The Coming Menace

The Coming Menace

On the second, full official day of the 2006 hurricane season, there is a general prevailing sense of ambivalence in the air. Is it the calm before the storm perhaps?

Or maybe I should just steer clear of such weather-worn clichés? In the immortal words of Britney, oops I did it again. It’s hard not to though in this climate.

Christ get a hold of yourself man, check all weather analogies at the door.

It’s time to break on through, break on through to the other side. There’s nothing like a dose of good ole crazy Jim to put things into perspective. But I digress.

It was an interesting day in the news today, at least from where I was sitting.

The first interesting conversation I had today was with one of our state Representatives, from the St. Tammany delegation, Tim Burns. I like Tim. Or at least I think I do. Deep down, I believe he means well. But he’s a freshman legislator and perhaps, maybe a little idealistic. Not that the two necessarily go together, but…well never mind.

Anyway, I called Tim in reference to a press release he sent out today (I just checked out his Web site and no, he does not have an archive of press releases. If he had I would have posted it here) which dealt with the progress of two communications bills that have passed through the House this session and which are on their way to be heard on the Senate floor.

The first bill, House Bill 540, seeks to (and I quote from the legislation) have “The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security develop a private encrypted microwave fiber and/or satellite network using an Internet protocol system able to withstand hurricane-force winds while making the best possible use of (And, no, I have no idea what this means) license-exempt spectrum to ensure that first-responders have a voice and data system post event.

The second bill, House Bill 619, and this one will be paraphrased for convenience sake, to create a wireless system of communication.

In a nutshell, Tim broke it down like this. He wants an Internet based comm.. system, instead of an 800 mghz. radio system and he wants to develop a system which relies on text messaging. The only flaw with either of these, as I saw it, were that they were both more or less dependent upon basic things like electric- which was in short supply following Katrina.

Tim, however, assured me that these systems did not necessarily need electric to function. Since I ‘m basically technically challenged, all I can really do is take his word for it.

“Text messaging was the only thing that worked right after Katrina when communications went down,” Tim told me.

I cannot remember if this is exactly true. My only recollection, as far as communications were concerned was me, sitting on the bed in our hotel room in San Antonio using my cell phone to call Andrea’s cell phone as she sat directly across from me on the other bed.

And of course the message when I dialed her number, “All circuits are busy due to the hurricane.”

The basic fact of the matter is that nothing really seemed to work. Some folks had luck with text messaging, while others didn’t. Some did okay with the Nextel walkie-talkie feature, while others didn’t. Satellite phones, from what I understand, were sketchy at best. Some people have said regular phone lines, in Covington, worked as long as other Covington numbers were being dialed.

The Sheriff, Jack Strain, claims the only reliable source of communications was the 800 mghz system used by his office, which allowed all (or at least most, it becomes a little hazy here) first responders within the parish to communicate with each other.

The state, ie..Governor’s office, state Homeland Security and State Police use a 700 mghz system which, apparently, isn’t compatible with any radio system used by any of the local jurisdictions; This, at least is what Kevin Davis claims.

Do you see the pattern emerging here? Or is it just me?

Tim wrapped up by saying the Governor’s office has done absolutely nothing to improve their communications systems with other state agencies. He wasn’t sure about communications with parish-municipalities or federal agencies, but was pretty adamant there’s no communications systems amongst state agencies- which is frightening to say the fucking least.

I mean if they can’t even communicate across the board with each other, you can bet communication with anybody else outside the Baton Rouge bubble will be for naught, which is going to be ugly come storm time. Hey, maybe they can just text message each other.

So, the next interesting conversation I had (speaking of the Sheriff) was with, yeah, you guessed it, the sheriff.

The Sheriff was in rare form today. He was apparently angered about Michael Chertoff’s recent visit to the NOLA area; and announcements from the state level that massive amounts of cash have been poured into state coffers in anticipation of the upcoming hurricane season.

“They have sent us no money in preparation for another storm,” Strain said. “They have sent us no assets with technical, military or FEMA expertise and we have had no communications from the state in response.”

Strain said the parish is fully prepared to take care of itself and its own citizens though. He noted that while last year his office and other parish government officials were prepared to fend for themselves for three or four days.

“We mistakenly thought the feds would be sending in the cavalry,” Strain said. “Now we know better. We know the state and feds will not be coming in. We have a two-week plan in place, where my deputies, as well as other parish agencies are fully prepared to be fully self-sustaining for at least 14 days, if not longer if need be. I’m here to tell you that agencies at the state and federal levels are all focused on New Orleans.”

Instead, Strain said he felt as if there was a lack of preparedness at the state level.

“I’ve seen little cooperation, no planning, no money for storm preparations at the local level, and no advanced communications. I keep hearing about all this money from the federal and state level. Who are they talking about? It’s certainly not in St. Tammany.”

Instead, Strain said he feels as if federal dollars, which in theory should come down the pike to be spent at the local level for first responders, are instead being funneled off and spent at the state level.

Strain said his statements are not meant to make any political statement. Nor are they a personal slam against Governor Blanco.

“I personally like her, she’s an extremely nice lady,” Strain said, in reference to Blanco. “The bottom line is that I could care less whether she’s a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent. I will not sit here and allow our residents think that they can expect something that they might not get…Don’t convince my residents of something that’s not real. Guess who they blame when that happens? Certainly not the governor or the federal government.”

Strain also noted that his statements are not a reflection on post-Katrina aid or FEMA and federal reimbursements.

“The help we’ve had from the federal government has almost made us whole again, and for that I commend and praise them,” Strain said. “But in terms of preparedness for future storms, the aid has literally been non-existent.”

A later phone conversation with Parish President Kevin Davis echoed similar sentiments.

“We haven’t heard anything from the state or the feds about any assistance,” Davis said.

Like Strain, Davis said the parish is prepared to be totally self-sufficient.

“I called Blanco’s office on Wednesday, the day before the start of the hurricane season and said, ‘Look, our plans are in place, but when were you guys planning on giving us a call. We have not seen or heard from you guys.’ Well, when I told them (the governor’s office) that I planned to say these things publicly, on the air, which I later did, then the Governor called and said she wanted to get with us in a week or so to make plans. This is something we should have been doing months ago, not two days, or a week later after the start of the new hurricane season.”

According to Davis, St. Tammany Parish isn’t the only parish to get such a response, or lack thereof, from the state and federal level.

“This morning,” Davis said Friday afternoon, “I talked to my counterparts in Tangipahoa, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes. They all told me that they didn’t have any idea either what the state was doing in terms of helping municipalities prepare for the upcoming season. It’s disheartening to say the least. But we don’t want our residents to be nervous. We will be all right, we will take care of our own.”

So, as you can see, the second day of Hurricane season 2006 was a live one. I, for one, do have faith in what both Jack and Kevin say. I’m certain our residents will be taken care of.

But the apparent disorganization at the state and federal level have all the markings of a disaster already in progress.

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Posted on June 3, 2006, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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