Editorial: Be prepared!

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, two phrases with different connotations come to mind. One is the Boy Scouts' motto: Be prepared. The other, an acronym originating in the military, is snafu. The clean version is "situation normal, all fouled up." Unfortunately, it is difficult to come up with another term that could better fit the response to the horrifying destruction along the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.

In response to criticism, Bush administration officials said Katrina was unprecedented. That may be true, but more unprecedented events are bound to come.

Hurricane Katrina struck close to the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks that wreaked havoc in New York City and Washington, D.C. And the timing has many people concerned that the response to Katrina is a demonstration of the state of preparations for other catastrophic events.

"As a test of the homeland security system, this was a failure," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.

The Homeland Security Department was supposed to create a single organization that would coordinate homeland protection and emergency response. To the contrary, it appears there was a total breakdown of command and control operations. On CNN Sept. 1, Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said FEMA had just learned that thousands of people were stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center without food or water.

"The federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today," he told CNN's Paula Zahn.

Although we credit him for his candor, it is important to assess how to fix the situation.

Some would argue that FEMA should not be part of DHS. To the contrary, emergency management is an essential role for the department, and FEMA should be given greater visibility and priority within DHS.

The New York Daily News' Sept. 2 editorial was headlined, "Shame of a nation." We hope an independent panel, similar to the 9/11 Commission, will examine the issues surrounding Katrina and propose the necessary fixes.

— Christopher J. Dorobek

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.

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