As one who was involved with the relief effort after Hurricane Andrew hit, I have a sense of deja vu when listening to news accounts coming out of New Orleans. While the level of destruction and misery associated with Andrew and Hurricane Katrina differs by several orders of magnitude, the storm aftermaths share unfortunate similarities.

As Katrina did, Andrew disrupted local communications and response capabilities. And with no immediate information coming in to state and federal governments and no specific requests for emergency assistance, the "pull" system -- in which local governments request help from the state and state governments request help from the federal government -- failed miserably.

The lesson learned: After a truly catastrophic event such as a Category 4 hurricane, state and federal agencies should not wait for requests for assistance that may never come. It's all in the Hurricane Andrew After Action Report, along with a host of other lessons learned regarding civil unrest, force structure, communications, and command and control. Perhaps this document would be good reading for those facing the challenges that remain in the aftermath of Katrina.



At one stop during his Gulf Coast flyover [Washington Sketch, Sept. 3], President Bush called FEMA Director Michael D. Brown "Brownie."

Intrigued by this "term of endearment," I Googled Mr. Brown to check on his emergency-preparedness credentials.

Before joining the Federal Emergency Management Agency as general counsel, "Brownie" worked for the International Arabian Horse Association. His job was to enforce the rules at horse shows.

On a brighter note, some Louisianan expatriates are heartened by the fact that Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) has hired James Lee Witt to head the state's reconstruction.

Mr. Witt spent most of the '90s building FEMA's emergency preparedness and disaster-recovery capabilities -- only to see the agency nearly wither away under the Department of Homeland Security.




House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) spoke awkwardly in questioning the rebuilding of New Orleans ["Hastert Tries Damage Control After Remarks Hit a Nerve," news story, Sept. 3], but that question should be addressed before billions of taxpayer and private dollars are wasted.

The Mississippi River is kept in its channel at New Orleans only by vast public works that are bound to fail in a flood. The river seeks the shortest, steepest path to the Gulf of Mexico, and, without the levee system constraining it, the river would have shifted course 100 years ago.

Levees do fail, as we have seen in New Orleans. When the big failure comes, the main channel of the Mississippi will shift west to the Atcha- falaya River.

The unpopular reality is that governments should be planning and building for a smaller New Orleans and a new channel for the Mississippi River.