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The next 9/11: still not ready

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz and Christian Davenport report (“Terrorism Could Hurl D.C. Area Into Turmoil [1]: Despite Efforts Since 9/11, Response Plans Incomplete”):

On the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation’s capital lacks a comprehensive way to tell people what to do in a state of emergency, especially a terrorist attack with no warning, according to law enforcement and Homeland Security officials involved in emergency preparations.

“What we lack is a coordinated public information system in the event of a major incident,” said David Snyder, a member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ homeland security task force. “What we need is a system that will function instantaneously and automatically every time. . . . That doesn’t exist now.”

Local leaders are taking note of the bungled Katrina response:

“For four years, we’ve been hearing from the feds that they are going to take charge so we can respond to any catastrophe that comes our way,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). “And here’s the first major test, and it’s a failure. . . . I’ve lost confidence in [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to come in and be part of the solution.

“We’ve got to take all the plans that relied on the federal government and throw them out and start over again,” Duncan said.

Local emergency responses to what turned out to be false alarms have not helped build confidence, either. While the nation’s attention was captured by the helter-skelter response to hapless pilots flying into the restricted airspace, there have been more serious lapses. For instance, an anthrax scare in March resulted in hundreds of Pentagon employees receiving antibiotics — yet no local health authorities were informed. If the attack had been real, many people would have died who might have been saved, given the rapid progression of the disease.

The article points out that for some kinds of emergency, the best option may be to “shelter in place” — not try to evacuate, but stay where you are.

But some local leaders are worried that the notion of staying put goes so strongly against human nature that in an emergency, people would flee no matter what they were told — especially after seeing how long it took to get help to the disadvantaged in New Orleans.

“I think people will look at Katrina and think of 9/11 and think what you’re supposed to do in an event of an attack is to run,” [DC delegate Eleanor Holmes] Norton said. “And I think it’s a failure that that’s what people think. The best thing to do most of the time is to stay in place.”

No, no, no, no, no, Ms. Norton! Get with the program! The best thing to do will be whatever “Drownie” and his FEMA flunkies decide is the best p.r. move for Master.

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UPDATE, 9/11: How FEMA delivered Florida for Bush [2], by Charles Mahtesian, govexec.com, 11/03/2004:”Seldom has any federal agency had the opportunity to so directly and uniquely alter the course of a presidential election, and seldom has any agency delivered for a president as FEMA did in Florida this fall.” Via [3] digby. Nice to know they can deliver when it really counts.