Wash. Post echoed Bush administration's false claim that federal agencies "function as backup" in a disaster


In a September 9 Washington Post article, staff writer Bradley Graham falsely claimed that under the National Response Plan (NRP) developed after 9-11, federal agencies "are supposed to function as backup to state and local ones" in the event of a catastrophe, echoing statements made by Bush administration officials. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security's NRP clearly states that in catastrophic cases, the federal government should adopt a "proactive" response and operate independently of state governments to provide disaster relief.

In his September 9 Post article, Graham wrote:

National plans developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks rest on the notion that police, fire and other emergency groups are best positioned to serve as first responders. Federal agencies are supposed to function as backup to state and local ones, and military forces are meant to play a largely supporting role to civilian authorities.

But Katrina showed what can happen when the foundation of this organizational structure is quickly overwhelmed and disintegrates, according to government officials and independent analysts.

"The would-be first responders at the state and local level were themselves victims in very large numbers," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a news conference this week. As a result, "we had a situation that was distinctly different than in past events of this type."

As Media Matters for America noted, the National Response Plan prescribes a "proactive federal response" to "catastrophic events" such as Hurricane Katrina. Under such a response, standard procedures regarding requests for federal aid by state governments are expedited or even suspended so that "federal response resources" may be immediately deployed. The National Response Plan stipulates that the federal government must notify and coordinate with the state, but "the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources."

Additionally, The New York Times reported on September 9 that the Bush administration recognized the federal government's authority to assume full control of the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as the situation in New Orleans deteriorated after the levees were breached. However, according to the Times: "For reasons of practicality and politics, officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon, and then at the White House, decided not to urge Mr. Bush to take command of the effort. Instead, the Washington officials decided to rely on the growing number of National Guard personnel flowing into Louisiana, who were under Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's control."

Posted In
Environment & Science, Government, Cabinet & Agencies
Hurricane Katrina, Natural Disasters
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