While about 3,000 of Louisiana's approximately 10,400 National Guard troops were deployed in Iraq during last year's hurricane season, Louisiana has nearly a full force at home in preparation for the 2006 June-November storm cycle. Maj. Ed Bush with the Louisiana National Guard's public affairs office says only a few hundred Louisiana soldiers are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Likewise, in Mississippi, which had almost 3,500 troops in Iraq during Katrina's landfall last year, approximately 97 percent of its Guard is now stationed in the state. Bush said it's possible that more Louisiana troops could be called up to serve overseas during this hurricane season, but it's unlikely.
"They're sorting all that out [at the federal level]," he says. "At this time, I think it's somewhat reasonable to think that Gulf Coast states would not be called upon in any type of numbers that would hurt us in our ability to react to a hurricane.
"There's no planned rotation for any Louisiana guard brigade at this time," he adds. "But you know, I don't hang my hat on anything."
Guard officials have denied that having troops overseas last year significantly affected the response to Hurricane Katrina, citing the shuffling of guard troops from neighboring states into Louisiana and Mississippi. At a meeting with guard officials last week, Maj. Gen Douglas Burnett of Florida also dismissed the question that President Bush's call for 6,000 guard troops to serve as border security might strain the guard's ability to respond to hurricanes. "There are 457,000 National Guardsmen across America," he said. "It should be easy to reach out and pull from another state to support that border mission."
During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the National Guard helped spearhead almost every aspect of the recovery effort: launching rescue operations, delivering food and water to evacuees, reestablishing communication networks, and assisting with evacuations, security and shelter operations.
The force peaked with 5,000 Louisiana Guardsmen on duty alongside 25,000 troops that had been sent in from across the country. All 50 states, with the exception of Mississippi, sent National Guard assistance to Louisiana following Katrina, making it one of the largest relief efforts in U.S. history.
Out-of-state Guard troops began arriving in Louisiana the day after Katrina's Aug. 29 landfall last year. By Sept. 2, there were 6,500 out-of-state troops in the New Orleans area.
This year, preparations are being made for a more rapid effort to bring troops into disaster areas.
Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, head of the Louisiana National Guard, says he has been working with officials on the best location to pre-stage troops and supplies in order to ensure a quicker response once a storm passes. He also says the guard will be on hand early to assist state and local police with evacuations and security.
With a large number of coastal area residents ' especially construction workers and hurricane victims ' living in temporary housing without TVs and radios, state officials recognize the added challenge of spreading and enforcing evacuation orders.
"Citizens need to know that there's a significant law enforcement presence," Landreneau said, "to take care of property so they are encouraged to go ahead and evacuate if there's a total evacuation required."
Landreneau was on hand with the governor, senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security, and National Guard officials from 11 other states and the territory of Puerto Rico at a briefing last week in Baton Rouge. The briefing came during the start of a two-day, hands-on hurricane preparedness exercise in Baton Rouge put on by the Department of Homeland Security to improve coordination and response to disaster areas.
Both federal and state officials at the meeting stressed that emergency declarations, as well as evacuation orders, are likely to come earlier this year.
"We must make sure that evacuation efforts are comprehensive," Blanco said. "What we need though are the resources to do that, and that's why we think that the pre-event declaration would be very important."
George Foresman, Under Secretary for Preparedness with the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, says the federal government is "going to be committed to reviewing those declaration requests early" and "being able to lean as far forward as reasonably possible in terms of our preparatory action."
"Here in the Gulf," Foresman adds, "given the fragile nature of the infrastructure, we're going to make sure that we act on those declaration requests earlier and quicker so that we have more time to support the governors with critical assets to support evacuations and pre-stage assets in the region so as to maximize the response capability."
Alabama Adjunct General Mark Bowen says early federal disaster declarations will help to bring in relief troops from neighboring states more efficiently.
"In Alabama, we're a poor state," he says. "I don't want to [place troops] on state active duty. I need a federal emergency declared. I need to put them on Title 32 [federal active duty] because the bill is about $175,000 per day per 1,000 soldiers. And it takes a little while to get my money back out of FEMA. So I prefer to have them on Title 32 [in advance]."
Bowen is credited for being one of the first out-of-state guard commanders to have his troops on the ground in Louisiana following Katrina. He says any time a storm makes its way into the Gulf, he immediately begins assembling his troops into task forces, which consist of rescue, security, and logistics and communications specialists.
"I start moving them south in Alabama," he says. "And what I do then, if the hurricane doesn't hit us, they're prepared to go to Florida or Mississippi or Louisiana. Once it blows through, we can be there in two or three hours."
"The key for us," he adds, "is I ask for a 48- to 72-hour notice [to prepare]. If they'll give me the 72 hours, I will have a task force or two or three task forces that are in position, and all we do is make a right or a left turn. We can react as fast as FEMA wants us to react."
Blanco, flanked by more than 30 uniformed officers from the U.S. Army and National Guard at the conference, called the National Guard "the governor's most valuable tool in times of crisis."
"I don't think our nation has ever seen," she said, "the need for such a strong support system as Louisiana did during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. The heroic actions of the men and women who served in our country's National Guard turned the tide in those darkest days that we were struggling through. They are responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives."
"Standing together with all of you," she added, "I am confident that we will make this hurricane season as safe as possible. I'm convinced that we can handle it. I don't think that there's a soul in Louisiana looking forward to this. We are praying that storms dissipate, knowing that they won't. But we are prepared as best we can be."
The circumstances surrounding the death last March while in the backseat of a sheriff’s cruiser of Victor White III, long a source of dispute by White’s family, have earned an investigation by federal officials.
With six of the LPSB’s nine members poised for Pat Cooper’s termination, a request was filed Tuesday for a fast-tracked hearing on the federal lawsuit calling for the disqualification of two board members from voting on the matter due to bias.
Louisiana's Republican Party has filed a complaint against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu with the Senate's ethics committee about her use of private chartered planes.
An attorney signs up to run against LPSB's Mark Cockerham, and within a week a lawsuit is filed by a former LPSS employee in an attempt to disqualify him. Coincidence?
The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."