Laws tens of thousands of residents were

and regulations in the civilian sector and military services can be confusing
to most people.  Generally, people
understand the basic concept of these principles that are put in place to
control and govern the conduct of the population.  However, there are many laws and regulations
that are subject to different interpretations and can have implications beyond
what they were intended for.  This became
apparent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005.  The massive storm brought devastation to the
city of New Orleans where over eighty percent of the city was engulfed in up to
20 feet of water and tens of thousands of residents were stranded (Tkacz, 2006,
p. 303).  State and local officials
believed they were prepared to handle the aftermath of the storm, but the
destruction and chaos that ensued was overwhelming.  The relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina were
inadequate because laws and regulations restricted timely federal support,
blurred the lines of authority, and prevented first responders from maintaining
order in the initial wake of the storm.

Federal Support

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Hurricane Katrina passed and the devastation started to unfold, the need for
relief efforts and law and order was paramount. 
There were a number of factors that contributed to the poor initial
response and I found that a certain law was among them.  There was hesitation to provide federal
support due to different interpretations of the Posse Comitatus Act and the potential
for legal ramifications if federal military forces were used in law enforcement
roles.  As politicians debated on whether
or not federal troops could be sent to New Orleans, there were lives lost and
local authorities were overwhelmed. “The crisis in New Orleans deepened because
of a virtual standoff between hesitant federal officials and besieged authorities
in Louisiana” (Lipton, Drew, Shane, & Rohde, 2005). 

The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the use
of the Active Army and Air Force in law enforcement functions in the United
States.  The Marine Corps and Navy were
later subject to the same restrictions through Department of Defense Directive
5525.5 (Army Doctrine Publication ADP 3-28, p. 12).  The Posse Comitatus Act doesn’t restrict all
federal support, it just limits the capacity in which federal military forces
can be used.  The Secretary of Defense
can authorize active duty forces to provide indirect support to law enforcement
and Governors can authorize their own National Guard forces to provide direct
support depending on state law (ADP 3-28, p. 12).

has shown that the Posse Comitatus Act can cause confusion when federal military
forces are deployed to support the states.  In 1992 when federal troops were mobilized to
help suppress the LA riots, there was confusion over which missions could be
performed.  Judge William H. Webster
stated in a report that “apparently General Covault was unfamiliar with the
President’s proclamation and erroneously believed that federal troops were
prohibited from becoming involved in law enforcement functions under the Posse
Comitatus Act” (Matthews, 2006).  Confusion
over the law resulted in the reluctance to fully utilize federal troops even
when authorized.  In the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina, Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana requested federal
support, but legal confusion and political implications delayed the
mobilization of federal military forces.

Blurred Lines of Authority

Determining who is in charge when both
federal and state entities are involved in an operation can get
convoluted.  After Hurricane Katrina
struck, there was debate over whether or not the President had the authority to
send federal forces and the administration was hesitant because they didn’t
want the perception that a Republican President was taking control from a
Governor of a different political party (Tkacz, 2006, p. 305).  Once federal troops were finally sent to the
relief efforts, there was no clear command and control of the operation.  There were federal, state, and even city
authorities in the mix.  “Active duty
military and National Guard operations were not coordinated and served two different
bosses, one the President and the other the Governor” (Federal Response, 2006).
 A proposal was made to place all efforts
under control of the federal government, but Governor Blanco rejected it.  This division of authority was unacceptable
and created confusion down to the lowest levels. 

            The federal government had more assets and experience yet
opted to take a back seat in the relief efforts.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) waited for specific requests from state and local officials rather than
take the lead and provide the resources it had readily available (Lipton, et
al., 2005).  The struggle over who needed
to make a decision delayed the support first responders and National Guard
Soldiers needed to adequately support a city in chaos.

First Responders

was mobilized as a member of the Oregon Army National Guard’s 1186th
Military Police Company in support of the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  Our company was in New Orleans approximately
96 hours after the storm crashed ashore. 
At the time it seemed like a quick response, but once we were on ground
the city was already in chaos.  It became
clear that we were undermanned and underequipped as were the first responders
who had already been performing rescue missions and law and order for
days.  During an address to the nation,
President Bush stated that “…the United States military, National Guard,
Homeland Security, and state and local governments performed skillfully under
the worst conditions. Yet the system, at every level of government, was not
well-coordinated, and was overwhelmed in the first few days” (Tkacz, 2006, p.

the lines of authority been more clear, and the President confident he was on
solid political and legal ground to dispatch federal troops as soon as the need
proved evident, there is no knowing how many lives might have been saved”
(Tkacz, 2006, p. 318). 


Laws and regulations can be difficult to
understand especially when it comes to government operations and support to
civil authorities.  The confusion is
highlighted in the laws and regulations that govern the control federal
military forces and state National Guard Soldiers.  The relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina were
inadequate because laws and regulations restricted timely federal support,
blurred the lines of authority, and prevented first responders from maintaining
order in the initial wake of the storm.    


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