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Another Big Task for Louisiana: Coordinating the Relief Effort

With scores of government and private relief agencies, thousands of law enforcement and military personnel descending on Louisiana, simply coordinating the rescue, recovery and rebuilding effort following Hurricane Katrina is an epic logistical challenge. VOA's Adam Phillips is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capital, and filed this report on just a few of those involved in the complex and urgent effort.

As one of over twenty helicopters in a vast parking lot outside the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness prepares to depart following a media briefing, Catherine Heightman, the liaison officer between the governor's office and the world media, explained her own role here at what has become the central headquarters for managing the Katrina rescue and recovery effort.

"There are people from all over the world here and interested in the situation in Louisiana - which we're grateful for," Ms. Heightman says. "As long as there is interest, there is going to be a lot of assistance and resources. What it means is we have regular briefings, we want to make sure we share information with the world in general and with the people of Louisiana that have been displaced in particular. And so we are offering information from state agencies about services that are available, about ways that we are managing this crisis."

State and municipal police from around the nation have come to Louisiana to volunteer, and responsibity for coordinating this extra personnel has fallen to the Louisiana State Police, which unlike local law enforcement, has jurisdiction throughout the state. Louisiana State trooper Johnny Brown offers examples of the efforts his office is making to manage and assign all the law enforcement agency volunteers.

Mr. BROWN: "From the arrival time, where they stay, what their missions are once they get there -whether it is naming a checkpoint to going on actual street patrols to 'I have air support,' and you just come down to give your pilots, or 'I have a cadaver dog' -- whatever that agency brings to the table, we're looking at it and seeing how we can fit that into what we're doing and then getting them in a timely fashion."

VOA's PHILLIPS: "So you're a 'bridge,' in other words…"

Mr. BROWN: "Exactly. We are basically a conduit for law enforcement officers that want to come in and assist in the recovery effort. But we want it to be done in an orderly and coordinated manner and that's one of the main functions that the police is doing."

In the first days following Hurricane Katrina, many government agencies were criticized precisely for a lack of orderliness and coordination. Lieutenant Colonel Jaques Thibodeau of the Louisiana National Guard is director of military support to civilian authorities, and commanded the mass evacuation of the New Orleans Convention Center. He says bad communication was to blame for many of the initial mishaps.

"This was a Category Four storm and it leveled communications towers, it leveled cell phone towers and it caused massive communications problems," Colonel Thibodeau says. "It did cause issues in the first twenty four hours. It was very difficult. What we're proud of is it caused a collaborative effort between us and the state police and the emergency management section. We were able to communicate and still operate and take it a step further and establish communications with the state and local agencies. You have 43 states involved in this. You have active component forces, and National Guard forces. Countries are involved. It is a tremendous challenge."

As varied as the agencies here are, and as complex a challenge as it has proved to be to coordinate them, there is this common ground: everyone wants to save lives, recover, rebuild, and move on.