Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Leadership vs. Chickenship

If you're looking for a guest speaker for your next corporate event or off-site, give Chief Master Sergeant Patrick McFaddin (USAF Retired) a call. Chief McFaddin is one of the more gifted leaders in recent Air Force history and he's an entertaining speaker on such topics as ethics, integrity and leadership.

From Chief McFaddin's perspective, efforts to lead generally fall into two categories, leadership and chickenship. You don't need an Ivy League MBA to define either term, and sadly, both have been on display in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Let's start with the leadership category. Army Lieutenant General Russell Honore and his staff deserve enormous credit for ending the chaos in the Gulf South, and initiating the flow of badly-needed aid to storm victims. Critics have claimed that the federal relief effort was slow to start, but they don't understand the enormity of the disaster, or the time required to marshal, mobilize and direct required resources. Active duty and national guard units have done a masterful job in rescuing New Orleans residents, and moving them out of the city--often at great risk to themselves.

A case in point: the airspace over New Orleans and southern Mississippi is now the most crowded low-level airspace in the United States, but air traffic control support is minimal, thanks to the damage inflicted on radars and ATC facilities by Katrina. At one point last week, much of the air traffic control for the hundreds of helicopters and aircraft transiting the area was performed by a USAF AWACS E-3 and a Navy E-2C Hawkeye. The Hawkeye and AWACS crews have performed brillantly, deconflicting air traffic throughout the disaster region. So far, there has been only one accident; a relief helicopter crashed near New Orleans Sunday evening, possibly due to mechanical problems. The crew escaped with minor injuries. So, give the air planners, unit commanders and flight crews a A+ for leadership, too.

On the chickenship side, let's begin with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Mayor Nagin spent much of last week complaining about the flow of aid to his beleaguered city, but it's now clear that Nagin could have prevented some of the suffering, if he had simply followed New Orleans's existing disaster plan. Chris Ruddy of Newsmax has provided key excerpts from that plan:

"The authority to order the evacuation of residents threatened by an approaching hurricane is conferred to the Governor by Louisiana Statute. The Governor is granted the power to direct and compel the evacuation of all or part of the population from a stricken or threatened area within the State, if he deems this action necessary for the preservation of life or other disaster mitigation, response or recovery. The same power to order an evacuation conferred upon the Governor is also delegated to each political subdivision of the State by Executive Order. This authority empowers the chief elected official of New Orleans, the Mayor of New Orleans, to order the evacuation of the parish residents threatened by an approaching hurricane."

" The City of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas. Those evacuated will be directed to temporary sheltering and feeding facilities as needed. When specific routes of progress are required, evacuees will be directed to those routes. Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life saving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedures as needed. ..."

" Evacuation procedures for small scale and localized evacuations are conducted per the SOPs of the New Orleans Fire Department and the New Orleans Police Department. However, due to the sheer size and number of persons to be evacuated, should a major tropical weather system or other catastrophic event threaten or impact the area, specifically directed long range planning and coordination of resources and responsibilities efforts must be undertaken

The city's plan even calls for the use of school buses to evacuate residents from New Orleans. However, most of the city's buses remained parked in their compound and now sit under 4-5 feet of water. Using only 200 of those vehicles, a single "bus lift" could have moved more than 13,000 residents to safety, well before the hurricane arrived. BTW, Plaquemines Parrish, located south of New Orleans, used school buses to support its evacuation efforts--why didn't Ray Nagin follow his own plan?

Mayor Nagin's incompetence is matched only by Louisiana's Governor, Kathleen Blanco. According to various media accounts, it took phone calls from President Bush and Max Mayfield (Director of the National Hurricane Center) to convince Blanco to order mandatory evacuations from low-lying areas in her state. But she resisted pleas to "federalize" the initial response, saying she needed more time to make her decision. By the time she finally acted, the storm had passed, New Orleans levees had collapsed and much of the city was underwater. BTW, Governor Blanco did authorize the use of school buses to aid in evacuation. She signed the order last Friday, almost five days after the storm.

There are others who deserve the chickenship award as well. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu threatened to "punch President Bush in the nose" if he criticized the response of local law enforcement. Senator Landrieu may be proud of the New Orleans police department, but the facts contradict her praise. By some estimates, as many as one-third of the department's officers went AWOL during the storm, and others openly participated in the looting. Order was not restored in the Crescent City until General Honore's military police arrived on the scene.

At least two other officials also earned the chickenship sobriquet. Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff seemed unaware of the chaos at the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center last Thursday, despite near-constant media coverage from reporters
at the scene. And, there's the issue of how Mike Brown got the job as FEMA Director. His resume seems paper-thin. Before assuming his present job, he served as executive director of a horse breeding association.

Predictably, the MSM has been giving local officials a pass on their decision-making, while pointing the finger of blame at President Bush and the feds. But any objective observer can see that the early, critical mistakes were made at the state and local level, setting the stage for the debacle that followed. Chickenship was center stage in New Orleans city hall and the governor's office in Baton Rouge last week.

No comments: