Off Limits

In 2001, under then-director Joe Allbaugh -- who'd headed George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency predicted that a major hurricane hitting New Orleans was one of the three most likely, "most catastrophic disasters facing this country." When Allbaugh left the agency -- to consult with companies interested in doing business in that new disaster, Iraq -- his deputy, Michael Brown, became head of FEMA.

That's Michael Brown, as in "Brownie," the fellow who George W. Bush said was "doing a heck of a job" last Friday, four days after Hurricane Katrina struck. Or, as Kate Hale, former Miami-Dade emergency management chief, told a Knight-Ridder reporter, "he's done a hell of a job, because I'm not aware of any Arabian horses being killed in this storm."

Yes, before Brown went to FEMA, the 1981 graduate of the Oklahoma City University School of Law spent nine years as the Lyons-based chief lawyer for the International Arabian Horse Association. His skill set included getting the organization sued, and he reportedly was kicked out before he got his federal gig. That tidbit didn't make Brown's official FEMA resumé, which does include this: "In 2004, Mr. Brown led FEMA's thousands of dedicated disaster workers during the most active hurricane season in over 100 years, as FEMA delivered aid more quickly and more efficiently than ever before."

Hale would beg to differ: "The world that this man operated in and the focus of this work does not in any way translate to this," she said. "He does not have the experience."

On Tuesday, Representative Diana DeGette seconded that, introducing legislation that would remove FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security, "where it is mired in bureaucracy and is a backwater for political appointees."

The website for the Arabian Horse Association suggests how to "help horse victims of Hurricane Katrina." It does not refer you to FEMA.

The hard cell: What's that big blue bear looking for inside the Colorado Convention Center? Maybe some cell-phone service.

Jack Finlaw, head of theaters and arenas for the city, has gotten the Ellie open on time, but so far, he hasn't managed to make much of the center cell-phone friendly -- much to the dismay of Blackberry addicts trying to amuse themselves during boring dinners. "In the bowels, in the ballroom, it's not very good," he admits. "The building is so massive that when you're in the center of it, there's too much interference."

For big conventions, the city has been bringing in a temporary service. And right now, it's doing an RFP for "a distributed antenna system, kind of a carrier-neutral environment" similar to what works at DIA. "We've asked all of the major carriers -- SBC, Verizon, Nextel and T-Mobile -- to come in and give us a proposal," Finlaw says.

He hopes to have the problem solved within a few months. "Blackberry addicts will have their fix at the first of the year," he promises.

Wings over the Rockies: Sebastian Metz's guardian angel must be working overtime. Over Labor Day weekend, the founder of the Denver chapter of the Guardian Angels was able to join his fellow red berets for the 2005 World Conference that was held in this city.

But back in January, no one knew if Metz would ever walk again -- or even if he'd live -- after he underwent 24 hours of open-heart surgery to repair a rare heart defect. Metz had been diagnosed with the ailment just six weeks before his wife, Shauna Strecker, gave birth to their son, Rook (Off Limits, January 20).

"Sebastian is getting more and more involved in the Angels and with the city again; all the things he loves the most," Strecker writes on her blog. "He is also so upset about what has happened in New Orleans. He is desperate to do something about it to help all the people who are stranded and without help or food."

He is still on crutches and experiencing memory loss, but after rehab at Craig, he's recovering faster than doctors at Stanford University Hospital had expected. Unfortunately, with regained strength come renewed chores: Last week, Strecker enlisted her husband in some late-summer poo pick-up. "With baby on hip, rake in hand and Sebastian following behind with his hand gloved and bagged (an extra safety feature I designed), we all took to the back yard with a vengeance!!," she writes. "It was hilarious. Sebastian had a bear of a time trying to discern poo (brown...ish) from the yard/earth (also brown...ish). So, I was giving a myriad of verbal cues and prompts, and the occasional foot point to get him on the target. There were things said like, `Ooh, almost. Aw, just missed it. Oh my God, right on the money. The poo is in the bag. Oh, the texture, disgusting. I can see them better when they're fresh.'"

His angel must have been off-duty that day.

Scene and herd: The scene looked like something out of New Orleans -- only a lot less smelly. By last Friday morning, the line of eager shoppers determined to be first into Sniagrab on Saturday morning stretched from the entrance of Gart's Sportscastle along Tenth Avenue and then up Lincoln Street. Many people came equipped with tents, but bonus points to the fellows who had their plaid couch in place on Broadway before dawn on Thursday.... The convenience store across Washington Street from Argonaut is back in business, this time as the Capital Hill Market. Among other things, it's peddling inadvertent nostalgia: The old gas signs remain, offering unleaded at $1.18 a gallon.


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