Trump RIGHT and Obama RIGHT? How can both be right when one went and the other didn’t
Donald Trump was right to visit the flood area even though it was mostly a political stunt and Hillary Clinton was wrong not to go, but I’m tired of know-nothings complaining that President Obama didn’t go.
He absolutely should NOT go to the flood region – YET!
I’m a retired emergency management coordinator still holding multiple FEMA certifications and I can tell you that if I were in charge in the flood area the only thing I would dread MORE than 10 more inches of rain is a presidential visit.
FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency – the federal agency charged with coordinating and providing services and supplies for major disasters.
That isn’t just MY personal opinion. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has publicly requested that Obama not visit due to fear it would drain state resources, saying that he should wait a week or so.
Edwards told a press conference “I’m not complaining in any way about our federal partnership,” and went on to praise FEMA efforts.
President Bush really screwed up on Katrina, but not because he didn’t go to New Orleans – his mistake was appointing an incompetent director in charge of emergency services in part because Republicans always oppose funding for such things UNTIL an emergency occurs which is years too late to prepare.
On The Ground
Resources are severely strained in the flood area right now mainly because of transportation problems. Roads are blocked, bridges down, airports isolated and both power and phone services are disrupted.
FEMA pre-positions plenty of food and equipment well out of the disaster area but they cant get supplies where they are most needed right away.
The reason they don’t put supplies right in the disaster area when they can see a disaster about to occur should be obvious – it would be destroyed in the same disaster – that’s why first response to a disaster is always local or regional, not federal.
FEMA is authorized to move supplies to a safe area if they don’t already have a supply depot there, but can’t actually do anything until a request comes from the governor of the state.
The governor doesn’t respond until he or she gets a request from local emergency management officials.
Some states, including Pennsylvania where I served two municipalities as either deputy or emergency management coordinator, require every city, town, or township to have an emergency plan in place and a coordinator appointed.
When The Circus Comes To Town
Now imagine what happens when the President visits some town in a disaster area. Worse yet, where the full extent of the disaster isn’t even known yet. Or, as in the Louisiana floods, is actually getting worse.
First the Secret Service arrives in force up to 30 hours in advance and starts interfering with all the things that are currently being done. They requisition local and state police forces, close down air traffic, stop all ground traffic, and generally interrupt critical efforts in every way imaginable.
All routes the President might use for a motorcade (or for his emergency evacuation to medical services if needed) would be secured and blocked off to most traffic, even relief supplies.
Air traffic would be heavily restricted for about a 30 mile radius and fighter jets whose pilots are authorized (that is they should kill with no further orders if they feel it is necessary to protect the President) to bring down any aircraft within 5-10 miles of where AF-1 is due to land or is on the ground. That’s a period of 5-10 hours depending on circumstances.
If the President moves by helicopter there would be armed helicopters with him, any high-dry landing site (exactly where the evacuees and supplies should be) would be secured by armed guards.
In addition to the President, his security, state Senators (who are always invited on this sort of thing), their retinues, hundreds of reporters and cameramen, and emergency medical resources would all follow him in a sort of cloud a mile or two across centered on wherever the President is at any given moment.
That isn’t a criticism of the Secret Service, that is their job, but it is still what happens and President Obama knows well what would occur. A responsible Chief Executive stays out of the way during an emergency.
What Good Would A Presidential Visit Do Now?
So, what benefits would come from a visit by President Obama to an ongoing disaster?
The trouble is already on the news.
FEMA is already responding as much as possible and the governor says they are doing a good job.
The President probably knows more about the situation than 99.9% of the people on the ground – he would learn nothing by visiting in person.
And, while the Republicans are complaining endlessly about his two-week vacation, they forget that then-President Bush took a FIVE-WEEK vacation in 2005 and his administration wasn’t prepared for a natural disaster.
What Trump Did Right
As for Candidate Trump, what he did was probably marginally helpful to the residents.
What President Obama should do is visit the disaster area in person AFTER the flood waters are dropping everywhere and AFTER most of the disaster supplies are on the ground where needed.
As for Candidate Clinton, she probably should have visited the area although as a former First Lady her visit would have caused more of a disruption than Trump’s trip.