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Profile: Louisiana National Guard
Louisiana National Guard was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Louisiana National Guard is alerted this morning, according to Lt. Col. Pete Schneider: “[A]ll of a sudden, on Saturday morning, the call went out, you know, this thing is in the Gulf. The call still went out to, ‘Hey, we got to keep an eye on it a little bit more now,’ but it was still projected to go into the eastern Panhandle. You know, everybody was keeping an eye on it, but—and then Friday—and then Saturday afternoon was, ‘That’s it, you know, it’s not making the turn. It’s time to roll.’”
[National Public Radio, 9/9/2005 Sources: Pete Schneider] Approximately 3,500-4,000 National Guard members called to state active duty, along with along with Guard equipment such as vehicles, generators, and Humvees. According to Schneider, troops fan out to staging areas across the state, where they will wait for the storm to pass, before distributing supplies and maintaining order. The emergency plan anticipates the possibility of looting and violence. The plans call for Guard troops to be pre-positioned with the New Orleans Police Department and with state police troops throughout the greater New Orleans area. [Salon, 9/1/2005; National Public Radio, 9/9/2005 Sources: Pete Schneider] As of today, approximately 35 percent of Louisiana’s National Guard troops are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the National Guard. Approximately 40 percent of Mississippi’s National Guard Troops and approximately 23 percent of Alabama’s National Guard troops are also serving overseas. [American Forces Press Service, 8/29/2005] Louisiana’s 256th Infantry and Mississippi’s 155th Armored, each deployed overseas, contain hundreds of members who serve in “combat support” roles such as engineers, truck drivers, and logisticians, and thus who specialize in the disaster relief functions. [Los Angeles Times, 9/11/2005] Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, head of the National Guard, will later claim that the deployment of Guard troops and equipment oversees has left troops at home without the equipment and vehicles necessary to respond to a crisis such as Katrina. Most of the Guard’s satellite phones, which are essential during power and cell phone service outages that will occur when Katrina sweeps through, are overseas, according to Blum, as is most of the Guard’s best equipment. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will state that “once again our Guard is, I don’t like to use the word ‘stressed,’ but they are challenged” by commitments at home and overseas. [Chicago Tribune, 9/17/2005] However, top Pentagon officials will deny that the Guard’s deployment in Iraq has any impact on the Guard’s ability to respond to the disaster. “That’s just flat wrong. Anyone who’s saying that doesn’t understand the situation,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will contend. [Los Angeles Times, 9/11/2005]
Note - The exact number of members called to active duty today is unclear. Several news reports indicate that 3,500 members are called to duty. [MacCash and O.Byrne, 8/29/2005; American Forces Press Service, 8/29/2005; Salon, 9/1/2005] . Other news reports state that 4,000 members are called to duty. [National Public Radio, 9/9/2005] The Boston Globe will report that 5,700 Guard members are deployed by Monday. The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that it based on a timeline received from the Louisiana National Guard, 2,000 members are mobilized on Saturday, and 4,000 members are mobilized by Sunday. [Advocate (Baton Rouge), 9/9/2005]
In a meeting with aides this afternoon, President Bush discusses the coming storm. Aides inform Bush that the evacuations are proceedings as planned, and that 11,000 National Guard troops will be in a position to respond to the emergency, according to a senior White House official. (The actual number in position will be less than half of this number, however.) Bush tells senior advisor Dan Bartlett that he may need to rearrange his schedule to add a trip to the Gulf Coast next week. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005]
Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La) appears on CNN to discuss the challenges to evacuating Southeastern Louisiana. Landrieu first notes, “[W]e don’t have enough highways.… We have urged the federal government to stay focused on helping us to expand our highway infrastructure just for this purpose.… We don’t, literally, have enough highways to get people out.” Landrieu also describes the challenges to an evacuation of New Orleans: “About 30 percent of the population doesn’t have access to an automobile or owns an automobile. So they’ve got to count on extended families or friends or neighbors. The evacuation of the elderly is always a challenge of course and those that are in hospitals. The mayor is working and has been working diligently on that plan. Hopefully it will be carried out,” although, she notes, 3,000 of Louisiana’s National Guard are in Iraq and thus unable to assist in the evacuation. [CNN, 8/29/2005]
By this afternoon, several thousand residents have made their way to the Superdome, many dropped off by city buses that are looping between the dome and the pickup sites throughout the city. Residents with medical illnesses or disabilities are directed to one side of the dome, which is equipped with supplies and medical personnel. The remaining residents pour into the other side. “The people arriving on this side of the building are expected to fend for themselves,” says Terry Ebbert, the city’s Homeland Security Director, although he does notes that the city has water for the evacuees. National Guard soldiers, New Orleans police, and civil sheriff’s deputies patrol the dome. Officials expect that the Superdome’s field will flood, and that it will lose power early tomorrow morning. However, Ebbert says, “I’m not worried about what is tolerable or intolerable. I’m worried about, whether you are alive on Tuesday.”
The National Guard transfers approximately 400 people with special medical needs from the Superdome to hospitals in other cities, according to Gen. Ralph Lupin, commander of troops deployed at the Superdome. Additionally, personnel transport another 40 evacuees with serious medical conditions to Tulane Medical Center, after Wes McDermott, from the Office of Emergency Preparedness invokes a little-known rule of the Homeland Security Act to commandeer seven Acadian ambulances. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005 Sources: Ralph Lupin]
Approximately 10,000 residents are now sheltering in the New Orleans Superdome. The Louisiana National Guard has delivered three truckloads of water and seven truckloads of MREs, which it expects is sufficient to provision 15,000 people for up to three days, according to Col. Jay Mayeaux, Deputy Director of Louisiana Homeland Security Office of Emergency Preparedness. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/28/2005 Sources: Jay Mayeaux] More than 600 people with medical needs are housed at the dome. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005] Some 200-550 National Guard members are inside the Superdome providing security and water. Other Guard engineers will be in the dome to monitor the structural integrity of the facility. ( [MacCash and O.Byrne, 8/29/2005] reports 200 Guard members on duty; [Advocate (Baton Rouge), 9/9/2005] reports 400 Guard members on duty; and [Associated Press, 8/29/2005] reports 5500 Guard members on duty.
Note - Reports vary regarding the number of residents in the Superdome this evening. One contemporaneous report indicates that 26,000 people are sheltered there. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/28/2005] A few hours from now, the same paper will report that the dome is sheltering more than 30,000 people. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005] However, the next morning, the same paper will report that approximately 8,000-9,000 people are there, citing Doug Thornton, General Manager of the Superdome. [Associated Press, 8/29/2005 Sources: Doug Thornton] FEMA Director Michael Brown will tell National Public Radio tomorrow morning that 9,000-10,000 people are sheltered there. [National Public Radio, 8/29/2005 Sources: Michael D. Brown] See also, [ABC, 8/29/2005; CBS News, 8/29/2005] .
Around midnight, local emergency officials from southeastern Louisiana hold a teleconference with FEMA to discuss plans for responding to Katrina’s aftermath. Local officials are so certain of catastrophe that they ask FEMA to include extra medical staff in its first wave of responders to help the expected casualties. At this point, officials are reportedly following a plan drafted only months ago, as a result of the Hurricane Pam exercise conducted in 2004 (see July 19-23, 2004). [Chicago Tribune, 9/11/2005]
Note - Following the 2004 Hurricane Pam exercise, Innovative Emergency Management (IEM issued a Draft Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Functional Plan (Draft Plan) on August 6, 2004. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004 ] Whether local officials are following this draft plan, or a later plan, remains unclear at this time. The Chicago Tribune reports that the plan in place provides that local officials should be prepared to deal with the aftermath of the storm for 48 to 60 hours (or until August 31). However, the Draft Plan expressly contemplates that local search and rescue resources will be unavailable to rescue the estimated 500,000 people in flooded or damaged areas. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 69-70, 72 ] Thus, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the US Coast Guard are expected to serve as the primary first-responders, while local officials are tasked with requesting assistance. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 70-74 ] Further, while local parishes are tasked with identifying required support, the Plan recognizes that they may be unable to do so: “State and Federal SAR operations personnel will respond to Parishes without a request if initial assessment indicates that the Parish is severely damaged and is not capable of requesting assistance.”
[Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 75 ] The Plan also contemplates that 500,000 residents will need transport from the initial search and rescue staging area to shelters, and that because the Louisiana National Guard will be otherwise tasked, it will be unable to meet this transportation need. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 27-28 ]
Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau reports that the Guard is ready to respond to the storm: Aircraft positioned from Hammond to the Texas border are ready to fly behind the storm to check damage after it passes over New Orleans. Search and rescue operations are coordinating with the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department and the Coast Guard. More guardsmen stationed at the Jackson Barracks, stand ready to head into the city with high-water vehicles as soon as the storm passes. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005]
When Hurricane Katrina strikes New Orleans, the Louisiana National Guard almost immediately loses all forms of communication, according to Lt. Col. Schneider. Louisiana State Police also lose communications as well, according to Sgt. Lawrence McLeary, a state police officer in the Baton Rouge emergency center: “We lost contact with our personnel there. We lost contact with our troupe on the north shore, located in Mandeville. So we had—I mean, it was a pretty tense time, because we had no idea what was taking place in those areas.” The landlines are no longer operable. Cell phone towers have toppled; some are under water. Power is out and so it is impossible to recharge battery-operated radios. Guard generators, which could have charged these devices, are in either Iraq or Baton Rouge, according to a National Public Radio report. [National Public Radio, 9/9/2005 Sources: Pete Schneider, Lawrence McLeary] FEMA emergency officials will wait days to receive working satellite phones. [Los Angeles Times, 9/11/2005]
Louisiana Governor Blanco tells CNN’s Larry King that entire parishes in southeastern Louisiana are underwater, with many homes flooded to the rooftops, leaving thousands stranded: “[W]e’re in full search and rescue operation. We have pulled hundreds of people out of the waters. As we speak we’ve got boats moving up and down streets that, well, canals that used to be streets and people are beckoning our rescuers.” Asked whether Louisiana has adequate National Guard troops on hand, Blanco responds that, “We have an extraordinary number of National Guard members who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan but we have activated 4,000 members. We have some support coming from Texas as well. Our Guard is really helping us in extraordinary ways in bringing in a lot of search and rescue equipment in the morning. We will be in full swing tomorrow. We believe there will still be hundreds more people.”
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