Blackwater in New Orleans

Private security firms are stepping into the vacuum created by the failure of the government to protect life and property in New Orleans.

The Steele Foundation, headquartered in San Francisco, was called in
by several major corporate clients to the inundated city where local
police are scarce and food, water or fuel has yet to arrive from the
federal government.

"At this point, all of our efforts are focused on providing physical
security for people who are trapped as well as providing humanitarian
relief," said Kenn Kurtz, chief executive officer of the Steele
Foundation. The company is looking after clients with hotels and holed
up employees and their families, some with urgent medical needs.

"Right now these people are alone…there is no military presence in downtown New Orleans," he said.

The Steele Foundation, which at one time protected Haiti’s president
Jean Bertrand Aristide and operates in Iraq, specializes in business
risk consulting, protective security work and training.

The company has set up a mobile command post in downtown New Orleans
and its clearly-identified security teams are armed but mostly with
non-lethal ammunition, Kurtz said. Some 16,000 military rations,
bottled water as well as fuel have been brought in but looters have
attacked the company’s vehicles.

"We can’t get fuel into many places because it’s too dangerous to travel," Kurtz.

Blackwater USA is sending about 50 employees to the Gulf region
along with a transport helicopter and two cargo planes, according to
spokeswoman Anne Duke. The security company has offered to help the
Coast Guard with pro bono rescue work and is working with
private-sector firms to help protect infrastructure and cultural
buildings in the city, she said.

"I definitely don’t think Blackwater would have been contacted if it
wasn’t a serious situation," said Duke. She declined to detail who the
company is working for in the area.

Blackwater, which draws on former military and law enforcement personnel, has taken on some very high-profile tasks in Iraq.