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Copyright (c) 2006 Mississippi College School of Law 
Mississippi College Law Review

ARTICLE: Who's in Charge: The Role of the Military in Disaster Response

2006 / 2007

26 Miss. C. L. Rev. 75


William Banks 1


I. Introduction
A few weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and embarrassed the ill-prepared government, I was giving a talk on some legal aspects of homeland security to a group of U.S. military general officers and senior Department of Defense ("DOD") civilians. Inevitably, discussion turned to the recent Katrina disaster and, in particular, to the vivid scenes of stranded New Orleans residents, mass confusion among relief officials, looting, and of shots fired at military helicopters joining search and rescue operations. After I reviewed the pertinent players and roles in disaster preparedness and response and reminded them of the necessary coordination between local, state, and federal actors, I reiterated the central role of the states and governors in making first response decisions and deciding whether and when to ask the President for federal support, civilian or military. One of the generals raised his hand: "Sir, wouldn't this all work a heck of a lot better if we just did away with the states?"

"Well, was it our federal system of government that was responsible for the breakdown in responding to Katrina?" I asked. "Would you have put DOD in charge of responding to the disaster?" It was a good teaching moment. The frustration among the military and civilian leaders in the room that day over how to mitigate a disaster of Katrina's magnitude was palpable. The general's impatience with our governmental structure underscores the importance of the central question that I will explore - who is ...
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