Whistle-blowers say disasters from storms can be avoided (Part 6) Special

Posted Apr 2, 2009 by Carol Forsloff
President Obama and his men did their jobs during the recent emergency in North Dakota last week. I'm reminded by this what someone said once. There are two kinds of folk, those who do and those who protect their jobs. New Orleans had the latter.
Hurricane Katrina
Petty Officer Chuck Hunt, of the Boston-based Coast Guard cutter Spencer, signals that his team can load two more Hurricane Katrina victims in addition to the one they are helping into the Army Black Hawk helicopter.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Sam Towers
With the recent news of North Dakota and the potential flooding of the Red River, the nation had an opportunity to see people working together at various levels to prevent a disaster. The Federal government made forays right away into the area. Rescue teams from private organizations and Federal groups arrived to help possible victims. The government prepared to house and feed folks as needed. Cooperation was displayed at every level, no pictures of riots and guns.
While the Red River continues to recede in the Midwest, Federal teams still maintain preparedness with shelters, meals, generators, and blankets with 2,155 National Guard soldiers deployed. By Saturday, March 29 the weather service reported that the Red River had crested at lower than expected levels, bringing some level of calm to the region.
On March 27, it was reported 20,000 volunteers and 1000 national guards were bagging sand to help hold the levees. During the days prior to the Red River's cresting, President Obama had been on the telephone to coordinate federal and state responses to what was anticipated to be a severe disaster.
Had the President not followed up with his responsibility at the beginning, it would likely be good to have a whistle-blower tell us why. As it is, reports from the media reveal he responded right away.
Coast Guard Boats
These shallow boats were used to rescue victims in residential areas from flood waters in North Dakota.
Petty Officer Renee C. Aiello
Perhaps the Federal government learned a lesson from Hurricane Katrina and now responds quickly and with responsibility as a result of what it learned. Perhaps, however, there's more to the difference between what happened in North Dakota and what happened in Hurricane Katrina that should be explored. That's because the hurricane season is less than three months away, and the country needs to be prepared since predictions are for intense storms. In North Dakota authorities, according to news reports, took responsibility. According to news reports of New Orleans, however, the lack of proper preparation was what caused a major disaster.
To properly prepare for disaster, these experts explain, one must understand the demographics of a region. In the case of North Dakota where the Red River crested, Fargo was considered the epicenter shown frequently on television news. Fargo has a population of 94,603 people according to population statistics in 2006. The population: 91.4% are white and 8% of the population is age 65 or older, a fact that has remained fairly constant since the census of 2000. The median household is $39,406.
95.82 percent have a high school degree or higher. According to the disaster center, it ranks at the bottom of the country in crime rate as well as population census. So in preparing for a disaster in North Dakota would be different than preparing for one someplace else where the demographics are different, like New Orleans for example.
Compared to North Dakota, Orleans Parish was especially different before Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005. 12.7% of the population of New Orleans in 2005 was over 65 years of age. The population: 18.4% were children under age 18. A large number of households were headed by females. The average income was, according to the statistics of 200, $27,133, compared at that time to a national income of $41.994. This means Orleans Parish had a high number of people at risk because of age and income levels, a fact that disaster experts maintain is highly relevant in preparedness.
Given these differences, disaster planning must be specific to the group, experts maintain. It was in the case of North Dakota. The Federal officials provided resources relevant to the needs of the population, and yet maintained relief efforts and emergency personnel on high alert even after the major emergency had passed. The President remained on the job, speaking about the potential flooding at length in his weekly address on March 28 after declaring the area an emergency.
Obama declared on that Saturday, March 28, with emergency responders already in place for the people of North Dakota: "Even as we face an economic crisis which demands our constant focus, forces of nature can also intervene in ways that create other crises to which we must respond -- and respond urgently," the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address. "I will continue to monitor the situation carefully," he pledged. "We will do what must be done to help." He reminded everyone he was in charge.
In his message Obama was speaking to people in North Dakota with good education, middle-class incomes, without a predominance of poor and elderly in need of assistance. Nevertheless, people in need were shown on television as among the first to be assisted during the time of the emergency.
Hurricane Katrina was different. Although there were no warnings specific to the levees breaching, it had been known that there were risks of flooding from rains and over-topping of levees. Emergency preparedness was vital for that reason.
Orleans Parish during Katrina had a high poverty rate, mostly women as the heads of households, and a high percentage of elderly. Emergency response came too late for the poor who couldn't flee, after the levees had breached and the city flooded with people helpless in their homes and communities. The government had the demographics of the city prior to the storm, just as it has with North Dakota, just as reports have shown. But these weren't used to plan for evacuations and take care of the poor and helpless as soon as the risks were known.
New Orleans had a hypothetical hurricane drill 13 months before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 called Hurricane Pam. It was theorized that such a hurricane could hit the city as a Category 3 and cause major flooding. The potential scenario anticipated half of the city's residents either wouldn't or couldn't evacuate. This is evidence the Federal government had relevant information on the demographics of the city and its potential to flood. The fact that the drill took place under Homeland Security auspices and was printed on the website reveals potential for catastrophe was known in advance.
Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina was the worst of the 2005 hurricane season, hitting New Orleans the hardest. Katrina was also one of the top five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history
Photo by FirstBaptistNashville
On Saturday August 28, 2005 President Bush declared a state of emergency for the State of Louisiana at the request of Kathleen Blanco. He became technically in charge at that time of all disaster events to follow, but he didn't declare his authority to take command or to monitor events as they happened even though he was really the boss. At the time of his announcement, Katrina had hit Florida as a Category l storm that was anticipated to strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico.
On Sunday, one day before the Hurricane hit the coast, President Bush was on vacation at his home in Crawford, Texas. According to reports, he spoke 203 words about Katrina and 829 congratulating Iraqis on their new constitution. His statement to New Orleans was not a major radio or television address rallying the State of Louisiana and the nation to the emergency, discussed clearly by the AP, but instead these simple words, and little else, “We will do everything in our power to help the people in the communities affected by this storm” He said this despite the risks clearly evident in the Hurricane Center reports.
The Federal government knew a flood could happen and had New Orleans' demographics. It also knew Katrina had been projected to be a strong storm, three days before landfall on the Louisiana coast. But shelters weren't set up, the National Guard not sent, evacuations of the poor and elderly not accomplished. Instead the city was left to face disaster without proper help.
Michael Chertoff, then head of the Department of Homeland Security called Hurricane Katrina "breathtaking in its surprise." But according to a CNN report it wasn't. The President was on vacation. Cheney was in Wyoming. And no one responded at the Federal level to assume control or monitor events until too late. The Bush men followed with “sorry.”
Dr. Raymond Seed reported on the disaster to Homeland Security. He explained that the levees didn't breach because of barges and boats but because of inadequate materials and disaster preparation. He said the levees breached before over-topping because they weren't properly constructed, designed, inspected and maintained. That was affirmed by written materials prior to this report.
An associate of Seed in the study of hurricanes and disasters at the Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University had more to say about what happened in relationship to the government and its need to look good at the time. That was Dr. Ivor van Heerden. In a phone interview, he told me is critical to proper disaster preparation because it tells us why it's important to look carefully at mistakes, admit them and remedy rather than cover them up.
Dr. Ivor van Heerden has been the director of the LSU Hurricane Center and director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes. He wrote a book with Mike Bryan in 2006 called The Storm. Herdeen said that in November 2005, Vice Chancellors Harold Silverman and Michael Ruffner asked him to stop speaking to the media about the storm and its consequences. "My speaking to the media was hurting LSU’s chances of getting federal dollars," he said in a phone interview. "They preferred that I didn't." Herdeen was reminded that his salary came from then-LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe's office.
Sean O Keefe
O'Keefe was Secretary of the Navy and appointed to NASA as its Chief by President Bush. He was Chancellor of LSU at the time Hurricane Katrina struck and has been friendly with Bush.
Bill O'Keefe
O'Keefe, Herdeen said, had previously been the head of NASA, appointed by President Bush. In 2007 lawyers in a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers tried to get Herdeen to testify. O'Keefe told attorneys who wanted to file suit that nobody from the university would testify, meaning Herdeen could not be called as an expert witness.
Herdeen told he filed a complaint against O'Keefe with the FBI under whistle-blower laws. In order to testify as an expert witness he would have to be subpoenaed because he didn't want to lose his job.
Two powerful men (O'Keefe and Bush) were both members of the Bohemian Club and they had ultimate control.
A picture on the Internet shows Bush and O'Keefe shaking hands at a time when Bush admitted being a member of the Bohemian Club. The organization has as its members some of the richest and most powerful men in the United States. It is so private that journalists are unable to take pictures of its activities or document anything that goes on. Some believe special deals are made behind closed doors; others like Vanity Fair declare the Bohemian Club is a place in California where the rich guys hang out and are entertained together, sometimes in a bit bawdy ways. Nevertheless, both Bush and O'Keefe are members, which suggests their relationship was more than just business since they both belong to a highly secret group where a few Democrats but virtually all the Republican ones have held membership. See this.
O'Keefe resigned from LSU on Jan. 16, 2008.
Whistle-blowers are important in a world where mistakes happen. Experts say they keep us safe, whether they work in businesses, universities, government, or private organizations. In a study of corporate fraud it was found that whistle-blowers can help prevent losses. Presently the nation faces losses on all sides because of mistakes, so having reports and follow up information would seem to be important, given the impact and cost of natural disasters. The Washington Times highlighted the importance of whistle-blowers in keeping the nation safe.
Sign with Ivor Van Heerden Quote
A hurricane expert, Ivor Van Heerden, said that with the money from Iraq from a single month the Coast could be rebuilt. Here is a sign in New Orleans that used the quote.
Herdeen is valuable to the understanding of disasters, because of what he knows, and especially so if we use the yardsticks just mentioned, preventing losses and keeping us safe. He relayed Hurricane Katrina's events as they occurred. He followed up with later research.. He gave valuable accounts of the events of the storm and could likely tell us more given the opportunity and freedom from reprisal to do so.
Sandy Rosenthal, President of, spoke with a man in Louisiana shortly after Hurricane Katrina who gave her the message to “get over it.” She translated this message into a positive one instead and told me, "I'll get on with it." By that she means continuing to push for a thorough investigation of the events consequent to Katrina that can prevent such a disaster from happening again. And perhaps, also save someone's job. Those who do their jobs rather than protect them are surely people to keep, experience shows, because whistle-blowers and doers might keep us safe from serious storms predicted this summer.
References and additional reading (PDF)
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Democracy Now
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