Saturday, September 03, 2005

Homeland Security Head Chertoff Plays the Fool

U.S. Homeland Security Chief, Michael Chertoff, said today, in response to a question about preparedness for the New Orleans disaster, that the "'perfect storm' of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight."

Chertoff is wrong, of course. Planners were very aware of the potential dangers in having a category 4 or 5 hurricane hit New Orleans. Indeed, after Hurricane Betsy, a category 2 hurricane, hit the city in 1962, the levees were strengthened to withstand a category 3 hurricane. Apparently the cost of making them strong enough to hold under the surges of a category 4 or 5 storm were more than the politics and budgets of the day could afford. So, everyone settled for "second best" as being better than nothing. Until this past weekend, that decision had seemed like a good bet.

Both the city and the Army Corps of Engineers knew full well what would happen if the levees were breached. I suspect that they even knew how many inches or feet of water would stand in every block of New Orleans should such an event occur. For 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had passed by, folks were breathing a big sigh of relief. The levees had appeared to have held, almost as if by a miracle of God.

Ironically, the largest breach that occurred took place on a section of a canal levee that had just been rebuilt and strengthened recently.....strengthened to withstand a category 3 hurricane.

Chertoff may have just misspoke, as can happen at a press conference during a period of emotional stress and physical exhaustion.

But his foolish answer greatly diminishes his credibility as an "expert" on this sort of thing. He is not an expert on hurricane disaster response planning in New Orleans and should have said so and then kept his mouth shut.