We're Spending Billions on Katrina Rebuilding -- How About a Few Million for Disaster Preparedness?

In an edtorial today titled The Anthrax Metaphor, the Post confronts a fact that is most uncomfortable for those of us who live here in the Washington area: We're underprepared for a disaster of Katrina's magnitude.

With the exception of the Capitol buildiing, the White House and perhaps a few other select federal buildings -- which have mini armies and established evacuation plans for all their occupants -- Washington is no safer from terrorist attack than it was four years ago. The scramble after the anthrax attacks was huge, with thousands if interviews conducted to try to find the culprit, but nothing came of it. Same with the scramble to protect Washington after 9/11. If there's a large-scale terrorist attack on Washington, we're likely to see the same kind of bedlam we saw in New Orleans, the editorial argues.

At least one local leader has suggested we throw out all the half-baked federal plans and start fresh. Maybe we shouldn't go that far, the Post writes, but perhaps the region does needs to take far more responsibility for its own disaster planning, because it doesn't seem like the feds are going to.

One piece of evidence for the Feds' disinterest? A source at Homeland Security tells me that the Office of National Capital Region Coordination, part of the Department of Homeland Security, only has three full time employees, one of whom is the office's administrative assistant.

Memo to William M. Arkin: Any chance the Early Warning blog could take a deeper look at this issue? Are there really only three people at DHS handling coordination for emergency preparedness for the entire Washington region? And is the reorganization of the department changing the office from one that reports directly to the secretary -- giving it some clout, if not manpower -- to one that reports to an undersecretary? We'd love to know more about this.

The director (check out that impressive resume) is doing an amazing job in spite of a complete operating budget of well under a million dollars a year, the source notes. (Source asked not to be identified so as not to risk retribution from DHS.) Of course, it's a safe bet that the director will get all the blame when Washington is hit and we're not prepared, even though it's not his department's fault that they're short staffed by about tenfold.

Is DHS doing something similar to this vital office that it did to FEMA -- chipping away at its capabilities yet allowing it to remain a convenient scapegoat for when things go wrong? Surely there are plenty of places in DHS that have too much manpower, so on behalf of the residents of this region who happen not to work in Fort Capitol Hill or the Pennsylvania Avenue Bunker, I ask Secretary Chertoff: Can you please shift a few of those jobs over to the ONCRC?

And to the officials who hold the purse strings and already have workable evacuation plans: While we're funneling all this money toward post-Katrina rebuilding, perhaps we could convince you to dedicate some resources to disaster preparedness in the region where you live at least part of the time?

I'm one of those carless residents who, had I been living in New Orleans a few weeks ago, would have been left behind. If we should face evacuation here, we'll be strapping our dogs into the bike trailers and pedaling as fast as we can, unless the federal and regional governments have a better plan for us.

Well? Is there a better plan?

By Emily Messner |  September 22, 2005; 6:05 AM ET  | Category:  Beltway Perspectives
Previous: This Week's Issue: Rebuilding After Katrina | Next: Rebuilding After Katrina: Pork and Tax Cuts

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What an interesting entry! It does seem that the DHS is totally subject to the current administration and possibly more geared towards their safety rather than the general populace's.

There just doesn't seem to be any accountability. With a Republican dominated executive and legislative branch, there is no one to say "no" to any sort of outrageous behavior.

Posted by: Tina A. | September 22, 2005 11:38 AM

I've got news for you....We're vulnerable everywhere. Have you ever just walked around and said to yourself "this place is not very secure" or "if I were a terrorist I would______." America hasn't been around that long....a little over 200 years if I'm not mistaken. It's no wonder we go through times of regret and turmoil when we change our leadership every 4 to 8 years. Maybe we need to crown a King....nahhh....we'll get it right eventually. Our mindset as Americans is the whole "instant gratification" ideal. "I want this and I want it now." Things don't work like that, despite what people may think. Anyone who has taken a history class can tell you...we make mistakes. Most of the time we learn from them, but it takes time. I just hope there is enough time left.

Posted by: Brad T. | September 22, 2005 03:32 PM

I think we need to face a little piece of reality here that everyone knows: the Department of Homeland Security is utter garbage. It might be the directors, although it pains me to call Chertoff as big an idiot as Ridge. More likely, though, there's just something broken at the heart of the notion of a "Department of Homeland Security."

It's time to repeal the Homeland Security Act and all other authorizing legislation for that monster, and put its various divisions back in the agencies where they belong, where they were actually functioning.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | September 23, 2005 09:59 AM

Take your pick: if Rita hits Galveston/Houston people may die and much will be destroyed; it she hits Port Arthur chemical plants and refineries will suffer. What is worse: dead people or out-of-sight fuel prices?

Posted by: norman | September 23, 2005 11:31 AM

In other words: atomic bomb or neutron bomb.

Posted by: norman | September 23, 2005 11:32 AM

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