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Chertoff Defends DHS Response to Natural Disasters

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 13, 2006; 4:30 PM

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff denied criticism today that his agency cares only about terrorist threats at the expense of devastating natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

"I unequivocally and strongly reject this attempt to drive a wedge between our concerns about terrorism and our concerns about natural disasters," Chertoff said at a conference in Alexandria.

His comments were in response to Senate testimony last week by former Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael D. Brown, who resigned his post in the wake of raging criticism of the government's sluggish response to the hurricane. Brown testified that if Katrina had been a terrorist attack rather than a natural disaster, the government response would have been very different.

At the National Emergency Management Association Mid-Year Conference in Alexandria, Chertoff also announced a re-structuring of Homeland Security, saying it is urgent that the agency take a "hard, honest look" at improving the government's response capability before next hurricane season.

Chertoff's comments came after the leak of a blistering report by House investigators exposing numerous failures in the federal government's response to the hurricane.

Later, at the same conference, Frances Fragos Townsend, head of President Bush's Homeland Security Council, defended the administration's handling of the disaster.

"I reject outright any suggestion that President Bush was anything less than fully involved," Townsend said. "The president knew full well the danger of the storm."

Townsend also said that the administration was "well aware of the flooding" in New Orleans. "Levees like those in New Orleans cannot be repaired in a matter of hours or even days, so knowing exactly when they deteriorated from 75 percent efficiency to 35 percent to 0 percent would not have dramatically changed our response posture at the time."

The House report due to be released Wednesday found that "earlier presidential involvement could have speeded" the government's response because Bush alone could have cut through all bureaucratic resistance.

Chertoff and Townsend's comments also came on the day that two reports were released by the Government Accountability Office and the Homeland Security Department's office of the inspector general detailed a series of accounting flaws, fraud or mismanagement in their review of how $85 billion in federal aid for Katrina is being spent.

The reports say that FEMA wasted millions of dollars in a belated rush to provide Katrina disaster aid.

Speaking at the conference, Chertoff acknowledged his agency's response to Katrina was "unacceptable", but he said Homeland Security was improving its response capabilities.

Chertoff said Homeland Security and FEMA need to integrate their "incident management functions" and adopt a "clear chain of command" for managing catastrophes.

He said the first step toward strengthening FEMA is to create a "21st century logistics management system" with a clear supply chain. "This expanded logistics system will also include a better command and control structure so that FEMA can track shipments and ensure supplies get to the people who need them the most," Chertoff said.

On Wednesday, a 600-plus-page report by House investigators is due to be released that includes 90 findings of failures in the federal response to the hurricane at all levels of government.

Titled "A Failure of Initiative," the report is one of three separate reviews by the House, Senate and White House that in coming weeks will dissect the federal response to the nation's costliest natural disaster.

The report singles out Chertoff, the Homeland Security Operations Center and the White House Homeland Security Council, according to a 60-page summary of the document obtained by The Washington Post.

The report portrays Chertoff, who assumed the leadership of the department six months before the devastating hurricane, as detached from events. It contends he switched on the government's emergency response systems "late, ineffectively or not at all," delaying the flow of federal troops and material by as much as three days. Democrats have called for Chertoff's removal over the response.

Is the Orleans Levee Board doing its job?


Critics allege corruption, charge the board with wasteful spending



By Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit

NBC News

Updated: 11:52 a.m. ET Sept. 15, 2005


The unveiling of the Mardi Gras Fountain was celebrated this year in typical New Orleans style. The cost of $2.4 million was paid by the Orleans Levee Board, the state agency whose main job is to protect the levees surrounding New Orleans — the same levees that failed after Katrina hit.


"They misspent the money," says Billy Nungesser, a former top Republican official who was briefly president of the Levee Board. "Any dollar they wasted was a dollar that could have went in the levees."

Nungesser says he lost his job because he targeted wasteful spending.


"A cesspool of politics, that’s all it was," says Nungesser. "[Its purpose was to] provide jobs for people."


In fact, NBC News has uncovered a pattern of what critics call questionable spending practices by the Levee Board — a board which, at one point, was accused by a state inspector general of "a long-standing and continuing disregard of the public interest."


Beyond the fountain, there's the $15 million spent on two overpasses that helped gamblers get to Bally's riverboat casino. Critics tried and failed to put some of that money into flood protection.


There was also $45,000 for private investigators to dig up dirt on radio host and board critic Robert Namer.

"They hired a private eye for nine months to find something to make me look wacko, to make me look crazy or bad." says Namer. "They couldn’t find anything."


Namer sued and the board then spent another $45,000 to settle.


Critics charge, for years, the board has paid more attention to marinas, gambling and business than to maintaining the levees. As an example: of 11 construction projects now on the board's Web site, only two are related to flood control.


"I assure you," says Levee Board President Jim Huey, "that you will find that all of our money was appropriately expended."


Huey says money for the levees comes from a different account than money for business activities and that part of the board’s job is providing recreational opportunities.


And despite the catastrophic flooding, Huey says, "As far as the overall flood protection system, it's intact, it's there today, it worked. In 239 miles of levees, 152 floodgates, and canals throughout this entire city, there was only two areas."


But those two critical areas were major canals and their collapse contributed to hundreds of deaths and widespread destruction.


Lisa Myers is NBC’s senior investigative correspondent.

2005 MSNBC Interactive




Last update: September 17, 2005 at 8:12 PM

Order twice ignored for evacuation study


Rita Beamish, AP

September 18, 2005


As far back as eight years ago, Congress ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop a plan for evacuating New Orleans during a massive hurricane. Instead, the money went to studying the causeway that spans the city's Lake Pontchartrain.

The outcome provides one more example of the government's failure to prepare for a massive but foreseeable catastrophe, said the former congressman who helped secure the money for FEMA to develop the evacuation plan.


"They never used it for the intended purpose," said former Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La. "The whole intent was to give them resources so they could plan an evacuation of New Orleans that anticipated that a very large number of people would never leave."


Since Hurricane Katrina hit, attention has been focused on the inability of local, state and federal officials to evacuate or prepare for the large number of poor people, many of them black, who had no access to transportation and remained in New Orleans.

That possibility was one of the concerns that led Congress in 1997 to set aside $500,000 for FEMA to create "a comprehensive analysis and plan of all evacuation alternatives for the New Orleans metropolitan area."


Frustrated two years later that nothing materialized, Congress strengthened its directive. This time it ordered "an evacuation plan for a Category 3 or greater storm, a levee break, flood or other natural disaster for the New Orleans area."


But the $500,000 that Congress appropriated for the evacuation plan went to a commission that studied future options for the 24-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney said.


The report produced by the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission "primarily was not about evacuation," said Robert Lambert, the general manager of the commission. "In general, it was an overview of all the things we need to do" for the causeway through 2016.


Lambert said he could not trace how FEMA money came to the commission or even whether it did. Neither could Shelby LaSalle, a causeway consulting engineer who worked on the plan.


LaSalle said it would be "ludicrous" to consider his report an evacuation plan, although it had a transportation evacuation section, dated Dec. 19, 1997.


That was tacked on mainly to promote the causeway for future designation as an official evacuation route, LaSalle said.


"We didn't do anything for FEMA," he added.

'That's wacky'


Asked why the congressional mandate was never fulfilled, Barry Scanlon, senior vice president in the consulting firm of former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, said he believes the agency did what it needed when it gave the money to the state.


"FEMA received an earmark which it processed through to the state as instructed by Congress," Scanlon said.


Witt is now a private consultant to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.


Tauzin said he, too, could never find out where the money went. "They gave it to the causeway commission? That's wacky," he said.


FEMA typically contracts its studies to private or government entities. Kinerney, the agency spokesman, said it appeared the money went through the Louisiana government. State emergency and transportation officials said they did not recall that.


After nothing came of its first directive, FEMA addressed the need for an evacuation plan "off and on" over the years, Kinerney said. Last year, the agency undertook the "Hurricane Pam" project that was supposed to create a comprehensive emergency plan for New Orleans.


That work was unfinished when Katrina struck, though its first phase involved an elaborate hurricane simulation that was eerily predictive of what happened with Katrina.



Money Earmarked for Evacuation Redirected
Sep 17 2:36 pm

by Rita  BEAMISH


As far back as eight years ago, Congress ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a plan for evacuating New Orleans during a massive hurricane, but the money instead went to studying the causeway bridge that spans the city's Lake Pontchartrain, officials say.

The outcome provides one more example of the government's failure to prepare for a massive but foreseeable catastrophe, said the lawmaker who helped secure the money for FEMA to develop the evacuation plan.

"They never used it for the intended purpose," said former Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La. "The whole intent was to give them resources so they could plan an evacuation of New Orleans that anticipated that a very large number of people would never leave."

In Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, attention has focused on the inability of local and federal officials to evacuate or prepare for the large number of poor people, many of them minorities, who had no access to transportation and remained behind.

That possibility was one of the concerns that led Congress in 1997 to set aside $500,000 for FEMA to create "a comprehensive analysis and plan of all evacuation alternatives for the New Orleans metropolitan area."

Frustrated two years later that nothing materialized, Congress strengthened its directive. This time it ordered "an evacuation plan for a Category 3 or greater storm, a levee break, flood or other natural disaster for the New Orleans area."

The $500,000 that Congress appropriated for the evacuation plan went to a commission that studied future options for the 24-mile bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney said.

The hefty report produced by the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission "primarily was not about evacuation," said Robert Lambert, the general manager for the bridge expressway. "In general it was an overview of all the things we need to do" for the causeway through 2016.

Lambert said he could not trace how or if FEMA money came to the commission. Nor could Shelby LaSalle, a causeway consulting engineer who worked on the plan.

LaSalle said it would be "ludicrous" to consider his report an evacuation plan, although it had a transportation evacuation section, dated Dec. 19, 1997. That part was tacked on mainly to promote the causeway for future designation as an official evacuation route, LaSalle said.

"We didn't do anything for FEMA," he added.

Asked why the congressional mandate was never fulfilled, Barry Scanlon, senior vice president in the consulting firm of former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, said he believes the agency did what it needed when it gave the money to the state.

"FEMA received an earmark which it processed through to the state as instructed by Congress," Scanlon said. Witt is now a private consultant to Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-La., on the Katrina aftermath.

Tauzin said he, too, could never find out where the money went. "They gave it to the causeway commission? That's wacky," he said.

At the time eight years ago, the Louisiana delegation had plenty of political muscle to get the money. Then-Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which controls the government's purse strings.

Livingston, now a lobbyist, said he could not explain what happened either, although he knew of other predictive hurricane studies over the years.

"Do I wish the study had been made? Sure, but now that's by the boards. We're doing the best we can right now to repair and rebuild," he said.

FEMA typically contracts its studies to private or government entities. Kinerney, the agency spokesman, said it appeared the money went through the Louisiana government. State emergency and transportation officials said they did not recall it.

After nothing came of its first directive, FEMA addressed the need for an evacuation plan "off and on" over the years, Kinerney said. Last year, the agency undertook the massive "Hurricane Pam" project that was supposed to create a comprehensive emergency plan for New Orleans.

That work was unfinished when Katrina struck, though its first phase involved an elaborate hurricane simulation that was eerily predictive of Katrina's disaster.

Asked about any earlier FEMA-funded plan, Mark Smith, spokesman for the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said, "To the best of our knowledge we can find no information on this."

Congress' 1999 language directed that FEMA consult with that state agency as well as the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

FEMA's parent agency, the Homeland Security Department, did provide $75,000 to print 1 million evacuation maps that were distributed this year for the state's updated transportation evacuation blueprint, state transportation spokesman Mark Lambert said.

That plan used phased evacuation orders and reverse-flow traffic patterns to avoid the highway snarls New Orleans saw during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

But that plan was designed for traffic management, not to provide transportation or contingencies for the infirm, elderly and poor who could not get out on their own, officials said.


La. Governor Blanco Takes Responsibility for Failed Katrina Response Wires
Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Echoing the words of President Bush a day earlier, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco took responsibility Wednesday for failures and missteps in the immediate response to Hurricane Katrina and pledged a united effort to rebuild areas ravaged by the storm.

"We all know that there were failures at every level of government: state, federal and local. At the state level, we must take a careful look at what went wrong and make sure it never happens again. The buck stops here, and as your governor, I take full responsibility," Blanco told lawmakers in a special meeting of the Louisiana Legislature.

On Tuesday, Bush for the first time took responsibility for federal government mistakes in dealing with the hurricane and suggested the calamity raised questions about the government's ability to handle both natural disasters and terror attacks.

In Thursday's editions of The New York Times, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency criticized Blanco's response to the hurricane, describing widespread confusion in Louisiana.

Michael Brown said he made repeated phone calls to the secretary of homeland security and the White House warning of the problems.





Ex-FEMA chief criticizes governor's response

By David D. Kirkpatrick and Scott Shane

The New York Times

WASHINGTON - Hours after Hurricane Katrina passed New Orleans on Aug. 29, as the scale of the catastrophe became clear, Michael Brown recalls, he placed frantic calls to his boss, Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff and to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr.


Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he told the officials in Washington that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and her staff were proving incapable of organizing a coherent state effort, and that his field officers in the city were reporting an "out of control" situation.


"I am having a horrible time," Brown said he told Chertoff and a White House official -- either Card or his deputy, Joe Hagin -- in a status report that evening. "I can't get a unified command established."


A day later, Brown said he asked the White House to take over the response effort. He said he felt the subsequent appointment of Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore as the Pentagon's commander of active-duty forces met the need for more federal help.

Blanco is faulted


In his first extensive interview since resigning Monday as FEMA director under intense criticism, Brown declined to blame President Bush or the White House for his removal or for the flawed response. "I truly believed the White House was not at fault here," he said.


He focused much of his criticism on Blanco, contrasting what he described as her confused response with far more agile mobilizations in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as in Florida during last year's hurricanes.


But his account suggested that Bush, or at least his top aides, were informed early and repeatedly by the top federal official at the scene that state and local authorities were overwhelmed and that the overall response was going badly.


A senior administration official said Wednesday night that White House officials recalled the conversations with Brown but did not believe they had the urgency or desperation he described in the interview.


Brown's version of events raises questions about whether the White House and Chertoff acted aggressively enough in ratcheting up the response. New Orleans was rife with looting and violence after the hurricane, and troops did not arrive in force to restore order until five days later.


The account also suggests that responsibility for the failure may go well beyond Brown, who has been widely pilloried as an inexperienced manager.


Last week, Chertoff removed Brown from directing the relief effort. Brown said he had been hobbled by limitations on the power of the agency to command needed resources.


He said his biggest mistake was in waiting until the end of the day on Aug. 30 to explicitly ask the White House to take over the response from FEMA and state officials.


Of his resignation, Brown said: "I said I was leaving because I don't want to be a distraction. I want to focus on what happened here and the issues that this raises."

A spokesman for Blanco denied Brown's description of disarray in Louisiana's emergency-response operation.


"That is just totally inaccurate," said spokesman Bob Mann in Baton Rouge. "Everything that Mr. Brown needed in terms of resources or information from the state, he had those available to him."


In Washington, Chertoff's spokesman, Russ Knocke, said there was no delay in the federal response. "We pushed absolutely everything we could -- every employee, every asset, every effort, to save and sustain lives," he said.




By Saturday afternoon, many residents were leaving. But as the hurricane approached early Sunday, Brown said he grew so frustrated with local authorities' failure to make the evacuation mandatory that he called Bush for help.


"Would you please call the mayor and tell him to ask people to evacuate?" Brown said he asked Bush.

"Mike, you want me to call the mayor?" the president responded in surprise, Brown said. Moments later, apparently on his own, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin announced a mandatory evacuation, but it was too late, Brown said. Plans said it would take at least 72 hours to get everyone out.


When he arrived in Baton Rouge on Sunday evening, Brown said, he was immediately concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Blanco and Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard.


"What do you need? Help me help you," Brown said he asked them. "The response was like, 'Let us find out,' and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing."


The most responsive person he could find, Brown said, was Blanco's husband, Raymond. "He would try to go find stuff out for me," Brown said.


Mann, Blanco's spokesman, said the governor was frustrated that Brown and others at FEMA wanted itemized requests before acting. "It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you," Mann said.


Brown acknowledged that he has been criticized for not ordering a complete evacuation or calling in federal troops sooner. But, he said, "Until you have been there, you don't realize it is the middle of a hurricane."



Jack Kelly: No shame

The federal response to Katrina was not as portrayed

Sunday, September 11, 2005


It is settled wisdom among journalists that the federal response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was unconscionably slow.


"Mr. Bush's performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever during a dire national emergency," wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in a somewhat more strident expression of the conventional wisdom.


But the conventional wisdom is the opposite of the truth.


Jason van Steenwyk is a Florida Army National Guardsman who has been mobilized six times for hurricane relief. He notes that:


"The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne."


For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla. after Hurricane Andrew hit in 2002. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three.


Journalists who are long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines are down, telecommunications are out, no gasoline is available, bridges are damaged, roads and airports are covered with debris, and apparently have little interest in finding out.


So they libel as a "national disgrace" the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history.


I write this column a week and a day after the main levee protecting New Orleans breached. In the course of that week:


More than 32,000 people have been rescued, many plucked from rooftops by Coast Guard helicopters.


The Army Corps of Engineers has all but repaired the breaches and begun pumping water out of New Orleans.


Shelter, food and medical care have been provided to more than 180,000 refugees.

Journalists complain that it took a whole week to do this. A former Air Force logistics officer had some words of advice for us in the Fourth Estate on his blog, Moltenthought:


"We do not yet have teleporter or replicator technology like you saw on 'Star Trek' in college between hookah hits and waiting to pick up your worthless communications degree while the grown-ups actually engaged in the recovery effort were studying engineering.


"The United States military can wipe out the Taliban and the Iraqi Republican Guard far more swiftly than they can bring 3 million Swanson dinners to an underwater city through an area the size of Great Britain which has no power, no working ports or airports, and a devastated and impassable road network.


"You cannot speed recovery and relief efforts up by prepositioning assets (in the affected areas) since the assets are endangered by the very storm which destroyed the region.

"No amount of yelling, crying and mustering of moral indignation will change any of the facts above."


"You cannot just snap your fingers and make the military appear somewhere," van Steenwyk said.


Guardsmen need to receive mobilization orders; report to their armories; draw equipment; receive orders and convoy to the disaster area. Guardsmen driving down from Pennsylvania or Navy ships sailing from Norfolk can't be on the scene immediately.


Relief efforts must be planned. Other than prepositioning supplies near the area likely to be afflicted (which was done quite efficiently), this cannot be done until the hurricane has struck and a damage assessment can be made. There must be a route reconnaissance to determine if roads are open, and bridges along the way can bear the weight of heavily laden trucks.


And federal troops and Guardsmen from other states cannot be sent to a disaster area until their presence has been requested by the governors of the afflicted states.

Exhibit A on the bill of indictment of federal sluggishness is that it took four days before most people were evacuated from the Louisiana Superdome.


The levee broke Tuesday morning. Buses had to be rounded up and driven from Houston to New Orleans across debris-strewn roads. The first ones arrived Wednesday evening.


That seems pretty fast to me.


A better question -- which few journalists ask -- is why weren't the roughly 2,000 municipal and school buses in New Orleans utilized to take people out of the city before Katrina struck?





Governor Defends Louisiana's 'Exit Plan'
12 10:18 AM US/Eastern


Associated Press Writer



Louisiana had a "well thought-out exit plan" in the days before Hurricane Katrina, and many more lives would have been lost without it, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Sunday.


"There was not a single individual taking a slow step in our state," Blanco said at the Reliant Center, where more than 2,000 evacuees are living after fleeing the devastation in New Orleans.


City, state and federal governments have been criticized for delays in evacuations and delivery of supplies, widespread communication difficulties, and law enforcement breakdowns in New Orleans that led to looting and violence.

Blanco insisted the state had an evacuation-and-rescue effort that prevented thousands more deaths.


"Were there lessons learned? You bet," she said in a tense 14-minute explanation after being asked to elaborate on Louisiana's storm plans.


"We did a massive evacuation, and if we hadn't we would have had thousands of deaths. Right now, the numbers are minimal when you consider the amount of damage."

As she has before, Blanco, a Democrat, refused to blame President Bush, a Republican.

"Help in those critical moments was slow in coming, not through any fault of the president," she said.


Blanco is scheduled to meet with Bush on Monday on the USS Iwo Jima off New Orleans. They were then expected to take a walking tour of the historic French Quarter.


Associated Press reporter Derrill Holly contributed to this report




New York Times

September 11, 2005

Disarray Marked the Path From Hurricane to Anarchy


This article is by Eric Lipton, Christopher Drew, Scott Shane and David Rohde.

The governor of Louisiana was "blistering mad." It was the third night after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans, and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco needed buses to rescue thousands of people from the fetid Superdome and convention center. But only a fraction of the 500 vehicles promised by federal authorities had arrived.

Ms. Blanco burst into the state's emergency center in Baton Rouge. "Does anybody in this building know anything about buses?" she recalled crying out.

They were an obvious linchpin for evacuating a city where nearly 100,000 people had no cars. Yet the federal, state and local officials who had failed to round up buses in advance were now in a frantic hunt. It would be two more days before they found enough to empty the shelters.

The official autopsies of the flawed response to the catastrophic storm have already begun in Washington, and may offer lessons for dealing with a terrorist attack or even another hurricane this season. But an initial examination of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath demonstrates the extent to which the federal government failed to fulfill the pledge it made after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to face domestic threats as a unified, seamless force.

Instead, the crisis in New Orleans deepened because of a virtual standoff between hesitant federal officials and besieged authorities in Louisiana, interviews with dozens of officials show.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials expected the state and city to direct their own efforts and ask for help as needed. Leaders in Louisiana and New Orleans, though, were so overwhelmed by the scale of the storm that they were not only unable to manage the crisis, but they were not always exactly sure what they needed. While local officials assumed that Washington would provide rapid and considerable aid, federal officials, weighing legalities and logistics, proceeded at a deliberate pace.

FEMA appears to have underestimated the storm, despite an extraordinary warning from the National Hurricane Center that it could cause "human suffering incredible by modern standards." The agency dispatched only 7 of its 28 urban search and rescue teams to the area before the storm hit and sent no workers at all into New Orleans until after the hurricane passed on Monday, Aug. 29.

On Tuesday, a FEMA official who had just flown over the ravaged city by helicopter seemed to have trouble conveying to his bosses the degree of destruction, according to a New Orleans city councilwoman.

"He got on the phone to Washington, and I heard him say, 'You've got to understand how serious this is, and this is not what they're telling me, this is what I saw myself,' " the councilwoman, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, recalled.

State and federal officials had spent two years working on a disaster plan to prepare for a massive storm, but it was incomplete and had failed to deal with two issues that proved most critical: transporting evacuees and imposing law and order.

The Louisiana National Guard, already stretched by the deployment of more than 3,000 troops to Iraq, was hampered when its New Orleans barracks flooded. It lost 20 vehicles that could have carried soldiers through the watery streets and had to abandon much of its most advanced communications equipment, guard officials said.

Partly because of the shortage of troops, violence raged inside the New Orleans convention center, which interviews show was even worse than previously described. Police SWAT team members found themselves plunging into the darkness, guided by the muzzle flashes of thugs' handguns, said Capt. Jeffrey Winn.

"In 20 years as a cop, doing mostly tactical work, I have never seen anything like it," said Captain Winn. Three of his officers quit, he said, and another simply disappeared.

Officials said yesterday that 10 people died at the Superdome, and 24 died at the convention center site, although the causes were not clear.

Oliver Thomas, the New Orleans City Council president, expressed a view shared by many in city and state government: that a national disaster requires a national response. "Everybody's trying to look at it like the City of New Orleans messed up," Mr. Thomas said in an interview. "But you mean to tell me that in the richest nation in the world, people really expected a little town with less than 500,000 people to handle a disaster like this? That's ludicrous to even think that."

Andrew Kopplin, Governor Blanco's chief of staff, took a similar position. "This was a bigger natural disaster than any state could handle by itself, let alone a small state and a relatively poor one," Mr. Kopplin said.

Federal officials seem to have belatedly come to the same conclusion. Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, said future "ultra-catastrophes" like Hurricane Katrina would require a more aggressive federal role. And Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whom President Bush had publicly praised a week earlier for doing "a heck of a job," was pushed aside on Friday, replaced by a take-charge admiral.

Russ Knocke, press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, said that any detailed examination of the response to the storm's assault will uncover shortcomings by many parties. "I don't believe there is one critical error," he said. "There are going to be some missteps that were made by everyone involved."

But Richard A. Falkenrath, a former homeland security adviser in the Bush White House, said the chief federal failure was not anticipating that the city and state would be so compromised. He said the response exposed "false advertising" about how the government has been transformed four years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Frankly, I wasn't surprised that it went the way it did," Mr. Falkenrath said.

Initial Solidarity

At midafternoon on that Monday, a few hours after the hurricane made landfall, state and federal leaders appeared together at a news conference in Baton Rouge in a display of solidarity.

Governor Blanco lavished her gratitude on Mr. Brown, the FEMA chief.

"Director Brown," she said, "I hope you will tell President Bush how much we appreciated - 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." Senator Mary L. Landrieu pitched in: "We are indeed fortunate to have an able and experienced director of FEMA who has been with us on the ground for some time."

Mr. Brown replied in the same spirit: "What I've seen here today is a team that is very tight-knit, working closely together, being very professional doing it, and in my humble opinion, making the right calls."

At that point, New Orleans seemed to have been spared the worst of the storm, although some areas were already being flooded through breaches in levees. But when widespread flooding forced the city into crisis, Monday's confidence crumbled, exposing serious weaknesses in the machinery of emergency services.

Questions had been raised about FEMA, since it was swallowed by the Department of Homeland Security, established after Sept. 11. Its critics complained that it focused too much on terrorism, hurting preparations for natural disasters, and that it had become politicized. Mr. Brown is a lawyer who came to the agency with political connections but little emergency management experience. That's also true of Patrick J. Rhode, the chief of staff at FEMA, who was deputy director of advance operations for the Bush campaign and the Bush White House.

Scott R. Morris, who was deputy chief of staff at FEMA and is now director of its recovery office on Florida, had worked for Maverick Media in Austin, Tex., as a media strategist for the Bush for President primary campaign and the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign. And David I. Maurstad was the Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska before he became director of FEMA's regional office in Denver and then a senior official at the agency's headquarters.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents FEMA employees, wrote to Congress in June 2004, complaining, "Seasoned staff members are being pushed aside to make room for inexperienced novices and contractors."

With the new emphasis on terrorism, three quarters of the $3.35 billion in federal grants for fire and police departments and other first responders were intended to address terror threats, instead of an "all-hazards" approach that could help in any catastrophe.

Even so, the prospect of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans was a FEMA priority. Numerous drills and studies had been undertaken to prepare a response. In 2002, Joe M. Allbaugh, then the FEMA director, said: "Catastrophic disasters are best defined in that they totally outstrip local and state resources, which is why the federal government needs to play a role. There are a half-dozen or so contingencies around the nation that cause me great concern, and one of them is right there in your backyard."

Federal officials vowed to work with local authorities to improve the hurricane response, but the plan for Louisiana was not finished when Hurricane Katrina hit. State officials said it did not yet address transportation or crime control, two issues that proved crucial. Col. Terry J. Ebbert, director of homeland security for New Orleans since 2003, said he never spoke with FEMA about the state disaster blueprint. So New Orleans had its own plan.

At first glance, Annex I of the "City of New Orleans Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan" is reassuring. Forty-one pages of matter-of-fact prose outline a seemingly exhaustive list of hurricane evacuation procedures, including a "mobile command center" that could replace a disabled city hall.

New Orleans had used $18 million in federal funding since 2002 to stage exercises, train for emergencies and build relay towers to improve emergency communications. After years of delay, a new $16 million command center was to be completed by 2007. There was talk of upgrading emergency power and water supplies at the Superdome, the city's emergency shelter of "last resort," as part of a new deal with the tenants, the New Orleans Saints.

But the city's plan says that about 100,000 residents "do not have means of personal transportation" to evacuate, and there are few details on how they would be sheltered.

Although the Department of Homeland Security has encouraged states and cities to file emergency preparedness strategies it has not set strict standards for evacuation plans.

"There is a very loose requirement in terms of when it gets done and what the quality is," said Michael Greenberger, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security. "There is not a lot of urgency."

As Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans, Mayor C. Ray Nagin largely followed the city plan, eventually ordering the city's first-ever mandatory evacuation. Although 80 percent of New Orleans's population left, as many as 100,000 people remained.

Colonel Ebbert decided to make the Superdome the city's lone shelter, assuming the city would only have to shelter people in the arena for 48 hours, until the storm passed or the federal government came and rescued people.

As early as Friday, Aug. 26, as Hurricane Katrina moved across the Gulf of Mexico, officials in the watch center at FEMA headquarters in Washington discussed the need for buses.

Someone said, "We should be getting buses and getting people out of there," recalled Leo V. Bosner, an emergency management specialist with 26 years at FEMA and president of an employees' union. Others nodded in agreement, he said.

"We could all see it coming, like a guided missile," Mr. Bosner said of the storm. "We, as staff members at the agency, felt helpless. We knew that major steps needed to be taken fast, but, for whatever reasons, they were not taken."

Drivers Afraid

When the water rose, the state began scrambling to find buses. Officials pleaded with various parishes across the state for school buses. But by Tuesday, Aug. 30, as news reports of looting and violence appeared, local officials began resisting.

Governor Blanco said the bus drivers, many of them women, "got afraid to drive. So then we looked for somebody of authority to drive the school buses."

FEMA stepped in to assemble a fleet of buses, an agency spokeswoman said, only after a request from the state that she said did not come until Wednesday, Aug. 31. Greyhound Lines began sending buses into New Orleans within two hours of getting FEMA approval on Wednesday, said Anna Folmnsbee, a Greyhound spokeswoman. But the slow pace and reports of desperation and violence at the Superdome led to the governor's frustrated appeal in the state emergency center on Wednesday night.

She eventually signed an executive order that required parishes to turn over their buses, said Lt. Col. William J. Doran III, operations director for the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

"Just the logistics of wrangling up enough buses to get the people out of the dome took us three days," Colonel Doran said. A separate transportation problem arose for nursing homes. In some cases, delays proved deadly.

State regulations require nursing homes to have detailed evacuation plans and signed evacuation contracts with private transportation companies, according to Louisiana officials.

Yet 70 percent of the New Orleans area's 53 nursing homes were not evacuated before the hurricane struck Monday morning, according to the Louisiana Nursing Home Association. This week, searchers discovered 32 bodies in one nursing home in Chalmette, a community just outside New Orleans.

Mark Cartwright, a member of the nursing home association's emergency preparedness committee, said 3,400 patients were safely evacuated from the city. An unknown number of patients died awaiting evacuation or during evacuation.

"I've heard stories," Mr. Cartwright said. "Because rescuers didn't come, people were succumbing to the heat." Mr. Cartwright said some nursing home managers ignored the mayor's mandatory evacuation order, choosing to keep their frail patients in place and wait out the storm.

Symbols of Despair

The confluence of these planning failures and the levee breaks helped turn two of the most visible features of the New Orleans skyline - the Superdome and the mile-long convention center - into deathtraps and symbols of the city's despair.

At the Superdome, the initial calm turned to fear as a chunk of the white roof ripped away in the wind, dropping debris on the Saints' fleur-de-lis logo on the 50-yard-line. The electricity was knocked out, leaving only dim lights inside the windowless building. The dome quickly became a giant sauna, with temperatures well over 100 degrees.

Two-thirds of the 24,000 people huddled inside were women, children or elderly, and many were infirm, said Lonnie C. Swain, an assistant police superintendent overseeing the 90 policemen who patrolled the facility with 300 troops from the Louisiana National Guard. And it didn't take long for the stench of human waste to drive many people outside.

Chief Swain said the Guard supplied water and food - two military rations a day. But despair mounted once people began lining up on Wednesday for buses expected early the next day, only to find them mysteriously delayed.

Chief Swain and Colonel Ebbert said in interviews that the first buses arranged by FEMA were diverted elsewhere, and it took several more hours to begin the evacuation. By Friday, the food and the water had run out. Violence also broke out. One Guard soldier was wounded by gunfire and the police confirmed there were attempts to sexually assault at least one woman and a young child, Chief Swain said.

And even though there were clinics at the stadium, Chief Swain said, "Quite a few of the people died during the course of their time here."

By the time the last buses arrived on Saturday, he said, some children were so dehydrated that guardsmen had to carry them out, and several adults died while walking to the buses. State officials said yesterday that a total of 10 people died in the Superdome.

"I'm very angry that we couldn't get the resources we needed to save lives," Chief Swain said. "I was watching people die."

Mayor Nagin and the New Orleans police chief, P. Edwin Compass III, said in interviews that they believe murders occurred in the Superdome and in the convention center, where the city also started sending people on Tuesday. But at the convention center, the violence was even more pervasive.

"The biggest problem was that there wasn't enough security," said Capt. Winn, the head of the police SWAT team. "The only way I can describe it is as a completely lawless situation."

While those entering the Superdome had been searched for weapons, there was no time to take similar precautions at the convention center, which took in a volatile mix of poor residents, well-to-do hotel guests and hospital workers and patients. Gunfire became so routine that large SWAT teams had to storm the place nearly every night.

Capt. Winn said armed groups of 15 to 25 men terrorized the others, stealing cash and jewelry. He said policemen patrolling the center told him that a number of women had been dragged off by groups of men and gang-raped - and that murders were occurring.

"We had a situation where the lambs were trapped with the lions," Mr. Compass said. "And we essentially had to become the lion tamers."

Capt. Winn said the armed groups even sealed the police out of two of the center's six halls, forcing the SWAT team to retake the territory.

But the police were at a disadvantage: they could not fire into the crowds in the dimly lit facility. So after they saw muzzle flashes, they would rush toward them, searching with flashlights for anyone with a gun.

Meanwhile, those nearby "would be running for their lives," Capt. Winn said. "Or they would lie down on the ground in the fetal position."

And when the SWAT team caught some of the culprits, there was not much it could do. The jails were also flooded, and no temporary holding cells had been set up yet. "We'd take them into another hall and hope they didn't make it back," Capt. Winn said.

One night, Capt. Winn said, the police department even came close to abandoning the convention halls - and giving up on the 15,000 there. He said a captain in charge of the regular police was preparing to evacuate the regular police officers by helicopter when 100 guardsmen rushed over to help restore order.

Before the last people were evacuated that Saturday, several bodies were dumped near a door, and two or three babies died of dehydration, emergency medics have said. State officials said yesterday that 24 people died either inside or just outside the convention center.

The state officials said they did not have any information about how many of those deaths may have been murders. Capt. Winn said that when his team made a final sweep of the building last Monday, it found three bodies, including one with multiple stab wounds.

Capt. Winn said four of his men quit amid the horror. Other police officials said that nearly 10 regular officers stationed at the Superdome and 15 to 20 at the convention center also quit, along with several hundred other police officers across the city.

But, Capt. Winn said, most of the city's police officers were "busting their asses" and hung in heroically. Of the terror and lawlessness, he added, "I just didn't expect for it to explode the way it did."

Divided Responsibilities

As the city become paralyzed both by water and by lawlessness, so did the response by government. The fractured division of responsibility - Governor Blanco controlled state agencies and the National Guard, Mayor Nagin directed city workers and Mr. Brown, the head of FEMA, served as the point man for the federal government - meant no one person was in charge. Americans watching on television saw the often-haggard governor, the voluble mayor and the usually upbeat FEMA chief appear at competing daily news briefings and interviews.

The power-sharing arrangement was by design, and as the days wore on, it would prove disastrous. Under the Bush administration, FEMA redefined its role, offering assistance but remaining subordinate to state and local governments. "Our typical role is to work with the state in support of local and state agencies," said David Passey, a FEMA spokesman.

With Hurricane Katrina, that meant the agency most experienced in dealing with disasters and with access to the greatest resources followed, rather than led.

FEMA's deference was frustrating. Rather than initiate relief efforts - buses, food, troops, diesel fuel, rescue boats - the agency waited for specific requests from state and local officials. "When you go to war you don't have time to ask for each round of ammunition that you need," complained Colonel Ebbert, the city's emergency operations director.

Telephone and cellphone service died, and throughout the crisis the state's special emergency communications system was either overloaded or knocked out. As a result, officials were unable to fully inventory the damage or clearly identify the assistance they required from the federal government. "If you do not know what your needs are, I can't request to FEMA what I need," said Colonel Doran, of the state office of homeland security.

To President Bush, Governor Blanco directed an ill-defined but urgent appeal.

"I need everything you've got," the governor said she told the president on Monday. "I am going to need all the help you can send me."

"We went from early morning to late night, day after day, after day, after day. Trying to make critical decisions," Ms. Blanco said in an interview last week. "Trying to get product in, resources, where does the food come from. Learning the supply network."

She said she didn't always know what to request. "Do we stop and think about it?" she asked. "We just stop and think about help."

FEMA attributed some of the delay to miscommunications in an overwhelming event. "There was a significant amount of discussions between the parties and likely some confusion about what was requested and what was needed," said Mr. Knocke, the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

As New Orleans descended into near-anarchy, the White House considered sending active-duty troops to impose order. The Pentagon was not eager to have combat troops take on a domestic lawkeeping role. "The way it's arranged under our Constitution," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld noted at a news briefing last week, "state and local officials are the first responders."

Pentagon, White House and Justice officials debated for two days whether the president should seize control of the relief mission from Governor Blanco. But they worried about the political fallout of stepping on the state's authority, according to the officials involved in the discussions. They ultimately rejected the idea and instead decided to try to speed the arrival of National Guard forces, including many trained as military police.

Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland security, explained that decision in an interview this week. "Could we have physically moved combat forces into an American city, without the governor's consent, for purposes of using those forces - untrained at that point in law enforcement - for law enforcement duties? Yes."

But, he asked, "Would you have wanted that on your conscience?"

For some of those on the ground, those discussions in Washington seemed remote. Before the city calmed down six days after the storm, both Mayor Nagin and Colonel Ebbert lashed out. Governor Blanco almost mocked the words of assurance federal relief officials had offered. "It was like, 'they are coming, they are coming, they are coming, they are coming,' " she said in an interview. "It was all in route. Everything was in motion."

'Stuck in Atlanta'

The heart-rending pictures broadcast from the Gulf Coast drew offers of every possible kind of help. But FEMA found itself accused repeatedly of putting bureaucratic niceties ahead of getting aid to those who desperately needed it.

Hundreds of firefighters, who responded to a nationwide call for help in the disaster, were held by the federal agency in Atlanta for days of training on community relations and sexual harassment before being sent on to the devastated area. The delay, some volunteers complained, meant lives were being lost in New Orleans.

"On the news every night you hear, 'How come everybody forgot us?' " said Joseph Manning, a firefighter from Washington, Pa., told The Dallas Morning News. "We didn't forget. We're stuck in Atlanta drinking beer."

A FEMA spokeswoman said there was no urgency for the firefighters to arrive because they were primarily going to do community relations work, not rescue.

William D. Vines, a former mayor of Fort Smith, Ark., helped deliver food and water to areas hit by the hurricane. But he said FEMA halted two trailer trucks carrying thousands of bottles of water to Camp Beauregard, near Alexandria, La., a staging area for the distribution of supplies.

"FEMA would not let the trucks unload," Mr. Vines said in an interview. "The drivers were stuck for several days on the side of the road about 10 miles from Camp Beauregard. FEMA said we had to have a 'tasker number.' What in the world is a tasker number? I have no idea. It's just paperwork, and it's ridiculous."

Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, who interceded on behalf of Mr. Vines, said, "All our Congressional offices have had difficulty contacting FEMA. Governors' offices have had difficulty contacting FEMA." When the state of Arkansas repeatedly offered to send buses and planes to evacuate people displaced by flooding, she said, "they were told they could not go. I don't really know why."

On Aug. 31, Sheriff Edmund M. Sexton, Sr., of Tuscaloosa County, Ala., and president of the National Sheriffs' Association, sent out an alert urging members to pitch in.

"Folks were held up two, three days while they were working on the paperwork," he said.

Some sheriffs refused to wait. In Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, Sheriff Warren C. Evans got a call from Mr. Sexton on Sept. 1 The next day, he led a convoy of six tractor-trailers, three rental trucks and 33 deputies, despite public pleas from Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm to wait for formal requests.

"I could look at CNN and see people dying, and I couldn't in good conscience wait for a coordinated response," he said. He dropped off food, water and medical supplies in Mobile and Gonzales, La., where a sheriffs' task force directed him to the French Quarter. By Saturday, Sept. 3, the Michigan team was conducting search and rescue missions.

"We lost thousands of lives that could have been saved," Sheriff Evans said.

Mr. Knocke said the Department of Homeland Security could not yet respond to complaints that red tape slowed relief.

"It is testament to the generosity of the American people - a lot of people wanted to contribute," Mr. Knocke said. "But there is not really any way of knowing at this time if or whether individual offers were plugged into the response and recovery operation."

Response to Sept. 11

An irony of the much-criticized federal hurricane response is that it is being overseen by a new cabinet department created because of perceived shortcomings in the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And it is governed by a new plan the Department of Homeland Security unveiled in January with considerable fanfare.

The National Response Plan set out a lofty goal in its preface: "The end result is vastly improved coordination among federal, state, local and tribal organizations to help save lives and protect America's communities by increasing the speed, effectiveness and efficiency of incident management."

The evidence of the initial response to Hurricane Katrina raised doubts about whether the plan had, in fact, improved coordination. Mr. Knocke, the homeland security spokesman, said the department realizes it must learn from its mistakes, and the department's inspector general has been given $15 million in the emergency supplemental appropriated by Congress to study the flawed rescue and recovery operation.

"There is going to be enough blame to go around at all levels," he said. "We are going to be our toughest critics."

Jason DeParle, Robert Pear, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker contributed reporting for this article.


Lack of plan hurt Katrina-hit states' response

By Dara Kam, Alan Gomez


Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Saturday, September 10, 2005


UPDATED: 3:50 p.m. September 10, 2005

TALLAHASSEE — One thing Florida knows is hurricanes.


Florida emergency planners criticized and even rebuked their counterparts -- or what passes for emergency planners -- in those states for their handling of Hurricane Katrina. Gov. Jeb Bush, the head of Florida AHCA and the head of Florida wildlife (which is responsible for all search and rescue) all said they made offers of aid to Mississippi and Louisiana the day before Katrina hit but were rebuffed. After the storm, they said they've had to not only help provide people to those states but also have had to develop search and rescue plans for them. "They were completely unprepared -- as bad off as we were before Andrew," one Florida official said.


And how Louisiana and Mississippi officials have handled Hurricane Katrina is a far cry from what emergency managers here would have done. Mississippi was in the middle of rewriting its disaster plan when Katrina struck. Officials there were still analyzing what went wrong during Hurricane Dennis earlier this year when Katrina overtook them. Search teams from Florida were rescuing Mississippi victims before law enforcement officers there were even aware of the magnitude of the disaster.


Louisiana also lacked an adequate plan to evacuate New Orleans, despite years of research that predicted a disaster equal to or worse than Katrina. Even after a disaster test run last year exposed weaknesses in evacuation and recovery, officials failed to come up with solutions.


"They're where we were in 1992, exactly," said Col. Julie Jones, director of law enforcement for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in a reference to Florida's state of emergency preparedness before Hurricane Andrew devastated southern Miami-Dade County. Since then, Florida has created what many consider a model emergency management system, initially developed by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles in response to Andrew and beefed up considerably by Gov. Jeb Bush in response to more than a dozen storms that have hit the state since he took office in 1998, including a record four hurricanes last year.


The state, under Bush, has learned even from storms that did not hit here. Bush was mortified by the long, stalled lines of cars fleeing from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and ordered a study of evacuation alternatives that led to the state's current plan to convert certain highways to northern-only routes.


Meanwhile, Florida's western neighbors haven't faced as many storms, and their emergency preparedness apparently has not evolved as Florida's has.


Local and state officials in Mississippi and Louisiana, as well as federal officials, simply weren't prepared to deal with a disaster of Katrina's magnitude, according to observers, citizens and national experts on the scene after Hurricane Katrina wreaked catastrophic damage on the Gulf Coast.


One of the biggest differences between how Florida and other states handle natural disasters lies in the degree of cooperation between cities, counties and the state. In Florida, they are in constant communication with one another as storms advance and during the recovery phase. Not so elsewhere, as first responders from Florida discovered at dawn the day after Katrina made landfall. Search and rescue crews from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were poised in Pensacola on Sunday night in anticipation of Katrina's landfall Monday.


After scouting the Panhandle and determining it was OK Monday morning, Jones said she called Mississippi officials to see if they needed help.


"They said, 'We don't know,' " she said. "Monday night, Mississippi said 'We still have not been able to evaluate the damage, so please go.' So Monday night, we were at the border ready to go, and we were in Mississippi by 6 a.m. Tuesday. So before Mississippi could wake up and say, 'OK, we have to start doing assessments,' Florida was in those two counties, in Jackson and Harrison."


Jones' crews made the first rescue in Mississippi at dawn the day after Katrina made landfall, and they spent a week in the area, ferrying Mississippi Marine Patrol officers whose vessels were destroyed by Katrina.

Florida law enforcement officials in each county hold monthly conference calls to discuss disaster coordination, but it wasn't until after the storm hit that these Mississippi officials were making a plan of what to do.


"The biggest frustration for us was sitting down and trying to get all the emergency managers in a county to sit down in their emergency operations centers and talk about a plan," Jones said.


Part of the problem was that Mississippi officials were in the process of rewriting their state emergency plan when Katrina hit, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lea Stokes said. They hadn't yet evaluated post-Dennis hurricane response surveys when the Category 4 storm and its 20- to 30-foot surge wiped out 75 miles of coastline.


Stokes and other Mississippi officials also blame problems responding to Katrina on its size and impact on telephone services. Land lines, cellphones and even satellite phones were useless, Stokes said.


"It was not so much a communications breakdown as it was a communication device breakdown," said Biloxi spokesman Vincent Creel. "So if we'd have had carrier pigeons, we'd have been using them. We'd have used smoke signals, but we didn't have water." Florida's emergency management chief, Craig Fugate, said just having any old plan isn't enough. It has to be adequate and a state needs an experienced organization well-versed in putting it into effect.


"I've heard comments made in other disasters that the first thing they did was throw the plan away because the plan was worthless," Fugate said. "A plan should not be some requirement. It should truly reflect what your real needs are, and what your real resources are." Louisiana's plan doesn't do either.


A November article published by the Natural Hazards Center, a University of Colorado research institute, analyzed what would have happened if Hurricane Ivan had hit New Orleans last summer instead of Pensacola.

"Hurricane Ivan would have pushed a 17-foot storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain; caused the levees between the lake and the city to overtop and fill the city 'bowl' with water from lake levee to river levee, in some places as deep as 20 feet; flooded the north shore suburbs of Lake Pontchartrain with waters pushing as much as seven miles inland; and inundated inhabited areas south of the Mississippi River," wrote Shirley Laska, a University of New Orleans disaster expert.


But the most recent Louisiana emergency operations plan doesn't address how to evacuate in the case of flooding from storm surge, saying simply that "The Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Area represents a difficult evacuation problem due to the large population and its unique layout."


It continues, "The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government-owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating."

Buses were unable to transport New Orleans citizens for days following Katrina's landfall. The plan acknowledges that, in the event of a catastrophic hurricane, "the evacuation of over a million people from the Southeast Region could overwhelm normally available shelter resources." But it doesn't include a solution to the shelter issue.


Louisiana officials could not be reached for comment this week. Mississippi and Louisiana officials, however, have increasingly decried what they called a slow federal response to the disaster, blaming the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


But Gov. Bush defended FEMA.


"If we weren't prepared, and we didn't do our part, no amount of work by FEMA could overcome the lack of preparation," he said. Natural Hazards Center director Kathleen Tierney agreed, saying emergency planners in the Gulf states should have taken a tip from the jazz legends that made New Orleans famous.


"Organizational improvisation" is essential to cope with unpredictable events such as Katrina, Tierney said. "Research on jazz musicians shows that people don't just pull stuff out of the air when they're improvising. These are people with an extremely wide knowledge of musical genres. They have always practiced and practiced and practiced. Similarly, improvising involves a deep understanding of the resources you have at hand in your community."


Local officials, she said, "could have listened to researchers. They could take seriously Congressman Patrick Kennedy's bill called the Ready, Willing and Able Act that calls for more interaction with the community. They could have approached this improvisational task with imagination." And they might yet, Biloxi spokesman Creel said.


"Believe me, we're going to be doing a lot of what you call critiquing of this, but we haven't reached that point yet. We're still at the midst of it."





On Aug. 26, Louisiana's governor signed a declaration of a state of emergency. In response, on Aug. 27, Bush declared officially a state of emergency in Louisiana and his press office announced: "The president's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster-relief efforts ... to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures ... to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe ..." (On Sept. 5, The Washington Post printed a correction, but is still protecting the identity of its apparently intentionally misinforming senior Bush leaker.)


Former FEMA officials flatly reject the Bush Team's effort to shift the blame to state and local officials for the federal government's late action and non-action in Louisiana.

"They can't do that," Jane Bullock, who had a 22-year career at FEMA, told the Los Angeles Times, referring to Bush administration attempts to shift responsibility to state and local officials. "The moment the president declared a federal disaster, it became a federal responsibility. ... The federal government took ownership over the response."

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