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."
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our capital in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.