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Private Security Post Katrina New Orleans: Help or Hindrance

Experience being the best teacher, one may ask has anything been learned about responding effectively when natural disasters strike, such as the situation witnessed in 2005 when Katrina ripped through the gulf coast? From initial response, to the aftermath of the days, weeks and months that followed, in hindsight there were many instances that certainly could have and should have been handled better. One of the most controversial practices that came under scrutiny during the emergency response processes was the use of hired private security forces within a natural disaster response zone.

These were not your typical ‘mall security cops’, but battle hardened, highly trained private security forces. Most of the individuals on scene in the wake of Katrina were ex military and law enforcement. These were employees of corporations with names that have since become quite well known. Such as Blackwater USA, described by Larry Chin, Private Security and Mercenary Companies Patrol New Orleans Reaping the Profits of a Humanitarian Disaster as a “private mercenary firm, one of many “war outsourcing” outfits working for the Pentagon.

In the spring 2004 Fallujah assault, Blackwater was involved with combat as well as logistics (food shipments, etc. )” (Chin. 2005. ¶. 4). Other contractors such as the well known Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), and the lesser known ArmorGroup International, a British owned company, counted among those who flew in with the purpose to make a dollar. Jeremy Scahill, in his article Blackwater Down, describes one company’s arrival, saying “About 150 heavily armed Blackwater troops dressed in full battle gear spread out into the chaos of New Orleans” (Scahill. 2005. ¶. 1).

Their job: to protect the interest and properties of the people and corporations who pay them. Were these private, independent armies, trained mainly for combat defense, and response to terrorist activities, with such limited mission directives as protection of specific material properties, effectively deployed in the Katrina situation? Scahill, present in New Orleans post Katrina, list a number of companies active in New Orleans, such as “DynCorp, Intercon, American Security Group, Blackhawk, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International (ISI)” (Scahill. ¶. 6).

Of course one problem that became rapidly apparent with this mass convergence of private security manpower, which often resulted in security issues, was a lack of communication. Can all of these teams be utilized when public safety, rescue and relief of citizens should be first and foremost in situations that involve the general population and natural disasters? Were these self regulating private armies a compatible part of a team effort for the greater good within the scope of desirable goals in the course of natural disaster scenarios of such epic proportions as experienced in New Orleans after Katrina?

Many people asked would respond to that last question with a resounding No. These private security forces, extremely well trained, contracted employees were sent to New Orleans to prevent looting and destruction, “But the presence of the highly trained specialists represents an unusual domestic assignment for a set of companies that has chiefly developed in global hot spots where war, not nature, has undermined the rule of law” (Witte. 2005. ¶. 2).

In natural disaster zones, such as was seen in New Orleans there were no insurgents, or terrorists. Protection was contracted to prevent situations of civilians, and/or local gangs looting private properties and commercial businesses. This can be understandable, to a reasonable extent. It can further be agreed that some businesses in particular, for example jewelry stores, pharmaceutical production companies, and prescription drug stores, gun shops, etc…would be in need of a guaranteed security force for very obvious reasons.

So where do the headlines come in regarding controversy over private security in New Orleans? Some victims found the high visibility, all business, private security employees, with their air of imposing military presence, (not in association with the familiar and welcomed National Guard), to be very unsettling. Also the high handed ways of operation in a sense alienated them from victims as well as other responding sectors. One concern that was voiced regards the State and Government’s use of these Private Security forces.

The possibility the government could utilize the private forces as a personal army, without touching upon the sticky issue of Posse Comitatus. In an interview with Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Scahill writes Ratner as saying, “These private security forces have behaved brutally, with impunity, in Iraq. To have them now on the streets of New Orleans is frightening and possibly illegal” (Scahill. 2005. ¶. 5). Situations such as the Dome come to mind, and it was private security that banned media.

George Connell, president of ArmorGroup’s McLean-based North American division, was quoted in an interview with Witte as saying “so far, the most his employees have had to do is advise a television crew to leave the convention center area after the mood there turned ugly late last week(Witte. 2005. ¶. 11). There were numerous headlines, for example the infamous early hotel evacuation shootout, and the bridge incident in the Ninth Ward, that were not well received by the public. Some areas of the state are considering contracts that would in effect make these private contractors the law of the land.

Renae Merle discusses this issue in her article Storm-Wracked Parish Considers Hired Guns Contractors in Louisiana Would Make Arrests, Carry Weapons. The author said that DynCorp International LLC, a Texas company recognized as providing personal security to Afghan President Hamid Karzai is looking to enter into a contract with FEMA which would cost “$70 million over three years, up to 100 DynCorp employees would be deputized to be make arrests, carry weapons, and dress in the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Department khaki and black uniforms” (Merle.

2006. p. 1. ¶. 2). Merle also reports that post Katrina in the first year, Blackwater USA “earned about $42 million through the end of December on a contract with Federal Protective Service, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, to provide security to FEMA sites” (Merle. 2006. p. 1. ¶. 6). Money and contracts leads to the other major issue that has been raised by many, and brought under scrutiny since Katrina, finances. Many say there is too much favoritism, and pocket padding occurring.

Cheney had strong connections with Halliburton’s KBR affiliates, and Scahill says “Blackwater’s success in procuring federal contracts could well be explained by major-league contributions and family connections to the GOP” (Scahill. 2005. ¶5). Katrina was the first major homeland disaster private security corporations were involved in, so this should be taken into account as well when considering performance. It may be that circumstances, such as contract favoritism, were, are and did occur among the higher echelon members.

It may also be accepted that the military presence was too much too fast, and a little heavy handed for the citizen population/victims. The fact remains though that security in these disaster situations is a necessary force, especially as noted for key buildings and business, hospitals, gun shops, pharmacies, etcetera. Open and transparent bidding and contracting, which reveals the scope and clearly defines the scope, intent and limits of services to be provided by these companies is a must in the future, along with accountability of funds disbursements.

Secondly, private security companies need to understand there is a distinction between combat security and homeland disaster situations, enemies and general population victims and develop a suitable mindset for the mission. Lastly, said companies should make use of media services, commercials, like public service announcements, and communicate their corporation goals and missions more clearly. Promote the ideal that private security employees are good guys, familiarize the public with the persona of their presence. References: Chin, L.

(2005). Private Security and Mercenary Companies Patrol New Orleans Reaping the Profits of a Humanitarian Disaster. Www. Global Research. org. Retrieved 30May2009 from: http://www. globalresearch. ca/index. php? context=va&aid=905 . Renae Merle. (2006). Storm-Wracked Parish Considers Hired Guns Contractors in Louisiana Would Make Arrests, Carry Weapons. Washington Post, Tuesday, March 14, 2006; Page A01. Retrieved 30 May 2009 from; http://www. washingtonpost. com/wp- dyn/content/article/2006/03/13/AR2006031301777. html . Scahill, J. (2005).

Blackwater Down. Source: Nation; 10/10/2005, Vol. 281 Issue 11, p18-20, 3p. Retrieved May 29 2009 from; http://wf2dnvr6. webfeat. org/sZ1BM192/url= http://web. ebscohost. com/ehost/detail? vid=1&hid=108&sid=96b67d36-0ca9-43b2-a186- 54fba5db3715%40sessionmgr108&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db= f5h&AN=18335061 . Witte, G. (2005). Private Security Contractors Head to Gulf. Www. Washington Post. com, September 8, 2005, Page A14. Retrieved 31 May 2009 from; http://www. washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/07/AR2005090702214. html

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