artery into New Orleans, which meant that most of the recovery supplies came from the Northeast by way of Dallas - look it up on a map). You're into D+2 at this point (36 to 48 hours after landfall).

Now that you know where the damage is, and know what route to take to get there, you can now start to send in supplies and people to supplement local disaster response. Before you can do much, you have to set up your response centers, which means food, water, fuel, and power - the first trucks in. This gets you well into D+2/D+3. NOTE: D+2 is when the "late" response actually started to flow into New Orleans - faster than any other disaster response of this size, ever, and actually ahead of plan.

After this, it's a matter of "how much material is on hand, how fast can we move it the 500 to 1000 miles to the disaster zone - what should we send, where should we send it?"

No, you can't just say "send everything everywhere." There's not enough money to do that on short notice (and not enough available trucks). The official plan from FEMA for at least the last 20 years has been "local response, Federal support." And that's what they got in New Orleans - much faster and bigger than any hurricane response, ever.

Pretty much every one who claims "FEMA screwed up the Katrina response" is ignoring some simple things. Like physics. No, you can't drive a loaded semi down an Interstate at speed when the road is covered with debris.

They also ignore the completely inept local prep and response - I've read the Louisiana and New Orleans emergency response plans, and if they'd done what they planned on, things would have gone much better. Instead, they had a bunch of stuff down on paper, took millions in Federal dollars to implement the plans... and didn't.

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