Ill Communication


As the Wall Street Journal reports, some government agencies and media outlets knew that the levees protecting New Orleans had given way by Monday, Aug. 29. "Yet it wasn't until Tuesday that most people across the country, apparently including Mr. Chertoff, realized that any levees at all had been breached." So, why the gap? The article focuses more on the media side, but this bit about the government is interesting:

Officials with the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers said last week that one canal breach came to the attention of corps personnel early Monday, Aug. 29 and another by midday. But the "fog of war" and "massive logistical problems with communications in the hours after the storm hit" created some confusion, said John Rickey, a spokesman for the corps.

A New York Times post-op (which, among other things, contains a harrowing section about violence in the Convention Center), reports this about the FUBAR communications:

Telephone and cellphone service died, and throughout the crisis the state's special emergency communications system was either overloaded or knocked out. As a result, officials were unable to fully inventory the damage or clearly identify the assistance they required from the federal government. "If you do not know what your needs are, I can't request to FEMA what I need," said Colonel Doran, of the state office of homeland security. […]

FEMA attributed some of the delay to miscommunications in an overwhelming event. "There was a significant amount of discussions between the parties and likely some confusion about what was requested and what was needed," said Mr. Knocke, the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

It will be interesting to assess how much of the crossed wires was due to technical failure, how much was bad planning for back-up systems, and how much was because humans reacted poorly to a stressful and chaotic information flow.

UPDATE: Commenter Justin Raimondo points to this passage in a long Washington Post article:

The federal disaster response plan hinges on transportation and communication, but National Guard officials in Louisiana and Mississippi had no contingency plan if they were disrupted; they had only one satellite phone for the entire Mississippi coast, because the others were in Iraq.