Guard leaders adjust storm response
Officials of 12 states coordinate efforts
Thursday, May 18, 2006
By Robert Travis Scott Capital bureau
BATON ROUGE -- The next Hurricane Katrina will be met with earlier, quicker deployments of supplies and military units, and maybe not as much ice. Advertisement
That's the forecast as adjutant generals from 12 states met with Gov. Kathleen Blanco and state and federal homeland security officials Wednesday to plan emergency responses designed to deploy National Guard and, if necessary, federal military units to disaster areas sooner and with better coordination than after Katrina.
"Our state is prepared for the June 1 hurricane season," Blanco said during a media briefing on the planning session with about 50 high-ranking officials from the uniformed and civilian arms of the regional and national response operation.
Blanco said the plan calls for better and more unified performance among the various agencies for evacuations, hospital services, access to food and water, rescue, law enforcement and transportation.
George Foresman, undersecretary for preparedness at the federal Department of Homeland Security, said supplies will be pre-positioned, will arrive faster and will get to the destinations where they are needed. Global-positioning-system units will be placed on each supply truck, providing commanders with "real-time tracking" of relief material, Foresman said.
Among the changes, Foresman said, "We're going to try not to make ice such a high-volume commodity this year," referring to questions that arose over FEMA's efforts to transport massive amounts of ice into the region after Katrina.
Among the planners' assumptions is that the governor will keep command of National Guard forces from Louisiana and other states, just as she did after Katrina even though the White House was pressuring her to turn her authority over to a general under the president's command.
It was one of the more controversial leadership struggles after Katrina, with political overtones about who bore the most responsibility for the inadequate response. Blanco's critics painted her as indecisive about her request for the president to send regular U.S. Army and Marine units to supplement the National Guard forces in Louisiana.
Blanco released information indicating the White House dragged its feet in ordering the federal troop deployments while trying to persuade Blanco to accept presidential command of both the federal and the Guard forces in the state.
Eventually, federal forces arrived under Bush's authority and Guard units remained under Blanco's authority, with the top generals of both commands coordinating their efforts.
If federal forces are needed again, the same arrangement would be used, said Lt. Col. Pete Schneider, deputy chief of the joint staff for the Louisiana adjutant general.
"We need to be able to act as one team," Blanco said of the overall effort.
It is up to the governor to deploy her National Guard forces, and she can request Guard units from other states. It is these Guard units, especially from nearby states, who would still be counted upon for the earliest response, officials at the meeting said.
The governor can also request federal troops, but it is a presidential decision to send them.
Lt. Gen. Joe Inge, deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command, and other federal military officials joined Wednesday's meeting along with the top generals who oversee National Guard units in 12 states. He said the command structure after Katrina worked fine.
One of the toughest questions for the planners was how to gauge when to respond, and with how much personnel and supplies.
"There's no doubt in my mind: The nation anticipates that this region is fragile this summer," Inge said.
Inge said the sooner the response, the better, Still, a balance must be struck between the need to be prepared and the need to save taxpayers money if a major response in unnecessary, he said.
"We will call on the assets as needed," Blanco said.
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Robert Travis Scott can be reached at email@example.com or (225) 342-4197.