News

Local Officials Welcome Military Disaster Aid, But Don't Want To Give Up Control

Multimedia

Audio

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the slow federal government response have sparked a review of the U.S. military's role in disaster relief, even as civilian and military officials prepare to deal with the impact of a new hurricane in the same part of the country. U.S. defense officials have suggested that changing the rules that limit the military's ability to act inside the United States could result in a more effective response the next time there is a disaster on that magnitude, whether natural or man-made. But some experts are not so sure that's a good idea.

Defense Department officials say they are preparing to respond to expected damage from Hurricane Rita, which could hit some of the same areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. It is the same process they used to prepare for Katrina, well before it hit the southern U.S. Coast and caused extensive flooding in New Orleans. They move rescue and relief teams, supplies and aircraft to the edge of the expected storm zone. They send command and control teams to coordinate relief efforts. And they order U.S. Navy ships to be close by and ready to help.

Defense officials say their response once Hurricane Katrina passed was very fast. But they acknowledge there was some confusion over who was in charge and under what authorities the military was operating.

Civilian agencies from the local and federal governments are in charge of disaster relief, and although they can call on the military to help, there are strict legal limits on what active-duty soldiers can do inside the United States. Generally speaking, in a disaster the military must be invited to operate by each state governor, who will usually first make use of local National Guard troops under his or her direct control. And when active duty troops controlled by Washington do get involved, they are limited to humanitarian relief and are not allowed to help with law enforcement - something that was badly needed in New Orleans in the early days of the crisis, before the National Guard was able to deploy.

President Bush has ordered a review of disaster relief procedures, and last week, the chief Defense Department spokesman, Lawrence DiRita, called the current laws that limit the military's role "archaic." They were enacted in the period immediately after the U.S. civil war in the mid-1800s, when southern states, which had lost the war, were worried about a federal takeover of local authority.

But in New Orleans, one local disaster relief official says he is not worried about any military takeover and would have welcomed a faster and larger military response. He is Walter Maestri, the director of emergency preparation for the part of New Orleans called Jefferson Parish.

"I don't think anybody is really that concerned with that, you know, realistically," he said. "There's no question that at least in the United States today the civilian sector is in control of all of that."

Mr. Maestri says the key is coordination with local officials like himself.

But at the University of Michigan's Center for Public Health Preparedness, Rosemarie Rowney, counsels a cautious approach. Until recently, she was in charge of public health in a county with more than one million residents near the city of Detroit.

"There are some concerns, some sensitivity, over whether or not you would want to have your active military in your community. And I think those are valid concerns that the American people need to talk over and see what that means for us as a people," said. Ms. Rowney. "I think it's a very delicate relationship because we do not live in a militaristic society. And so, it has to be a continued dialogue rather than a knee-jerk reaction to this horrible hurricane that just happened."

Other experts are even more reluctant to discuss any increased role for the military in domestic disasters. But Mr. Maestri in New Orleans says as long as there is coordination, the military should not be limited in providing help.

"In the absolutely worst case I think that would be extremely helpful in saving lives. If that were to be the case, there would have to be some very, very careful planning early on. And those plans would have to be in effect and shared with all levels of government, state and local, so that everyone understood their roles," added Mr. Maestri. "You need to plan through it so the elected local officials can and do maintain their authority because those are the folks the people have chosen to be their leaders."

Indeed, one area in which military officials say they can offer expertise is planning.

Rosemarie Rowney at the University of Michigan agrees that is a key to successfully dealing with an emergency. But she says local preparedness is the most important factor because it takes time to for help to arrive from outside a devastated area. She says that while green military helicopters flying into a disaster area can be a welcome sight, local areas need to be able to rely on their own resources in the first hours after a disaster hits, whether it is a storm, a hazardous leak or a terrorist attack.

"Local officials know fully what their capabilities are, and yeah, you would want those green [military] helicopters coming in. If you were trying to evacuate a hospital or a nursing home and you can't find them any other way, of course you would," she explained. "But it's going to take time. It's going to be a while before you could deploy those resources."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld weighed in on the issue at a news conference on Tuesday. He said any change in the law will be up to the Congress and the president, but he indicated that in a major disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, more military involvement might be needed.

"If the first responders are victims themselves and don't exist with an extant capability to deal with a catastrophic event then obviously, one looks for some substitute for the first responders," he said.

Secretary Rumsfeld said President Bush has rightly pointed out that only the military has the ability to respond quickly, with the right capabilities and on the scale required by a disaster like Hurricane Katrina. But the secretary declined to say whether he would like to see changes in the rules that limit the military role.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs