DoD Wants to Study Lessons from Katrina Before Proposing Changes
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2005 The Defense Department wants to wait for after-action reviews of operations following Hurricane Katrina before making recommendations on changing laws or policies, Defense leaders said today.
President Bush has said the idea of DoD taking a lead role in domestic disasters is a decision Congress must make. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said it is too early to say how DoD would respond. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers spoke during a press conference today.
"The president has made some statements that he is interested in discussing lessons learned in the executive branch, and then thinking about how our country can best be arranged to best serve the American people," Rumsfeld said.
Typically, local and state governments provide first responders to disasters. Hurricane Katrina hammered the Gulf states, and first responders were victims themselves "and, as such, somewhat overwhelmed by the catastrophic nature of the Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed," Rumsfeld said.
Katrina created a situation distinctly different than the normal, he said. "The president's point was that there are some things that are of sufficient magnitude that they require something to substitute for the overwhelmed first responders at the state and local level," Rumsfeld said. "And that is the issue that he's thinking about."
The Posse Commitatus Act forbids active-duty military personnel from engaging in law enforcement activities.
However, Myers pointed out, the National Guard has law enforcement capabilities when called up as part of a state mission. "There were over 50,000 National Guard troops involved with Katrina operations, and 22,000 active duty, if you will," he said. "And so it does beg the question, do you need that kind of authority? And that's going to have to be part of the long discussion."
Active-duty personnel can still provide medical help, deliver supplies, provide potable water, and rescue trapped citizens without running afoul of the law. "The reality is that the Department of Defense has capabilities," Rumsfeld said. "Now, we're not organized, trained or equipped or resourced to step in and do domestic events of that type.
"On the other hand, because we are organized, trained and equipped to do a vast variety of other things, there is a certain parallel capability that can be brought to bear, as we've seen in Katrina and Rita," he added.
One aspect that would argue against a direct role for active-duty forces is the excellent relationship forged between National Guard and active-duty personnel. Myers said there was "unity of effort" in the Gulf region if not unity of command.
The state adjutants general and Joint Task Force Katrina commander Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore have worked together very well. But there is always room for improvement, Pentagon officials said.
"What we're going to do is assess, in a very thoughtful way, the whole range of responsibilities properly assigned to DoD when dealing with a high-end disaster or catastrophic event," Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Paul Swiergosz said.