Without any experience in crisis management

The resigned head of the U.S. disaster management agency FEMA seeks to shift responsibility for the failure in the natural disaster in New Orleans

Michael Brown was the head of FEMA until 12.9. head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has faced sharp criticism since it was so slow to respond to the natural disaster in New Orleans. On Tuesday, he was forced to answer to a U.S. congressional committee. However, all but two Democrats boycotted the committee, fearing it was only there to save Brown’s skin. Brown himself told the committee Tuesday that he sees his main failure as being, "not to have realized on Saturday two days before Katrina’s shore leave that Louisiana was no longer functioning at all."

So Louisiana Governor Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Nagin, both Democrats, were to blame for the failure. Brown had distinguished himself for his position as FEMA chief in part because his handler had been a friend from college days. Previously, Brown had gained experience in crisis management mainly as the head of the International Arabian Horses Organization, where he also had to step down after it almost went bankrupt and had to be financially rescued by the Arabian Horse Registry of America.

When Brown moved to FEMA in 2001, initially under the direction of his buddy Joe Allbaugh, the White House fabricated a biography for the man with no crisis management experience, Time magazine found. One of the many lies in his biography: Brown is said to have headed a city crisis team earlier, but the actual leader recalled Brown to Time saying:

Mike was responsible for many details at that time. From time to time he wrote a speech for me. He was very loyal. He was very punctual. He always wore a suit and a freshly ironed, feminine shirt.

Mr. Brown can now also be thanked for making it clear to the committee that the main blame for the lack of help from his organization lies not with him, but with the local authorities in New Orleans. Because many Americans have not been able to comprehend all sorts of things. For example, when many FEMA employees had to attend a seminar on sexual assault in Atlanta, while tens of thousands of New Orleanians waited for days on rooftops and bridges for rescue workers to arrive.

Many FEMA employees also did not understand the purpose of the seminar, especially because so much time was lost as a result. Besides, a seminar against sexual harassment is about the last thing that could prepare you for New Orleans. At Mardi Gras, everyone runs around for weeks like transvestites, the men ask the women to unbutton their shirts, and instead of reporting the men, the women actually lift their shirts. It’s really fun for everyone, especially when the blood alcohol level is at the right level so early in the morning.

Without any experience in crisis management

"Show your tits" – Mardi-Gras-Mitbringsel in einem Touristengeschaft in New Orleans – Hochburg der pruden uberempfindlichkeit. Picture by the author

For 35 years, New Orleans has hosted a huge gay festival called Southern Decadence. The festival was supposed to start right after Katrina, which is why some Christians in Philadelphia – the City of Brotherly Love – thought Katrina was sent by God to bring down the sundige festival.

We wanted soldiers, helicopters, food and water. They wanted to negotiate an organizational chart.

Denise Bottcher, Press Officer for Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, on working with FEMA

Another problem Americans didn’t understand until Tuesday: The government has walked back food packages that Germany and other countries have delivered by the ton to the Gulf coast. Officially, they said they were afraid of BSE. This premature declaration naturally caused a stir abroad, especially since the food from Germany was intended for NATO troops anyway and was therefore already classified as BSE-free by the U.S. military.

Now we know that it was not Mr. Brown who was to blame, but Blanco and Nagin. Probably Nagin told them that such a military troop is not allowed in the city, because New Orleans is known for its great Creole cuisine. New Orleanians may have been standing on rooftops and bridges for days on end, but you can’t let your high culinary standards slip so lightly.

Without any experience in crisis management

Dear Abroad: Next time you send food to New Orleans, please don’t send something so flavorless, because we love all things spicy and rooty – Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File Gumbo. Photo of the author in the French Market in New Orleans

Despite Tuesday’s clarification, further clarification is needed because many Americans still don’t understand how Blanco Nagin were behind the following:

  1. Why did FEMA block the boats of private burgers who had answered the call of local politicians and police to come to the city at their own expense to evacuate people? Were there really 500 boats?
  2. Was the Coast Guard really not allowed to deliver diesel fuel?
  3. Did FEMA really keep a state-of-the-art mobile hospital out of North Carolina?
  4. Did FEMA really interfere with aid from the Red Cross and Salvation Army
  5. Why FEMA didn’t accept help from single-rail company Amtrak and retail chain Walmart?
  6. What did FEMA do with the $500.000 done, which she got from Congress in 1997 to create an evacuation plan for New Orleans?

Sure: That’s not all Mr. Brown is being blamed for in the press at all. That’s why OB Nagin said after Mr. Brown blamed him: "Herr Brown steht ziemlich unter Druck. I really feel sorry for him." But this list should not be misunderstood as an accusation. Rather, it is about finding out what Blanco Nagin did wrong in the above bloopers.

Mr. Brown told the committee that he was expected to be a superhero and plotzz to get all the people out of New Orleans. That’s right – you can’t expect the head of FEMA to quickly save your own burgers, because that would be a superhuman feat and not part of the job description at all. Herr Brown hat deshalb vorsorglich angeordnet, wie man noch auf der FEMA-Webseite nachlesen kann, keiner bei der FEMA solle sich bewegen, bis Louisiana klipp und klar und bis auf 3 Stellen hinter dem Komma sagt, was es haben will. "Quite a few" We don’t have many helicopters, Ms. Blanco, you’ll have to tell us exactly how many.

Another one had perhaps set the Holle in motion, in order to bring these people though not "suddenly", but as quickly as possible. One did not need to bother about these chaotic Blanco and Nagin – with them one would have been open doors anyway.

Mr. Brown, however, is guilty of answering one final question, but he perhaps knows best, since he has not only stepped down as head of FEMA, but is still a consultant at FEMA with a salary of $140.000 per year is permanently employed. His task? He should study more closely the mistakes FEMA made during Katrina – that is, the ones made under his leadership. It is not without reason that Brown is best friends with George W. Bush, who affectionately calls him "Brownie" .

But back to the question: Jimmy Carter created FEMA in 1979 to help Americans in such emergencies. Then in 1984, under Reagan, the then-secret Rex 84 plan was hatched, transforming FEMA into a riot suppression organization in the United States.

The question is: Is FEMA there today to protect Americans… or to control them??

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