Another Structural Failure Highlighted by the Snowstorm
“Mid-afternoon, when it became clear that the situation was not resolving itself,” is when the EOC should have been triggered, [Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts] says.…and Michael McKinney of the Projo…
Asked who was running the state, she says it appears to have been a team of Brian Stern, Governor Carcieri’s chief of staff, and Jerome Williams, head of the state Department of Transportation.
The Rhode Island National Guard commander said today the Providence Emergency Management Agency was in control during yesterday’s storm — a storm that he said did not warrant a “multi-jurisdictional event” that would have activated the state Emergency Operations Center.…have been reporting today on the chain of command issues that arose in Governor Carcieri’s absence (he was out of the country) during Thursday’s snowstorm that may have contributed, at least at the state level, to the poor emergency response.
Major Gen. Robert T. Bray, the guard’s adjutant general, said the operations center has been triggered for hurricanes and severe flooding — and the yearly Tall Ships celebration, when hundreds of old sailing ships come to Newport drawing thousands to Aquidneck Island.
Saying that the traffic problem was confined to Greater Providence, Bray said “statewide, the emergency was well handled,” which is why, he said, the EOC was not triggered.
Governor Carcieri’s chief of staff, Brian Stern, said at the same State House news conference attended by Bray and Col. Brendan Doherty, who leads state police, that it was an “unprecedented traffic disaster.”
Something I’ve yet to hear mentioned is how the confusion pretty clearly illustrated the folly of electing a Governor and Lieutenant Governor separately. The ineffectiveness of yesterday’s response was rooted at least in part in multiple, politically unaccountable officials (Brian Stern, Jerome Williams, Robert Bray, for starters) all claiming to be a final authority when the Governor is not around. That was, and is, inadequate.
Unlike a President, a Governor doesn’t have access to an Air Force jet that can get him home from anywhere in the world in a matter of hours, so there will be times when a Governor will be away from the state for a day or more, yet decisions will still have to be made by a legitimate authority near an emergency situation. The Governor’s Chief of Staff has no authority to give orders to the National Guard or the State Police that must be followed, yet in the American system of governance, the head of the State Police or the National Guard is expected to be immediately answerable to a civilian authority.
The system would function much more smoothly in the Governor’s absence if the heads of state agencies knew that the Lieutenant Governor was a trusted deputy who had specifically accepted the responsibility of speaking for the current Governor in circumstances where decision making could not be delayed.