Saturday, September 10, 2005

My Daddy, the Government

We recently changed our emergency response plans at the New Mexico Corrections Department. Before this change emergency response was handled at the state level. When Guadalupe County Correctional Facility at Santa Rosa, NM had a riot they were ordered to “do nothing” until officials from Santa Fe arrived. In the meantime inmates destroyed much of the facility resulting in the loss of 306 beds. When Joe Williams became Secretary of Corrections he implemented the LETRA ™ Emergency Response System. Now each Warden at each facility is the Commander and has the authority to act in an emergency situation. The bureaucracy is actually trimmed even further, the shift Lieutenant is the Commander until the Warden arrives and is briefed. He has all the authority the Warden has with the exception of evacuating the entire facility outside the prison perimeter. This allows immediate reaction to an emergency when opportunities arise to contain or even resolve the emergency, opportunities that that may not happen again.

Such a bottom up approach may seem like common sense but when governments get involved the tendency is to depend on those higher up to get a job done and to pass the buck up when it isn’t. The mindset to look for someone else to take responsibility for our lives begins at the individual level. More and more we want the government to take care of us. 100 years ago no one believed it was anyone else’s job to see that we had work, a home, healthcare, or a secured retirement This belief continues at a city, county, and state level. Some even want our welfare to be handed over to the U.N. The problem is that governments rarely do things well, and the larger the entity the worse it gets. Bureaucracy at the federal level dwarfs that at the county level. Such bureaucracy can slow or even prevent commonsense responses to an emergency. One of the countless heroes of the Katrina disaster was Jabbar Gibson who commandeered a school buss and drove evacuees to Houston. When he arrived at the Astrodome ahead of the official convoys they were initially denied entry because of his unofficial status. The people of New Orleans who depended on the Mayor, the Governor, or FEMA were tragically let down, individuals that took matters into their own hands were saved.

Whose responsibility was it to see that the Superdome was supplied with food and water? I’m sure it wasn’t FEMA’s. If the city felt it’s police couldn’t handle security after the storm who’s responsibility was it to request the National Guard or federal troops be called? The President can’t do so unilaterally, it’s against the Constitution. Those that most fear Bush becoming a dictator are now criticizing him for not acting like one. It was distressing to see Mayor Nagin, who had at least two days warning, crying:
I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man.
Get every Greyhound bus in the country and get them moving.
He had hundreds of his own city busses sitting in their depots ruined by the storm. Tens of thousands could have been ferried to higher ground before and after the storm had those busses been utilized. Similar dereliction of duty can be laid at the feet of Governor Blanco, FEMA’s head Michael Brown, and ultimately President Bush since the buck stops there. The point is you just can’t rely on others for your life or the lives of your loved ones, especially the government. If you’re a city you can’t count on the parish, if you’re a parish, don’t count on the state. Especially if you live in the most corrupt state in the U.S. If you want to put your life in FEMA’s hand understand that that far up the food chain bureaucracy is thickest. And when people say elections matter, remember they matter most at the local level.

Update: Another hero who took matters into his own hands instead of depending on "Daddy".

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