September 03, 2005

If they have what they need, they'll never go

...because, you know, poor people are stupid and don't mind living in toxic soup 9 feet deep. At least, that's what the Louisiana State Homeland Security Office and the Governor and FEMA must think. Read Kos to see schizophrenic policy in action: If we had sent in help, they wouldn't have left.

JTML pointed out in a comment that the Red Cross FAQ actually says the "state Homeland Security department", so I just called them too. (This time I took better notes.) I called the Communications Center for the Louisianna Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness at 225-925-7500. After an operator ("that's above my pay grade") and some other "officer" (at the Operations desk, I think), I ended up at the Media relations desk talking to a really cool and helpful guy, Lt. Kevin Cowan (Public Information Officer) who said I could quote him ("that's my job"). Although I didn't get everything typed word for word (the parts in quotation marks are though), I read him my notes when we were finished, so this is now 'confirmed'. Here goes...

"As part of the disaster plan there's an agreement between the state and the Red Cross for them not to enter." He didn't know the exact details of the agreement, but he said it had to do with "safety issues" since this is "still a disaster area and still unsafe" with things like "high water, etc."

When I asked specifically about the statement on the Red Cross webpage that said it was because their "presence would keep people from evacuating", he said this wasn't the reason.

Me: "Who on your end made this agreement with the red cross?" He checked with the Operations desk and came back and told me it was probably a decision between the director of their agency, General Landreneau, the Governor, and Mike Brown at FEMA. He said he didn't know the exact groups in these agencies that worked out the agreement, but "ultimately, they're the ones in charge who sign off on it".

He said "it's all a coordinated effort and guidelines are established."

The point is they "don't want to put anyone at undue risk". (I was thinking "anyone, who? surely not the people of New Orleans!", but I didn't say anything because he was being so cool.) Here's the kicker. He then told me that this agreement was for any and all disasters, not just the one in Louisiana!

I asked him how long this policy had been in effect, and he told me, "It's a work in progress; it's always changing."


Also, he asked me who I was and if I was with the media. I told him I was going to post the info on a blog (and asked if I could use his name). His reply was that blogs are media. "Hey, that's information out there, isn't it? It's basically the same thing." He also asked me what blog, and he wrote it down. Anyway, as I said, he was pretty cool..

Update [2005-9-3 4:55:23 by shock: In a comment below, Orj Ozeppi reports that the Salvation Army is telling people the same thing as the ARC: "if we help, people won't leave." So we have a discrepancy between these relief agencies and LA Homeland Security as to the reason. The relief agencies are consistent. It may be that this policy is just because it's a disaster zone, as the LA Homeland Security guy
said, but this question needs to be answered. Was the decision to keep the relief agencies out made to force people to evacuate (and punish those who didn't... perhaps making a lesson of them?) by making conditions intolerable???

If not, why do these relief agencies say so?