The producers of "American Crime Story" recently announced that the second season of the popular true crime anthology TV series will focus on Hurricane Katrina. Critical reaction appeared to be decidedly against the decision to focus on the 2005 hurricane and its aftermath.
"What specific crime was committed?" asks Alexander Koch, writer for MOVIEPILOT. "We'd prefer the show remain more in the true-crime realm," says CarterMatt.com.
In contrast, my reaction to the producers' decision could not be more positive. It's about time for the many crimes of Katrina to be told to a wider audience.
For example, due to poor logistics and planning, FEMA was unable to get life-giving ice to many of the areas that were desperately requesting it. What did arrive were frivolous items like heaters for people with hypothermia. And the list of wasteful federal spending is long: nearly $1 billion on travel trailers that were unusable, temporary blue tarp roofs that cost as much as permanent roofs, and multiple layers of contractors taking their cut for debris removal while local businesses were left out.
But two crimes stand out as the most egregious, yet seem to be the least well known.
As described in Path of Destruction (Little Brown, 2006), a FEMA team led by Phil Parr helicoptered into the Superdome the day after Katrina, but was thwarted because Red October -- a high-tech mobile communications center with 30 computer workstations that traveled on the back of a tractor-trailer -- had not arrived. Its satellite phones and Internet capability could have enabled a foundational network for communication, something literally worth life and death.
Red October should have been brought into New Orleans as soon as the winds subsided. But it sat in a Shreveport parking lot six hours away because two people had ordered it, Parr and FEMA director Michael Brown, and so the order was canceled altogether. It eventually arrived but not until a week after the storm.
Imagine how different the government response could have been with a functioning cell tower dedicated for police and first responders. With Red October, the panicked police shooting of unarmed families on the Danziger Bridge might never have happened. Dr. Anna Pou at Memorial Medical Center might never have been arrested in the deaths of critically ill patients she tried to comfort in the blistering heat with administrations of morphine.
The summer of 2005 should hopefully be the last time in history that an entire metropolitan area is cut off from the rest of the world.
But the most heinous crime was the drowning of New Orleans in floodwater due to human mistakes and human arrogance, namely the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' flawed levee designs and its campaign to cover them up.
In the mid-1980s, the corps, in an attempt to save money on expensive steel, conducted a sheet pile load test (E-99 Study). But the corps misinterpreted the results of its study and tragically concluded that sheet piles needed to be driven into the earthen levees to depths of only 17 feet instead of between 31 and 46 feet. That decision saved approximately $100 million. But during Hurricane Katrina the short-sheeted floodwalls failed at 50 percent of design load, flooding the regions with the most people, property and infrastructure
The die was cast 20 years before Katrina arrived. The floodwalls were destined to fail. But few know this, mainly because federal Judge Stanwood Duval had to dismiss the lawsuit filed against the corps because the federal agency is protected from financial consequences by the Flood Control of Act of 1928.
In America, citizens tend to think that if no damages are paid, then the case has no merit.
To draw attention away from its mistakes, the corps paid a PR company nearly $5 million to conduct an image improvement campaign after the flood. The corps was also caught red-handed allowing its employees to harass me and my group's supporters online using government computers. This resulted in a Pentagon inquiry and an apology from Colonel Alvin Lee.
But, at the end of the day, no one at the corps resigned in disgrace and no one was demoted. No one at the corps lost so much as a parking spot.
The mass drownings and flood should have been considered a crime, but they weren't. Hopefully, "American Crime Story" will give the survivors of the flood another chance for America to hear their story.