"Is it true what the American Red Cross has reported that they have not been allowed into the city of New Orleans by the DHS since Hurricane Katrina because their 'presence would keep people from evacuating'"?
First, they put me on hold. Then I heard 2 beeps and the click that I assume means they were recording me. Then they asked me my name. (I told them, but now I sort of regret it...) Then they transferred me to Chris at the "Law Enforcement Fusion Desk". I read my question again.
Update [2005-9-3 1:56:56 by shock]: JTML pointed out in a comment that the Red Cross FAQ actually says the "state Homeland Security department", so I just called them too. Read what I found out below. (It's more outrageous than you might think!)
Update [2005-9-3 2:40:52 by shock]: I just updated the title for clarity. (Also note, the Federal DHS would not officially confirm this yet.)
[ed. note] This first dialog is still with the federal DHS.
He said he hadn't heard this, so I pointed him to the Red Cross FAQ page link that was posted on this diary. I directed his attention to the second bullet.
He said something to the effect that their policy is trying to help get people out and that this is why they don't want more people coming in. (***)
I said I understood that, but that it didn't make sense to let people starve or die of thirst in the meantime.
He responded that this wasn't happening. That as soon as they pick somebody up, they take them out of there.
I argued with him and told him this wasn't true, that it had been on CNN that people had been being picked up and put down at the convention center where there was no food or water.
He said that all he could tell me was that they were picking people up and taking them out of there.... that their policy was to help the people.
Then I asked who at the DHS was responsible for the policy that kept the Red Cross out.
He said that would have to be Michael Chertoff.
I asked him for his own name and position again and then asked if I could make this public that the DHS was confirming what was on the Red Cross website.
After a few seconds I asked if he was there and he said "yeah," and then nothing else.
So I asked my question again and he said "No".
I asked why he had said no to me, and rather than answer me, he asked me what I wanted to do with the information.
I said I wanted to email it to my friends and put it on a blog. I think I heard him scoff at this, but I'm not sure.
I asked him again why I couldn't disseminate it and he said he didn't know who I was. Then he asked me directly who I was and why I wanted to know.
I told him that I was a citizen and I wanted to know because I actually gave a fuck about the people of New Orleans. (I was pissed by now because he was patronizing me and he had already lied to me.)
He said they did too.
I said something like "so you won't confirm what the American Red Cross is reporting then?", to which he said something like "no". (It was short.)
I asked why not and he asked me why I wanted to post it.
At this point I lost my temper and went on a little tirade. I said (something like) "because it's a stupid fucking policy! And people have died because of it. And if Michael Chertoff is responsible, people should be made aware of that. And if you and he think it's a good policy, you should be willing to stand by it and take responsibility for it!" (There was more swearing in there too, but I can't remember exactly what now. I was very pissed. At this point in the conversation, my wife, who was in the room, about fell out of her chair and started motioning to me to shut up.)
After a few seconds of silence, I asked again, so you can't confirm this?
And he said "no".
So I asked who at DHS could.
He told me to call back and talk to the public affairs office on the same number (202-282-8000, although they transferred me to him, so I don't know if that's really his number), but that they wouldn't be back until Tuesday.
I am so pissed right now. If Chertoff really did order this, his head should be served up (Cajun style) on a platter to the mayor of New Orleans.
P.S. When I hung up the phone, the first thing my wife said to me was, "Great. Now you'll be drafted for sure!"
Update [2005-9-3 1:8:41 by shock]: (***) IMO, this is the crucial point of the dialog. I wish I had recorded it so I could tell you exactly what he said. But my recollection is strong that he actually admitted the policy here and was trying to defend it to me.
Update [2005-9-3 1:56:56 by shock]: JTML pointed out in a comment that the Red Cross FAQ actually says the "state Homeland Security department", so I just called them too. (This time I took better notes.) I called the Communications Center for the Louisianna Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness at 225-925-7500. After an operator ("that's above my pay grade") and some other "officer" (at the Operations desk, I think), I ended up at the Media relations desk talking to a really cool and helpful guy, Lt. Kevin Cowan (Public Information Officer) who said I could quote him ("that's my job"). Although I didn't get everything typed word for word (the parts in quotation marks are though), I read him my notes when we were finished, so this is now 'confirmed'. Here goes...
"As part of the disaster plan there's an agreement between the state and the Red Cross for them not to enter."
He didn't know the exact details of the agreement, but he said it had to do with "safety issues" since this is "still a disaster area and still unsafe" with things like "high water, etc."
When I asked specifically about the statement on the Red Cross webpage that said it was because their "presence would keep people from evacuating", he said this wasn't the reason.
Me: "Who on your end made this agreement with the red cross?"
He checked with the Operations desk and came back and told me it was probably a decision between the director of their agency, General Landreneau, the Governor, and Mike Brown at FEMA. He said he didn't know the exact groups in these agencies that worked out the agreement, but "ultimately, they're the ones in charge who sign off on it". He said "it's all a coordinated effort and guidelines are established." The point is they "don't want to put anyone at undue risk". (I was thinking "anyone, who? surely not the people of New Orleans!", but I didn't say anything because he was being so cool.)
Here's the kicker. He then told me that this agreement was for any and all disasters, not just the one in Louisiana!
I asked him how long this policy had been in effect, and he told me, "It's a work in progress; it's always changing."
Also, he asked me who I was and if I was with the media. I told him I was going to post the info on a blog (and asked if I could use his name). His reply was that blogs are media. "Hey, that's information out there, isn't it? It's basically the same thing." He also asked me what blog, and he wrote it down.
Anyway, as I said, he was pretty cool..
Update [2005-9-3 4:55:23 by shock]: In a comment below, Orj Ozeppi reports that the Salvation Army is telling people the same thing as the ARC: "if we help, people won't leave." So we have a discrepancy between these relief agencies and LA Homeland Security as to the reason. The relief agencies are consistent. It may be that this policy is just because it's a disaster zone, as the LA Homeland Security guy said, but this question needs to be answered. Was the decision to keep the relief agencies out made to force people to evacuate (and punish those who didn't... perhaps making a lesson of them?) by making conditions intolerable??? If not, why do these relief agencies say so? And if so, WHY THE FUCK ARE THERE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE LOCKED IN THE CONVENTION CENTER WITHOUT AID (TONIGHT AS I TYPE THIS) NOT BEING ALLOWED OUT OF NEW ORLEANS???! I can't process this anymore. It's too surreal. Maybe I just need sleep. I pray I wake up tomorrow and this was just a severe nightmare.