What on Earth went wrong with the Federal response to this disaster?
I don’t know. But it looks to me like the planners made the mistake of planning for the worst-case scenario.
The worst case, of course, was that the hurricane didn’t deviate from its expected path or intensity, that it sent Lake Ponchatrain over the levees and destroyed the levees themselves, that it sent a rushing wall of water throughout the city destroying everything in its path, and that it left very few survivors outside the Superdome and a few high-rises built to stand up to it.
Level of immediate Federal response, particularly supplies and military police, that would have done any good whatsoever: a small fraction of what’s actually needed now.
The other expected possible case would be that the levees held and the area would be slowly rebuilt. No one seems to have anticipated the possibility that a hurricane would hit with just enough force to cause the levees to break a full day later and leave hundreds of thousands of survivors trapped by water that has nowhere to go.
No one at any level of government, in the media, or anywhere else showed any sign after the storm passed of expecting anything to happen other than ordinary disaster relief. No one that I’ve seen, for instance, suggested that evacuation should resume immediately after the storm passed.
Does this fully excuse the Administration? Not really. It is well-known that there are a lot of people around the world that would love nothing better than to set off a nuclear weapon on US soil. The military has done an admirable job of preventing that thus far, but there’s still a non-zero chance at any given time that someone, somewhere could pull it off.
When that happens, the aftermath will involve hundreds of thousands (at least) of survivors cut off, in dangerous conditions, running out of food and water and needing immediate help. It’ll be worse than New Orleans because (a) there will be no warning and no evacuation beforehand, (b) a lot more of the survivors will need immediate, specialized medical care, and (c) the terrorists will almost certainly pick a more heavily populated place than New Orleans. And the response by the Homeland Security Administration and FEMA, if no changes are made, will be disastrously slow.