Why does FEMA hate communication?
September 6, 2005 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Why would FEMA cut the emergency communication lines in Jefferson Parish?

Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard reported on last Sunday's Meet the Press that FEMA came in and cut their lines. He then had the Sheriff reconnect the lines and post armed guards to protect them. (Video here.)

What is the official explanation for it? What could possibly justify it?
posted by aaronetc to Law & Government (16 answers total)
the only sane explanation i could come up with was that the lines were somehow in the way of delivering supplies somewhere and they didn't realize what they were cutting (ie, assumed they were just dead power lines or something).

but then things haven't been very sane lately, so who knows?
posted by clarahamster at 6:11 PM on September 6, 2005

Pure speculations -- FEMA, as a branch of DHS, has a default incident response plan that assumes a terrorist attack, wherein you (theoretically) may want to control further communication from potential terrorists. They went forward with that plan in spite of the situation not being applicable.

I don't think that's a good explanation and I don't think cutting comm lines in case of a terrorist attack is necessarily a good idea. But if I was giving FEMA the benefit of the doubt, that'd be my first guess.
posted by sohcahtoa at 6:28 PM on September 6, 2005

Perhaps the idea is along the lines of the tactic I saw employed against the kids that occupied our company's warehouse during WTO: the police cut the power so that the kids would have less reason to stay put.

Didn't work, of course.
posted by mwhybark at 6:54 PM on September 6, 2005

That's exactly the rationale FEMA used for not allowing the Red Cross (or many others) to deliver food and aid to victims in New Orleans; Namely, if you give people food and water they will be less likely to leave.

Yes, that sounds scarily close to "FEMA decided to starve them out" to me, too.
posted by Justinian at 6:59 PM on September 6, 2005

Well, since this is the forum for wild-assed speculation, perhaps it's the classic "Let's make up some wild-assed accusations! Not my fault! It's all Bush's fault! What buses?"

Seems to have worked, with you at least...
posted by bemis at 7:01 PM on September 6, 2005

I was just watching the HDNET report on this (really, really good by the way), and rescue boats were ducking under and trying really hard to avoid power lines. This was especially difficult for the old and otherwise incapacitated and appeared to hinder rescue efforts.

Either they wanted to cut the lines to better aid in delivering supplies or to make sure that power wasn't restored and someone wouldn't get hurt -- thinking they were power lines (don't know how plausible that is).
posted by geoff. at 7:03 PM on September 6, 2005

i got the impression these weren't regular phone/power lines, but working, protected lines (underground?).

Don't ever underestimate political reasons. Broussard has been indicting the administration at every opportunity--very effectively.
posted by amberglow at 7:07 PM on September 6, 2005

Well, aaronetc did as if there was an official explanation.

Was there an official inquiry and did that inquiry receive a formal reply?

Since some of us are in speculation county parish, I'd guess that it was someone in perhaps the upper-middle chain of command who wanted *their* lines of communication and felt that having multiple lines of communication open could cause confusion as to which of the different lines were the official ones (and hence, perhaps delay operations. Further.).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 7:39 PM on September 6, 2005

In case anybody misses it, "MeTa."
posted by davy at 8:40 PM on September 6, 2005

Perhaps Broussard was lying.
posted by mischief at 10:17 PM on September 6, 2005

Best answer: From what Broussard says, it sounds to me like this is a telephone closet or switch room or maybe even a central office we are talking about. It is certainly not aerials. He said they disconnected his lines to hook up theirs or something like that.

I've actually spent quite a bit of time futzing around with the computer databases that keep track of what phone line uses what. From that experience, what this sounds like to me is pair shortage, coupled with lack of access to folks like me (plant line assigners, the job I used to do): FEMA needed so many loops, found working pairs, and took them. They either did not know, did not bother to check, or did not care that they were already 'in-service' lines.

The phone company usually keeps pretty good track of what equipment is providing dial-tone where. But it relies upon a system of computer networks and phone company employees that FEMA may not have had. Given that, it is pretty easy to go to a distribution point in a telco network, find working pairs, and hook 'em up to your shit. As it turns out, the locals had already been to that telco distribution point, found the working pairs, and hooked their lines up to them, as I imagine working pairs were in short supply in that part of the world.

That sounds the most plausible to me.

mischief: that is just fucking stupid.
posted by teece at 10:36 PM on September 6, 2005

I should add: most people seem to be misinterpreting what "cutting" the lines means in this case.

It is highly unlikely that cutting means anything destructive: such as a back-hoe to a main cable or a knife to a small one.

More likely, it means disconnecting a short, 26 gauge jumper at a central telco distribution point. And most likely, FEMA did it to hook up their lines, not to be malicious.

Under every day circumstances, an actual cut to a major cable would take a lot of man power to fix. Telco techs don't actually construct anything when they hook up phone or data service. Rather, they simply connect together a bunch of existing pieces. If those pieces break, they are only repaired slowly, and its done in batches, in the best of times, by specialist rather than regular techs.

Thus to "cut" a line would almost certainly mean nothing more than disconnecting a couple of the pieces somewhere in the chain, in a very non-permanent way. If an actual cut had been done, it is highly unlikely that the lines would have been back up anytime soon. Repairing damaged lines is a royal PITA.

During a situation like that after Katrina, in the immediate aftermath, getting a working line would involve hunting around for pairs that were not destroyed in the hurricane, and using them for vital services.
posted by teece at 10:59 PM on September 6, 2005

That's an excellent, rational explanation, teece.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:50 AM on September 7, 2005

The Interdictor Blog reported masked police officers guarding the Bell South Building. I read speculation that these police officers were Sheriff Lee's men and were masked to avoid being ID'd by the Feds.
posted by roboto at 4:12 PM on September 7, 2005

Except that Michael Barrett (Interdictor) is in Orleans proper and not in Jefferson parish. Should someone pull lines there, they would most likely disconnect all of Jefferson Parish. Not good.
posted by calwatch at 9:48 PM on September 7, 2005

The source of this 'story', was Aaron Broussard (the Democratic Jefferson Parish President), speaking on Meet the Press. MSNBC and NBC News have now issed a retraction,
noting the many untruths in his story, as well as an inteview with Thomas Rodrigue (whose story he claimed to be telling), directly refuting the account.
posted by bemis at 2:45 PM on September 19, 2005

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