Facts and Rumors: Federal Power in a State of Emergency

First, a note to all the Debaters: Ordinarily, Wednesday would mark the beginning of a new week for The Debate -- it's the day a fresh topic would be introduced for discussion until the following Tuesday. But this is no ordinary week. So we're bending the rules to make room for a few more days of Hurricane Katrina, and we'll introduce next week's issue, the Roberts nomination, on Monday -- just in time for the start of his hearings.

But for now, we're still talking about the hurricane, and all the false assertions that have been floating around with regard to who had the power to do what in Louisiana have got to be put to rest. Please allow me to use the text of federal laws and some other reputable sources in order to set the record straight. (My very basic conclusions based on those facts appear in parenthesis.)

Fact: Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declared a State of Emergency for her state on Friday, Aug. 26. Full disclosure: The Post reported last week -- erroneously, it turned out -- that Louisiana had not issued such a declaration. A correction was published on Sept. 5.

Fact: President Bush declared a State of Emergency the next day -- the Saturday immediately before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Fact: Presidential declarations of emergency are made after a request from "the governor of the impacted state, based on finding that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the ability of the state and affected local jurisdictions."
[Update: The link above doesn't seem to be working anymore, so here's a copy of the page as it appeared on Aug. 14, 2004, courtesy of archive.org's Wayback Machine. The page does not appear to have changed between when it was archived and when I looked at it yesterday.]

Fact: Blanco sent a letter dated Aug. 28 to Bush -- via the FEMA regional director -- requesting that he "declare a major disaster," and Bush responded by wisely declaring an emergency. There is a very slight difference, funding-wise, between declaring a major disaster and declaring an emergency -- the difference is explained here -- but both authorize "emergency protective measures."
[Update: Thanks to the astute anonymous reader who provided the link to the letter.]

Fact: A declaration of emergency "unleash[es] the support of any or all of 27 federal agencies. It also authorizes reimbursement of emergency work, such as debris removal and emergency protective measures."

Fact: There is a FEMA program called the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System (US&R) -- now part of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate (EP&R) of the Department of Homeland Security. According to federal legislation, it "provides specialized lifesaving assistance during major disasters or emergencies that the President declares under the Stafford Act. US&R operational activities include locating, extricating and providing on-site medical treatment to victims trapped in collapsed structures, victims of weapons of mass destruction events, and when assigned, performing incident command or other operational activities."

(I think we can all agree that such teams would have been immensely helpful on the two to three days immediately following the hurricane. The Coast Guard did a great job, it would seem, of airlifting people out of drowning homes very soon after the flooding happened, and New Orleans police devoted a great deal of time to performing search and rescue as well. Yes, some deserted, but others stayed and did everything they could to help the city and its residents recover. Perhaps if more search and rescue professionals had been sent in in the immediate aftermath, the police could have spent that time maintaining order in the city.)

Fact: In the Rules and Regulations section of the US&R legislation, "emergency " is defined as "any occasion or instance for which, in the determination of the President, Federal assistance is needed to supplement State and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States."

Fact: In the supplementary information for the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System legislation, it says (I've taken out some of the extraneous numbers and some unnecessary phrases for ease of reading, but the meaning is unchanged):

Section 303 of the Stafford Act authorizes the President of the United States to form emergency support teams of Federal personnel to be deployed in an area affected by a major disaster or emergency. The President delegated this function to the Director of the FEMA under Executive Order 12148. Under E.O. 13286 of February 28, 2003, the President amended E.O. 12148 to transfer the FEMA Director's delegated authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security, and under Homeland Security Delegation No. 9100, delegated the Secretary's authority under Title V of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which includes the Stafford Act, to the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response (EP&R).

Fact: The Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response is Michael Brown.

(So, EP&R director -- the head of FEMA, the guy the New Orleans Times Picayune said should "especially" be fired -- had the authority to dispatch specialized rescue squads right away. Where were they? Why didn't the president, under whose direction the Department of Homeland Security ultimately falls, insist on getting those teams on the ground -- or in the air -- as soon as the levees were breached and the flooding began?)

In 1995, the Washington Monthly wrote about FEMA's miraculous turnaround after its abysmal performance dealing with Hurricane Andrew. In that story was this tidbit from Jeffrey Itell, who conducted a massive study of FEMA's operations, which uncovered that FEMA had extensive powers according to the Stafford Act that, to everyone's detriment, it was not exercising:

We found that without state requests, FEMA could assess the catastrophic area, assess what assistance the state needed, start mobilizing that relief, present its recommendations to the governor, and, if necessary ... get in the governor's face to force the issue of accepting federal help.

This should all still apply -- unless the Department of Homeland Security nullified these common-sense FEMA powers when it subsumed the agency a couple years ago. (If it did, DHS has a lot of explaining to do.)

Again, that's without state requests. (This is not to say the the local authorities couldn't have done more. For starters, they could have taken into account the substantial number of poor Now Orleans residents who wouldn't have the means to evacuate. But they were right in the middle of it all, their resources overwhelmed, whereas the federal emergency management professionals are likely to have vastly more resources. How many helicopters did the New Orleans Police Department have? I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing not as many as the federal government.)

What's important to remember here is that misinformation is swirling, as is not unusual after unprecedented disasters. (David Brooks of the New York Times recalls the news accounts of [insert then-feared minority group here] cutting off the fingers of the dead in order to steal their wedding rings.)

Don't get me wrong, the Debate loves and encourages a wide variety of opinions. But many opinions you'll hear from pundits on both sides of the aisle are based on false assertions. Before buying into one of these logical-but-inaccurate arguments -- many of which probably originated in a spin machine belonging to someone or another -- it makes sense to check that the facts are solid.

By Emily Messner |  September 8, 2005; 9:23 AM ET  | Category:  Facts
Previous: Dealing With Disaster: When Optimism Makes Things Worse | Next: Are We Prepared for Next Time?

Comments

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Thanks for supplying facts that are relatively untainted by the sort of shameful partisan bickering that is dominating the current news cycle.

Are the politicians so removed from reality that they really expect us to believe the things that they are saying? From Nagin to Blanco to Brown to Chertoff to Bush (and throw a few Senators and Representatives in there as well - I'm talking about YOU DeLay!), these people have been making public statements that amount to a whole lot of CYA (pardon my language!). I can only hope that there will be some true accountability for the terrible and tragic loss of life and property that could have been diminished, if not averted, by a true, caring plan of evacuation and prevention.

Posted by: Kristian | September 8, 2005 10:42 AM

Dear Detective Friday: Thanks for the facts. The spin machines were raising so much dust it was hard to see the truth.

Posted by: Alice Rood | September 8, 2005 10:42 AM

Thanks for doing the fact gathering, which many more reporters should do. All the spin out there drives me nuts

Posted by: Bob | September 8, 2005 10:43 AM

Could you please give some facts as to who is responsible for evacuation, especially of the elderly, disabled and those too poor to leave on their own? Who was responsible to stock the superdome with food/water for the evacuees that were told they would spend three days there? Who was responsible to provide security to the superdome and convention center?

Posted by: Carrie Brotherson | September 8, 2005 10:53 AM

You wrote, "(This suggests Blanco must have asked Bush to declare a State of Emergency, and Bush wisely did.)" Suggestions aside, you may view the actual request at this web address : http://gov.louisiana.gov/Disaster%20Relief%20Request.pdf

Posted by: | September 8, 2005 10:54 AM

It's pretty obvious that the Bush Gang have been
dismantling this country piece by piece with the
collusion of all those credulous enough to put them
in power through their vote.

One is tempted to declare "this is not my country"
when faced with the scenes out of the Gulf coast
and to pin it on momentary incompetence of the
officials involved...however, IMHO, the situation
is simply _a_ result of the success of the
"government not in my face" con job the GOP
started pulling on this country since the early
first Reagan term. And more "results" of this sort
_will_ follow unless someone like Bill Clinton
ends up in the White House to clean up the mess
(if the GOP noise machine lets that person
succeed).

I believe we need to clean Congress in '06, and
take away the reins from those GOP con men/women
who are colluding with the Bush Gang to destroy
this country and sign it away to their corporate
paymasters. And we've got to watch the next
President closely. At the first sign of business
as usual we _must_ protest in masses all across
this country.

Posted by: peter | September 8, 2005 10:56 AM

Emily wrote:

===========================================
"In 1995, the Washington Monthly wrote about FEMA's miraculous turnaround after its abysmal performance dealing with Hurricane Andrew. In that story was this tidbit from Jeffrey Itell, who conducted a massive study of FEMA's operations, which uncovered that FEMA had extensive powers according to the Stafford Act that, to everyone's detriment, it was not exercising:


We found that without state requests, FEMA could assess the catastrophic area, assess what assistance the state needed, start mobilizing that relief, present its recommendations to the governor, and, if necessary ... get in the governor's face to force the issue of accepting federal help.

This should all still apply -- unless the Department of Homeland Security nullified these common-sense FEMA powers when it subsumed the agency a couple years ago. (If it did, DHS has a lot of explaining to do.)"
===========================================

The above says it all, folks. Lord Occam would be proud. :-)

One thing is for sure, on all levels everyone dropped the ball on this disaster. There is fault to find in the local government (for not having the backbone to thwart development to preserve the wetlands, so it will shield New Orleans and area towns from the blunt of a hurricane/floods; to not doing more to evacuate not even the nursing homes [who everyone knows can't drive out]; to not stockpiling at least 3 days of food for emergencies for thousands of displaced residents :-(

SandyK

P.S. -- Nevada governor/residents: don't allow that radioactive waste in your state. If FEMA and the federal government can't help with a 3 day advance warning of pending doom with the best climate technology, it's not going to help the residents in your state without even a clue of a leak with the best geological technology. They're more interested in politics than lives now -- DON'T ALLOW IT IN FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY!!

Posted by: SandyK | September 8, 2005 11:18 AM

The night before Katrina hit New Orleans I e-mailed my old boss to let him know that my wife and I were thinking of them.

I also wanted to be sure that they were NOT in New Orleans and that they had managed to sell their house down there already (they had made that decision some time ago).

I was concerned because 12 hours before that storm hit the coast I had no doubts that New Orleans was going to get smashed this time.

The National Weather Service certainly saw it coming. Even the Storm reporter that was based in New Orleans for the 'Weather Channel' did something that I don't remember any reporter doing prior to Katrina. He openly left his station in New Orleans and evacuated to Slidell the night before the storm hit. He said that New Orleans was not a good place to be right now. When was the last time you remember a 'Storm reporter' doing that???

Admittedly, I am no expert....but no one will ever be able to convince me that the Emergency Management 'experts' did not see this one coming well before it hit. The director of FEMA apparently had the authority to begin the massive relief efforts that would be required by a Cat 4-5 storm hitting New Orleans and vicinity...and he had a dry seat to work from.

Other politicians may have failed at local and state levels, but they (and their own resources) were directly in the path of a 200 mile wide bullet that was twice the size of 'Camille' in 1969. If the director of FEMA could not see that one coming and start a REAL effort from his 'dry seat' before it hit....he has no business directing FEMA.

Posted by: Dennis F. | September 8, 2005 11:24 AM

Note: 1/2 of my above post was edited out (within 3 minutes at that too -- hmmmmmmm).

What don't like Eiffel 65? lol

SandyK

Posted by: SandyK | September 8, 2005 11:27 AM

Fact: President Clinton allowed 500,000 people to needlessly die in Rwanda. No one alledged that this was due to racist attitudes.

Posted by: Menlo Bob | September 8, 2005 11:32 AM

How refreshing! How matter-of-fact! How...journalistic.

Where is the like from any of the yappers on TV? How sad that true investigative reporting on TV has become obsolete, in the manner of 8-track tapes and (thankfully) Pat Robertson.

I thank you and your editors for delving into the aftershocks of Katrina like real reporters could and should be doing. The past week has exposed the underbelly of this administration for all to see - the one that us progressives have been screaming about for five years, unheard or ignored. There are facts galore out there that support our anger, our frustration, our utter disbelief at the ruthless, clueless, self-grandizing and power-obsessed Bush administration. As I've posted in another thread, just google bush administration poverty for starters, and you'll see what I mean.

I'm angry.

I myself cannot qualify for Medicare, even though I'm in need of a kidney transplant at this very moment (don't have any money - already owe my soul and my first-born child to a small college in Tennessee). The state's health-care system for the poor has collapsed, and as we speak there are thousands of elderly and sick choosing between buying food and medicine. Good people! My great-aunt in particular. People who, amazingly enough, voted for Bush in droves last election. Why? For MORAL reasons?? It boggles the mind.

And we won't even GO to the Iraq thing. Not enough writing space in the universe for that.

I am a redhead, so I am fairly talented at going off on a tangent - I apologize, but not really. I'm tired of being told my opinions don't matter or that they're somehow less, simply because they don't mesh with the powers-that-be. I'm tired of watching the members of my beloved Democratic party mewling around, afraid of political retaliation if they voice a peep in protest. I'm done with being embarrassed for America on an almost daily basis since the squandering of 9/11 world goodwill.

I expect my government to uphold a higher standard of honor, liberty, common defense, general welfare, national pride in doing something for the good of all. I expect the government to be able to care for its own people in need. I expect something better than utter ineptitude when a Category 5 hurricane threatens a major U.S. port.

How many more excuses can we make for this government? When Bush declared the Gulf Coast a disaster area, the responsibility fell on him. Period. America didn't elect him to play the guitar and eat cake during the worst natural disaster in this country since Galveston. We're supposed to hold the President to the highest standards of competency, of empathy, of RESPONSIBILITY. Those standards have not been met in his time of office by any stretch of the imagination.

And Clinton was impeached...for what exactly? Affecting whom?

I rest my case.

Posted by: Mary Eliz | September 8, 2005 11:37 AM

Menlo Bob wrote:

===========================================
"Fact: President Clinton allowed 500,000 people to needlessly die in Rwanda. No one alledged that this was due to racist attitudes."
===========================================

Fact: yes they did.

The US has a "hands off" policy on Africa. Be it because of charity burnout; not wanting to be dragged into another civil war (with a sizeable sympathetic population in this country, that can cause an insurgency as well); or flat out INSTITUTIONAL racism. But short of 10,000,000 dying outright, the US won't get involved in Africa, period. Be it a Democratic or Republican administration -- they won't touch it.

SandyK

Posted by: SandyK | September 8, 2005 11:46 AM

Thank you for your definition of emergency and review of federal regulations given without context. But I must advise you that I agree with my mother who taught me that telling half the truth is not the same as telling the truth.

It seems to me that your lists of facts, while perhaps technically accurate, are a hand picked slice out of a huge mountain of questions designed to make the Bush administration look bad, and avoids the questions that real reporters should be asking completely ignoring realities that existed on the ground.

I notice that both you and leading Democrats (Pelosi) are quick to attack the Bush administration, particularly Mike Brown, yet ignore questions surrounding the local officials in Louisiana who happen to be Democrats. For example, is it a fact that Blanco ordered FEMA and the Red Cross not to deliver supplies to the Superdome as some have suggested? Did Blanco refuse to federalize the National Guard when Bush asked? Those questions should be asked too.

In my opinion all these issues should be explored. Bush's and Brown's performance should be examined. So should Blanco's and Nagin's. We will probably find out that they all did some things right as well as wrong. Perhaps someone in the end should be fired. But one-sided views such as yours are not helpful and don't solve anything. Such partisan attacks cloud the debate making it more difficult for the needed changes in the systems to take place. And more than that, they are a particularly despicable form of political opportunism.

Posted by: Balanced | September 8, 2005 12:00 PM

Re Clinton & Rwanda: Bush has done nothing about the genocide in the Sudan and elsewhere in Africa.

Posted by: BubbaT | September 8, 2005 12:10 PM

In response to Balanced:

Yes, select questions can certainly frame the discussion. Some of your own questions lead to further questions, however! You ask if it is a fact that Blanco resisted Bush's request to federalize the National Guard? Interesting question, but WHY would Bush want to do that? I could then ask - would federalizing the Guard allow blame to shift from the Feds to the State?

The Federal Government has been giving us one sided views - the questions in the column are a small attempt to give us a different perspective, and in my opinion, deal directly with some of the double talk that we've been getting.

Note the very first fact. Do you know why the Post had to run a correction? Because they took a Federal Government official on his word. Turned out that he was either totally misinformed or lying. Why would a Gov't official claim that LA had not declared a State of Emergency? It couldn't possibly be for political reasons, could it?

Posted by: Kristian | September 8, 2005 12:15 PM

I would encourage Balanced to visit the Red Cross' own website for an explanation of why supplies were not delivered to the Superdome (http://www.redcross.org/faq/0,1096,0_682_4524,00.html):

------------------------------------------
Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

* Acess to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.

* The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.
------------------------------------------
Yes, state officials kept the Red Cross away from the Superdome, because they were trying to get everyone to leave the Superdome for their own safety. See?--it's not that hard to explore issues in a balanced way, if you want people to find out the actual answers.

Posted by: More Balanced | September 8, 2005 12:16 PM

Do the "specialized rescue squads" as defined under the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System (US&R) -- now part of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate (EP&R) of the Department of Homeland Security include units of the active duty military or National Guard? The laws governing the use of active duty personnel and equipment are very specific in regards to activities within the US, even in times of emergency. As for the Guard, the requirements for activation between a Governor and the President are distinct. I have yet to hear an interpretation of weather the "specialized rescue squads" are a small cadre of personnel assigned to FEMA, vice the widely held perception that FEMA could directly task Guard and active duty troops without the direct approval of the President, after an official request from the Governor.

Posted by: Andy Hargreaves | September 8, 2005 12:17 PM

Do the "specialized rescue squads" as defined under the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System (US&R) -- now part of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate (EP&R) of the Department of Homeland Security include units of the active duty military or National Guard? The laws governing the use of active duty personnel and equipment are very specific in regards to activities within the US, even in times of emergency. As for the Guard, the requirements for activation between a Governor and the President are distinct. I have yet to hear an interpretation of weather the "specialized rescue squads" are a small cadre of personnel assigned to FEMA, vice the widely held perception that FEMA could directly task Guard and active duty troops without the direct approval of the President, after an official request from the Governor.

Posted by: Andy Hargreaves | September 8, 2005 12:17 PM

Do we really need a Congressional "whitewash" investigation to cover up the facts exposed here?

Why not just send the Committee members your piece? And send Speaker Hastert and President Bush a copy, along with someone to read it to them.

Posted by: Bonnie | September 8, 2005 12:19 PM

It just might be a fact that W declaration did not cover any parishes that bordered the Gulf.

Posted by: Chris | September 8, 2005 12:20 PM

I notice that both you and leading Democrats (Pelosi) are quick to attack the Bush administration, particularly Mike Brown, yet ignore questions surrounding the local officials in Louisiana who happen to be Democrats.

Since I'm neither a citizen of New Orleans nor of Louisianna I have less interest in those incomptent idiots. They must answer to their constituents. So must the Bush administration; And that means answering to the entire nation and not cravenly hiding behind the locals.

Whether he likes it or not, the buck stops at Bush.

Posted by: Sarcastro | September 8, 2005 12:21 PM

Thanks so much for setting the record straight. We have heard so much about buses being turned away to evacuate those without transportation. I would like to know the facts about that situation. Were there buses turned away or were buses requested and not forthcoming?

Posted by: Millie Kirkwood | September 8, 2005 12:24 PM

Balanced wrote:

===========================================
"I notice that both you and leading Democrats (Pelosi) are quick to attack the Bush administration, particularly Mike Brown, yet ignore questions surrounding the local officials in Louisiana who happen to be Democrats. For example, is it a fact that Blanco ordered FEMA and the Red Cross not to deliver supplies to the Superdome as some have suggested? Did Blanco refuse to federalize the National Guard when Bush asked? Those questions should be asked too."
===========================================
Nice attempt at spin, but no cigar.

1. Nagin is a Republican (he switched parties to get elected, but helped Bush and endorsed a Republican candidate). He's no more Democrat, as Strom Thurmond was a Republican.

2. The above is why there's a conflict between Nagin and Blanco (Blanco knows of the embarassment Nagin put her in, when he endorsed Bush for president in 2004, and Blanco Kerry).

This "miscommunication" will turn out to be that Nagin and Blanco were settling old political scores, which help kill New Orlean residents. What Nagin probably didn't think would occur, is Bush/DHS/FEMA royally dropping the ball.

That doesn't get Bush off the hook, because FEMA could've organized and had those relief trucks/helicopters/fixed wing aircraft at the state line ready to roll as soon as Bush issued the order. Supplies had to be loaded somewhere near Lousianna, so they could've been but hundred miles away just waiting to get to New Orleans.

EMS isn't just waiting to you get your orders THEN get the relief goods loaded. It's you're ready to roll out with the goods as soon as you got your orders.

SandyK

Posted by: SandyK | September 8, 2005 12:26 PM

I agree that all aspects of this incident should be reviewed! Not to apportion blame (exclusively), but to determin what needs to be changed! Afterall, this was a dressed rehersal for the "big one" that the Department of Homeland Security was created to react to.
If they can not rely on the locals, the locals should be taken out of the loop! If they can't respond as required by their plans, the plans must be changed. If their people are incompetent, reassign them to the department of former government officials!
43 Billion dollars later, we have created a department that failed in its charter, regardless of which party you are affiliated with. Why that happened needs to be determined, and that won't happen here!

Posted by: Bob | September 8, 2005 12:28 PM

How can it be that our Government's emergency response system is an illusion? A flimsy deck of cards built into a house that can collapse with one strong gust from a hurricane?

A week after the worst disaster in natural history, there is still chaos among the agencies. Rescue choppers sat on the ground for 34 hours waiting for clearance to rescue people. After the federal agencies got involved, they now sit in multiple briefings, cutting down time to get out and actually rescue people.

Agencies who did send relief found their trucks stuck in a 200 plus line waiting for entry to ground zero. In some instances upplies had to be re-sent by plane, picked up and hand delivered while the trucks were delayed getting provisions to those who needed it.

Police from around the country find themselves patroling the same New Orlean city blocks, and were not told until yesterday there was a makeshift jail to deposit the criminals they capture as they patrol the streets.

People being shuttled out of New Orleans are not being told until their plane is in flight that they are being deposited in Utah, Washington DC or wherever. Several people who arrived in DC demanded to be taken to TX or LA, so they could be closer to their home city and find their missing family members.

People in Mississippi do not have power for at least 100 miles and cannot use their credit cards. Gas is $6 a gallon in some places. People are being told to drive to two different locations to get ice and water. They are standing in each line anywhere from two to four hours. Some places designated as shelters are being shut down because they are not safe, and no one is manning them. Almost all the agencies are focusing their manpower on the more disastrous New Orleans.

And then there is the final New Orleans evacuation. The mayor wants everyone out, but understandably, people do not want to leave their homes and possessions and not return for months. But there are mixed signals. The mayor says it is a forced evacuation, and rumors are they will stop delivering water and food. The military says it is New Orleans responsibility to force evacuations, not theirs. And no one is saying what "forced" really means (dragging people out of their houses?) or when it will really be enforced. No one wants the bad PR that will surely accompany forced evacuations.

Now the Government is into damage control. Just like with Iraq, no one is allowed to photograph the dead. They do not want you to see the carnage they are responsible for.

When this is all over, people in America will realize it was our grass roots efforts across the nation that responded first. Every day Americans opened their pocketbooks, homes and hearts to help disaster shocked victims get through the worst natural disaster in our country's history.

All those in the Federal Government and at state and local levels will never accept responsibility for what happened. They are not going to admit they caused the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of humans and animals, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people - most who probably have never been out of their home state.

While I would like to see all those responsible put on trial for as accesories to negligent homicide, rape, robbery and animal abuse, that is not going to happen. A few Federal, state and local sacrificial lambs will be paraded before the public and the media spin game will die down.

But that will not save us the next time a natural disaster or a terrorist attack occurs.

The Federal Government needs to move FEMA back where it was as a cabinet post and hire someone qualified to run it - not someone's best friend from a horse show. They also need to shorten the phone tree and the time it takes to 1) give people the go ahead to respond and 2) provide a authorization number to cover labor and costs.

In some cases, the Government was waiting on bids before they got telecommunications infrastructure worked on. Have a once a year bid for services to be provided, so you can just activate them later.

The Government also needs to do a better job of communicating with disaster victims what is happening, and of keeping families together. Thousands of mothers are searching for their children among the over 100,000 children who were displaced. To send families to different locations with no means to get in touch with each other is cruel.

The Government also needs to find a way to keep pets with owners. Losing your home and possessions is one thing. Being told you have to abandon your pet to die is inhumane. The Government not only sentence countless pets to a watery grave, they created an unnecessary health risk.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, so we are at the peak of the season right now. This occurs every year, so the posibility of a big one slamming into Florida, the Gulf Coast or the East Coast is a sure thing. We need to be prepared for it.

We do not need a costly, lengthy Katrina Commission investigation that will further deplete the tax papers dollars.

We need for all the Federal, state and local agencies to sit down and say to each other - "What do you need to respond within 24 hours?" And do not worry about the cost.

We are spending $2 billion a day on Hurricane Katrina and $5-7 billion a day on the war in Iraq. This week the Government has a failing grade for both events in progress.

I get the feeling a lot of politicians are not going to get re-elected next go round.

Posted by: Jacki Whitford | September 8, 2005 12:28 PM

In response to Balanced: I had to laugh about your comment on Louisiana "Democrats." You obviously don't know our state's politics. Down here, Democrats are really Republicans in sheep's clothing, and almost all of them had supported Bush. Louisiana is most decidedly a conservative Republican state in actual fact if not in name. And it will be even after this Katrina debacle.

Posted by: Louisiana native | September 8, 2005 12:30 PM

The fact is this city is below sea level. They should have all left prior to the storm (the city/state could have moved them all). But they were thinking if the storm does not hit, then who would pay for the move. The city knew it could only handle a cat. 3 storm. If you want to find someone to blame then blame anyone that lives in a city below sea level. Now they want to use my taxes to rebuild it.

Posted by: Michael | September 8, 2005 12:31 PM

August 29, 2005 Monday 3:00 pm CST.

SECTION: PRESS CONFERENCE OR SPEECH
LENGTH: 3979 words

HEADLINE: PRESS CONFERENCE WITH LOUISIANA GOVERNOR KATHLEEN BLANCO; SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU (D-LA); SENATOR DAVID VITTER (R-LA); MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT ADMINISTRATION

SUBJECT: HURRICANE KATRINA AND RECOVERY EFFORTS

GOV. BLANCO: Director Brown, I hope you will tell President Bush how much we appreciate it. These are the times that really count, to know that our federal government will step in and give us the kind of assistance that we need and are in desperate need of. So thank you for being here.

MR. BROWN: Thank you.

GOV. BLANCO: Director Brown.

MR. BROWN: Thank you very much, Governor.

Let me first say on behalf of President Bush and the first lady, extend their condolences and their prayers to everyone in Louisiana who has suffered from Hurricane Katrina. As a former governor, he understands exactly what it's like to go through these kinds of disasters, and I know personally that his heart aches when he sees these kinds of things.

I spoke to the president while he was traveling on Air Force One, Governor, and he has given me the verbal okay to let you know that he will be signing the Presidential Disaster Declaration to make this a major disaster declaration, giving us the full authority to exercise whatever we need to do and to spend whatever we need to spend to help the state of Louisiana recover. So that's a little bit of good news for you today, I hope.

I want to say a couple of things about Governor Blanco and her team. I have the best job and the worst job in the federal government, and I get to travel around and see some of the worst things that happen in this country. But I also get to see communities and states that come together and work together as a team. And I can tell you, Governor, that what I've seen here today is a team that is very tight-knit, working closely together, being very professional, and in my humble opinion making the right calls. We often tend to forget that, you know, we had hurricane-force winds still blowing through downtown New Orleans as short a time as an hour ago. And so you're making the right decisions about encouraging people not to move back in yet, to stay away.

Most deaths, most injuries from hurricanes occur after the storm has passed. So I would say to all folks in Louisiana, as you return to your homes when you're allowed to return to your homes, be careful. Don't get in that water. Watch the downed power lines. Watch for -- if you're going to use a chainsaw, know how to use the chainsaw. If you're going to have a generator, know how to exercise and how to operate the generator. Be very, very careful.

The storm is not over. Again, because of my unfortunate experience with hurricanes, everyone in Louisiana is going to get tired. You're going to get worn out. And so I say to everyone, be patient, be calm. FEMA -- my guarantee to you is that FEMA will stay here as long as we need to be here to help you in every way possible that we can help you.

You've got a good team. You've got a good start. Let's say that right now you're on your road to recovery.

So, Governor, good luck.

And I'd like to introduce Senator Landrieu and let her make a few comments.

Posted by: Kathleen | September 8, 2005 12:33 PM

Jacki Whitford wrote:

===========================================
"But there are mixed signals. The mayor says it is a forced evacuation, and rumors are they will stop delivering water and food. The military says it is New Orleans responsibility to force evacuations, not theirs. And no one is saying what "forced" really means (dragging people out of their houses?) or when it will really be enforced. No one wants the bad PR that will surely accompany forced evacuations."
===========================================

Oh, yeah!

Think about this scenerio: the police/NG troops are mostly white. They charge in with weapons (doesn't matter if they're pointed down, they're still armed) and literally drag out a Black grandma out of her home she's lived in all her life (passed on down the generations). That image will seer every prejudice, every bitterness known in the Black committee of injustice.

On the flip side of the coin, Middle America (already reeling over the Supreme Court decision that cities can take away homes for strip malls) will reel that any troop can take away their property in another way, too (remember Timothy McVeigh anyone??).

It's more than a PR disaster if it's enforced. No sane politician would want that to happen on their watch, now!

And the other angle: if Al qaeta or other unfriendlies get their hands on a TV or camera shot of that grandma pulled out of her home, say goodbye to USA sentiment around the world (as the rest of the world fears that the USA could do it to them, as well).

No, no, no.

SandyK

Posted by: SandyK | September 8, 2005 12:45 PM

I'm no legal expert, but I know the following:

1) 9/11 happened four years ago. We've had four years to work out any federalist issues.
2) Bush/Cheney ran on keeping us safe and having a better plan for catastrophic national threats of terror.
3) A national state of emergency saying that state and local resources were inadequate to the task was announced by the President the Saturday before the hurricane.
4) There was no significant federal response until the next Friday. The plan apparently includes federal officials being on vacation, no matter what the cost.

Regardless of whose fault this all was and how responsible New Orleans should have been, that's a pathetic response by FEMA, who has the primary role in national emergencies and by an administration that declared the state of emergency in the first place.

Since we all have an investment in federal responses to terrorist or catastrophic threats, the federal response is the one that concerns us the most as a country. If New Orleans and Louisiana are incompetent, that doesn't affect DC, New York City, or San Francisco so much.

Knowing that the Feds will take four days to mobilize when an emergency is telegraphed as obviously as New Orleans should scare the hell out of all of us and go far beyond politics. And that the average CNN viewer knew more about the New Orleans Convention Center than the head of FEMA is completely inexcusable.

These are our lives at stake and our families threatened here. Disasters like this are the definition of Homeland Security. Katrina could not have been avoided, but the death toll could have been minimized. And it wasn't.

Posted by: Mr. Obvious | September 8, 2005 12:53 PM

By appointing political hacks to run FEMA, (The top 4 employees, including Brown), George Bush was the architect of the disaster. I beleive that their appointments represent a culture of denial of education and expertise. Don't hire experienced educated people to run government agencies, reward your politcal allies with sinecures...FEMA had the tools to do a decent job, if run competently.

Deny the climate changing aspects of carbon production, deny expertise in planning Iraq (largely planned by an office lead by politcal hacks rather than generals), deny the necessity for building energy security with a move to reduce consumption.... On the whole, when you elect people born into privledge, who've never actually DONE anything.... Its no wonder the system fails... You get the government you deserve.

Posted by: Rick | September 8, 2005 12:54 PM

I agree that with a little homework one can figure out who is accountable and responsible (keep in mind the distinction: I choose to delegate and make another person responsible I am still accountable).

I suggest folks look through the National Response Plan (NRP). There are sections that outline the responsibility of Federal, State, and Local official. http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/NRP_FullText.pdf

Anyhow, I am attaching some references from press a press conference and the NRP that detail out what I am talking about here.

From the Whitehouse:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/08/20050831-2.html
Oh, a couple of other things, too. As you all are aware, Secretary Chertoff declared this an incident of national significance, which means that the national response plan that we have developed has been activated. This is the first time it's ever been activated. It's really there for major disasters or emergencies that really overwhelm state and local resources, and require coordination across the federal government to help the state and local efforts that are going on. And it enables us to really fully mobilize all agencies within the federal government under the Department of Homeland Security, under his oversight. " - Scott McClellan, Aug 31, 11:09AM EDT


From National Response Plan
December 2004
http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/NRP_FullText.pdf

Incident of National Significance. Based on criteria established in HSPD-5 (paragraph 4), an actual or potential high-impact event that requires a coordinated and effective response by and appropriate combination of Federal, State, local, tribal, nongovernmental, and/or private-sector entities in order to save lives and minimize damage, and provide the basis for long-term community recovery and mitigation activities.

"In an Incident of National Significance, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with other Federal departments and agencies, initiates actions to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the incident. These actions are taken in conjunction with State, local, tribal, nongovernmental, and private-sector entities."

"The President leads the Nation in responding effectively and ensuring the necessary resources are applied quickly and efficiently to all Incidents of National Significance. As necessary, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security convenes interagency meetings to coordinate policy issues. Though White House-level coordination mechanisms are not described in detail in the NRP, all other Federal coordinating mechanisms and entities described in the NRP support, and are consistent with, White House-level interagency coordination.

During actual or potential Incidents of National Significance, the overall coordination of Federal incident management activities is executed through the Secretary of Homeland Security

--------

Posted by: Caitlin | September 8, 2005 12:54 PM

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