Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld noted at a press briefing, "The way it's arranged under our constitution, state and local officials are the first responders."
The scale of devastation caused by Katrina incapacitated the state government, thus
"Telephone and cell phone service died, and throughout the crisis the state's special emergency communications system was either overloaded or knocked out. As a result, officials were unable to fully inventory the damage or clearly identify the assistance they required from the federal government. "If you do not know what your needs are, I can't request to FEMA what I need," said Lt. Col. William J. Doran III, of Louisiana's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
To President Bush, Governor Blanco directed an ill-defined but urgent appeal.
"I need everything you've got," the governor said she told the president on Monday. "I am going to need all the help you can send me."
At this point, the president should have made a snap decision but that didn't happen.
"Pentagon, White House and Justice officials debated for two days whether the president should seize control of the relief mission from Governor Blanco. But they worried about the political fallout of stepping on the state's authority, according to the officials involved in the discussions. In the end, they rejected the idea and instead decided to try to speed the arrival of National Guard forces, including many trained as military police.
Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland security, explained that decision in an interview this week. "Could we have physically have moved combat forces into an American city, without the governor's consent, for purposes of using those forces - untrained at that point in law enforcement - for law enforcement duties? Yes."
Clearly, Governor Blanco's plea to the president to "send everything he's got" is a desperate call to take over the disaster relief operations but it is also clear that the president chose to do otherwise.