NORTHCOM AND KATRINA….Last time I checked, naval officers aren’t in the habit of criticizing their commander in chief no matter how many punches they have to absorb in the process. It appears, however, that Lt. Commander Sean Kelly, a Pentagon spokesman for Northern Command, didn’t get the memo. Asked why Northcom hadn’t responded to Hurricane Katrina more quickly, he accidentally told the truth:
Northcom started planning before the storm even hit….We had the USS Bataan sailing almost behind the hurricane so once the hurricane made landfall, its search and rescue helicopters could be available almost immediately So, we had things ready.
The only caveat is: we have to wait until the president authorizes us to do so. The laws of the United States say that the military can’t just act in this fashion; we have to wait for the president to give us permission.
So why didn’t the president issue the orders?
UPDATE: Lt. Commander Sean Kelly emails with a clarification:
USNORTHCOM was prepositioned for response to the hurricane, but as per the National Response Plan, we support the lead federal agency in disaster relief ? in this case, FEMA. The simple description of the process is the state requests federal assistance from FEMA which in turn may request assistance from the military upon approval by the president or Secretary of Defense. Having worked the hurricanes from last year as well as Dennis this year, we knew that FEMA would make requests of the military ? primarily in the areas of transportation, communications, logistics, and medicine. Thus we began staging such assets and waited for the storm to hit.
The biggest hurdles to responding to the storm were the storm itself ? couldn’t begin really helping until it passed ? and damage assessment ? figuring out which roads were passable, where communications and power were out, etc. Military helos began damage assessment and SAR on Tuesday. Thus we had permission to operate as soon as it was possible. We even brought in night SAR helos to continue the mission on Tuesday night.
The President and Secretary of Defense did authorize us to act right away and are not to blame on this end. Yes, we have to wait for authorization, but it was given in a timely manner.