Sunday, September 04, 2005

Leadership in Times of Disaster

As the grim situation in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast slowly and painfully improves, the incomprehensible unpreparedness of government for an entirely forseeable disaster becomes ever more clear. Americans from all over the political spectrum are sensing a failure of leadership when the country needs it most.

In times of crisis, such as natural disasters, people look to their leaders for guidance, reassurance and hope. Natural disasters have ravaged Connecticut from time to time, and the response of our leaders to those past crises may hold lessons for today's leadership on how to cope with the present one.

Abraham Ribicoff and the Floods of 1955

Abraham Ribicoff became governor of Connecticut in 1955, following a close and bitter contest with incumbent governor John Davis Lodge.

When two hurricanes in 1955 caused massive flooding all over Connecticut, Gov. Ribicoff immediately took charge of the situation. He ordered in the National Guard, directed relief efforts from the State Armory and personally visited many of the flood sites.

After the floodwaters receeded, Ribicoff's recovery programs helped to get the state back on its feet. Ribicoff was always a popular politician in Connecticut, but his response to the floods, just seven months into his first term as governor, helped to cement that popularity. In 1958, he won re-election by a landslide, partially thanks to the success of his recovery programs.

Thomas Meskill Gets Snowed

In 1970, Thomas Meskill was elected as Connecticut's first Republican governor since John Davis Lodge (1951-55). His tenure was an unsteady and forgettable one, but it seemed in 1973 that he would probably be re-elected.

However, when a severe ice and snow storm struck Connecticut during the winter of 1973-74, Gov. Meskill was nowhere to be found. He was on a skiing vacation in Vermont, and apparently had decided not to return to the state. The image of the governor skiing while many in Connecticut huddled miserable without heat or electricity dropped Meskill's political fortunes like a rock. Not long after, he saw the writing on the wall and announced he wouldn't run for a second term.


Ella Grasso's political standing was at a low point in 1978, following three years of budget woes and a mounting state debt. She faced a primary challenger and dim prospects of re-election later that year.

However, Grasso demonstrated her leadership abilities when a paralyzing blizzard hit Connecticut that winter. She, as Ribicoff had, ordered in the National Guard, demanded assistance from Washington and flew to stricken areas all over the state, offering hope and promises of aid. In a notable moment that demonstrates just how visible she was during the storm, someone stamped "HELP ELLA" in large, visible letters in a field. She had obviously learned from Meskill's mistakes, and easily won re-election in 1978.

Lessons for Today

Governors of Connecticut since the 1970s have followed Grasso's lead in being seen as highly visible and active during natural disasters. A telling moment happened earlier this year, when Connecticut was hit by yet another blizzard in January. Gov. Rell, who was still recovering from a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery a month earlier, was seen at the Armory and with snow-plow drivers in South Windsor. According to the Courant, she recieved an email that read "You don't have to be Ella." People have long memories for such things.

The lesson seems to be that, during crises such as natural disasters, people want their leaders to reassure them and to take action at once. President Bush may find himself haunted by the image of vacationing while New Orleans drowned.


Steve said...

Well, it seems like the White House is already trying to pass the buck on this one; blaming local officials for the post-disaster disaster.

But, as you obviously know, when history is written (and polls are taken) it's Bush -- not Chertoff or Brown -- who will get the ink.

Genghis Conn said...

I don't think that's such a wise strategy to pursue--to blame local officials. Bush is the head of government, he ought to act like it.

History has quite a surprise in store for Mr. Bush, I feel. Certainly history hasn't ben kind to Meskill.

DeanFan84 said...

Where is Jodi Rell? Has CT offered to adopt any of our "American refugees?"

Many states across the country are helping out. What's wrong with CT? It's not like we don't have the money to do something.

Ebpie said...

I think Rell has done a great job in mobilizing CT to help the victims of this storm. Thanks to her CT students who normally attend college in the gulf region can now get a full year free at any of Connecticut's universities. She is sending down 100 National Guard troops and has ordered guard bases to be used as donation centers. Thanks to our governor, all Labor Day state park fees will be donated to the Red Cross and Salvation Army and state employees can take 10 days paid vacation to volunteer for the recovery efforts.

Genghis Conn said...


Connecticut has sent members of the National Guard, donated state park fees, is paying for state employees to go volunteer for the Red Cross, etc., has set up collection centers at the state Armories, is taking on displaced students in the CSU system, is coordinating relief efforts around the state, and more. What else could they reasonably be doing? Connecticut is too far to make a logical destination for the large majority of refugees--at least at the moment.

DeanFan84 said...


You're wrong.

Read about it. Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, Virginia, Iowa, Utah are all taking in evacuees,-- but not Connecticut.

Finally, Rell's idea of spending energy to collect water and other supplies to ship down to LA is a joke. The Red Cross recommends money, not goods. Shipping household stuff from CT is simply not economical.

Paul said...

Did Bush drop the ball on this one? Yes. However, the media seems to have failed to address Nagin's and Blanco's failure to prepare New Orleans for this disaster and adequately prepare for evacuations. Those are their responsibilities, not Bush's or the Feds.

If Blanco and Nagin knew of many who were unable to evacuate why didn't they dispatch buses, cars, trains, anything? The aftermath is a Federal issue but prior planning and actions (or lack thereof)were basic duties of the cities and states and their failures have cost lives.

Many deserve blame, not just the President.

Genghis Conn said...


Frankly, there have been so many failures on so many levels that there's plenty of blame to go around. In reality, this is a tragedy twenty to thirty years in the making.

But it happened on Bush's watch, and it'll be his response that is most remembered.


If this is so, then I don't know why we haven't taken in refugees. We're also providing exactly what FEMA is asking for in the way of donations.

DeanFan84 said...


Lay off the Louisiana people. They don't deserve the blame, nor do the victims.

Emergency Management is the responsibility of the Federal Government, in conjunciton with the Red Cross, the National Guard, and our Armed Forces. It is not a local function.

The idea that NOLA should have been 100% evacuated is a joke. Were Blanco and Nagin supposed to have forced evacuations? Where would the people have gone?

Plus, the levees were the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers. Not New Orleans, not Louisiana.

In reality, the moment the levees broke, New Orleans was doomed without outside assistance. No communications, no electricity, no water, and no roadways.

If the Red Cross and National Guard had shown up within 24 hours, (or, shit, had been there in advance), the outcome would have been radically different.

The sad truth is that no one showed up until Friday. Four days after the Hurricane hit, and three plus days after the flooding.

The President declared LA and MS disaster areas on Saturday the 27th. That it took a week to get boots on the ground is just incredible.

ctkeith said...

When was the last time you drove a snowplow.Genghis?

I did it for 15 yrs and remember Ella and Rowland.

Ella praised our work and we got a decent, not great raise when Ella was in office and the guys felt appreciated.

Rowland blamed the Drivers a few yrs ago after cutting the number of drivers and the budget for snowremoval in a particularly bad snowstorm and fought any raise for state workers.

I know most of you college educated people here think any monkey can operate a snowplow but I'd love to put you in the truck I drove for sometimes up to 72 hrs without sleep and see if you think it's worth it.

Some of the drivers and other workers were fooled enough to vote Republican for quite a few years but after seeing the way they treated our Brothers annd sisters in New Orleans this week I and talking to a bunch of them at parties over this holiday weekend I think they've learned their lessons all too well.

Paul said...


Yes, Blanco and Nagin should have forced evacuations. Even if the people lay in hallways in Baton Rouge area schools they would have fared far better. Maybe just offering public transport would have been well advised.

And I agree with you that the Feds have done poorly but LA officials should have done far more. They seemingly sent out a general "Oh the hurricane is coming!" warning and advised folks to flee. Blanco should have advised her cabinet to act post haste (it is a local/state function)
and Bush and Brown both should have acted sooner.

DeanFan84 said...


You can't force evacuations. It has never been done before. And with what personnel would 1000's of people have been physically dragged out of their homes? (A mandatory evacuation was called, it's just that you can never make it mandatory in a free country.)

As an alternative, the city set up several emergency shelters, in building that would not flood, and that were designed to withstand a CAT 5 hurricane.

Maybe you are right that they should have put people on buses. I don't know. But it would be hard to do so without an ultimate destination, and I am not sure destinations were available, pre-storm.

But again, I'm going to emphasize that the levees, lack of food and water, lack of both police and search and rescue personnel, AND the resultant anarchy--- these should all be laid squarely at the feet of George Bush, Chertoff, and "Brownie".

Ebpie said...


If Blanco and Nagin had R's next to their names would you still absolve them of any blame? Do you really believe the Democrats in LA bear little to no responsibility for any of the problems happening right now? Pretty much every post I've seen from you has attacked Republicans and excused Democrats (unless they are right of Ted Kennedy). According to you Simmons deserves no credit for saving the base, Rell has done nothing to help those on the Gulf Coast, and Blanco and Nagin responded well to Katrina. You might as well just post DNC talking points on this message board.

DeanFan84 said...

Epbie-- Please answer.

Are you proud of the Bush Administration's handling of this crisis? Do you think he has done an adequate job?

Should "Brownie" be fired?
What about Chertoff?

Why weren't there boots on the ground on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday? It's not as if patriotic Americans weren't ready to roll.

In this case I'm not being partisan. I'm an American, and I'm ashamed that Americans were abandoned, left to die, and even W agreed that is unacceptable.

I've defended Nagin, but not Blanco. Nagin was there, doing everything he could, at the same time our fly-boy President did his fly-by last Wednesday. (If he was a real leader, he would have landed and gone to Baton Rouge.)

In the Governor's race, I'd like to see the Democrats get their chance to lead CT, after the Rowland-fiasco. But I'm not anti-Rell in nearly the same way, as I am anti-Bush. I just hoped our CT leaders would take some initiative in this tragedy.

P.S. Check the DeStefano blog. I asked there if New Haven/CT would be adopting any evacuees.

Ebpie said...

Obviously President Bush, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security made many mistakes in the handling of this crisis. I'm not going to give a free pass to people just because they are Republicans. Likewise I will give credit to Democrats when it is due. I’m not a partisan who will regurgitate whatever I hear from the Chairman’s mouth.

Brass Tacks said...

Genghis: Can't believe nobody saluted you for the great Connecticut history lesson. My compliments!

POTUS needs to be stronger in shouldering the responsibility for this: "The buck stops here."

What's the over/under on how many committees will start hearings on this?? My guess is that GOPers looking to distance themselves from the administration's poor job will jump in, grab a Democrat to look like a states(person), and grab the first available hearing room!

ctblogger said...

From cutting the funding for fixing the leeves, to staying on vacation and receiving a guitar from a country music star and giving a speech on VJ Day on Tuesday while people died on New Orleans, our President's leadership in this matter haws been disgraceful and blaming local officals is just passing the buck.

I'm sick to my stomach just thinking about all the people who had died because of this President's incompetence. A major city of gone and the situation is too big for the mayor or state offical to control. The disaster falls is a national problem that falls under FEMA and Homeland Security and they failed, it's as simple as that. We watch this failure on television over the last week and even the usually conservative reporters on FOXNews were critical of the administration (check out the Sheppard Smith and Geraldo Rivera video clip from Hannity and Colmes on Crooks and Liars).

The spin has to stop and the most honerable thing this administration can do is admit that they messed up and get in there and save those people. As of Monday, there are STILL people trapped in their homes!

This is just incredible!

Genghis Conn said...

As I hear more about the fruitless power struggle that went on between Blanco and the White House, the more I think that neither will come out of this smelling like a rose. Nagin probably could have done more before the disaster struck, but his increasingly angry response to the federal government's bungling of the situation will stick in people's minds.

Brass Tacks: can't disagree with you there! Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will probably be involved somehow.

ctkeith said...

Hey eipie,

Were you comfptably tucked in by your parents up there in Ct college?
Did they make sure your credit card will get paid like they did last year?
Did your position advance,just like planned,in the young Republican chapter your in?

Make sure you stay as far away from those recruiters at the Coast Guard college right down the street from you because I'm sure alot of those niggers in New Orleans are now gonna Have to Join to go fight your war in Iraq and there ain't no need for your white ass.RIGHT!

Heres a link your young chickenhawk Republicans should all follow

Genghis Conn said...

Enough of that, Keith. There's no need for that kind of personal attack.

I'll also hear nothing against my alma mater!

Ebpie said...


Yes, my parents helped me move into college, no, they didn’t pay for my credit card and yes, I was head of the College Republicans.

Coast Guard recruiters do not come onto our campus (at least I haven’t seen any).

It is incredibly sad that you have to attack me personally after I express a point of view that does not march in lockstep with your own. I know things can get heated in debates and people can get worked up (I am certainly guilty of this), but please, can’t we do a little better than this?

ctkeith said...

What so sad about the truth.If you are going to support your partys war the least you can do is have the courage to fight it.

I met a big part of the Young Republican Chapter at your College when they came to the Courtney Social Security Event and was very Unimpressed.

You all looked very healthy and had wiseguy comments to make but not one of you would ever consider disrupting your very comfortable lives and serving your country in the military.

You are all going to be working on a mans campaign next year who did things when I was your age that laid the groundwork for ABU GHARAB.

Just once I'd like to hear an officer in your College Republican or any college Republican organizatio say that they are encouraging their members to put off their education and leaving their comfort because their country needs them but it won't happen.You fighting Keyboardists and your parents have always been happy to let the poor,black and others you think are less important than you fight and die for your benifit and profit.It's what you are.

Ebpie said...

I was in Vietnam at the time of the Social Security event so I can't speak to that.

This is not an appropriate place to discuss the merits of the Iraq war (it is a CT local politics website after all). I will say, however, that one of the best things about our nation is its all volunteer military. There is not a single person in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Navy who did not sign up to be there.

Have I led a life of privilege? Yes. Have I volunteered my time and money for community service? Yes. Do I own an explanation about the choices I have made in my life to someone as vulgar and offensive as you? Hell no.

Genghis Conn said...

Ebpie is right, this is not the place to discuss the Iraq War. There are many other more suitable forums for that.

I will delete comments in which personal attacks are made on other patrons of this blog.

ctkeith said...

So the Iraq war Doesn't have local cosequences?

Tell that To the 18 families here

Tell that to whomever the next Governor is when Fedreral dollars work their way back to CTs state and local governments

I guess an education at Conn. College teaches nicities and how to do teas but not much on the consequences of POLITICAL decisions made by the people we elect.

DeanFan84 said...

Genghis-- You wrote: "Nagin probably could have done more before the disaster struck, but his increasingly angry response to the federal government's bungling of the situation will stick in people's minds."

My comment: Katrina is a moment of reckoning in America. What is obvious, even from this thread, is racism's ugly persistence in America.

Please tell me, what about Nagin's anger was out of place. Anarchy broke out in New Orleans on Tuesday. Come Friday morning there were no still no troops on the ground. These are facts.

No food or water in the shelter. (Someone please tell me why!) People dying of heat exhaustion, and police officers fighting for their lives.

And the Bush administration holding press conferences talking about what a good job they were doing....

So I guess you saw yet another angry black guy. I saw a community leader stretched to the breaking point, in a situation which never should happen in my America.

Genghis Conn said...


You're absolutely remarkable today! I never said his anger was out of place. Where do you get this stuff?

In fact, since apparently I have to spell things out for you, Nagin's perfectly justified anger will help counterbalance the impression that he didn't do enough to get the city ready beforehand, and that he didn't do more to evacuate those who needed it. A lot of people in NOLA share that anger, as do a lot of people around the country.

DeanFan84 said...


I apologize if I mis-read your comment.

What I have been exposed to this week is so much racist indifference, so much blame-the- victim mentality, etc. that I am more than incensed. The spin doctors are trying to lay things off on the local leadership, Blanco and Nagin. But W, Cheney and Condi were off playing the goddamned proverbial fiddle while New Orleans drowned.

Where was the promised National Guard? Why wasn't the Red Cross allowed into NOLA?

America FAILED the people of New Orleans. Babies died, in emergency shelters, for lack of water? If these were white people dying, the outrage would be off the charts.

Were is your outrage? Katrina killed 300 Americans. Government negligence killed 10,000 more.

Genghis Conn said...

I shake my head in disbelief every time I read the news reports. I can't help but wonder what role race and class plays in the lackluster federal response...

ctkeith said...

You don't have to wonder Genghis,

If those babies shown dieing on TV were white their would have been guys parachuting in holding boxes of baby formula if that was the only way to get them fed.

W's government decided anyone worth saving had at least enough money to get out before the hurricane hit.They had to be shamed by the media,even fox,to act.

Genghis Conn said...

I've seen that Mayor DeStefano is offering shelter to refugees in New Haven. Good for him!