Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Highlights from House Katrina report

Remember, this is a report written by a congressional committee, that includes almost all Republicans, and is deeply critical of the administration. My personal favorites are below, and my comments as always are in italics:

Despite reports from FEMA and the Coast Guard the night Katrina hit, the Homeland Security Operations Center failed to conclude that New Orleans levees were breached. "Perhaps the single most important piece of information during Katrina was confirmation of the levee breaches in New Orleans." What else could it have been? What else could have possibly inundated the city with that much water?

Homeland Security Department chief Michael Chertoff should have activated plans "to shift the federal response posture from a reactive to proactive mode" to save lives and speed relief.

Government failed at all levels to deal with long-standing problems of "interoperability," the ability of different public safety units to communicate with each other effectively. Although hundreds of millions of federal dollars had been spent over time, communications systems still were not always working effectively. For example, first responders in helicopters were unable to talk to crews patrolling in boats, and National Guard commanders in Louisiana and Mississippi used runners to relay orders. We knew about this communications problem after 9-11, glad to see that they have done absolutely nothing to improve the situation. The only people that I know could communicate were extremely fortunate people with Satellite phones, and HAM radio operators.

Rampant false media reports contributed to unnecessary disorder and delay that hindered the recovery. There were repeated broadcast reports on Sept. 1 that evacuations at the Superdome had been suspended because of shots fired at a helicopter, and unsubstantiated reports of two babies with throats slit. I still get questions from around the country from people asking how we could ever consider using the Superdome for anything again after everything horrible that happened there. My answer is that it saved thousands of lives during the storm, and that the reports were overblown. I'm glad to see that confirmed here.

Mandatory evacuations ordered in Alabama and Mississippi and for the general population in Louisiana - excluding New Orleans and Jefferson Parish - went relatively well. "Those individuals in all states who had the means to evacuate, but did not do so, must also share the blame for the incomplete evacuation and the difficulties that followed."

At least 1,000 FEMA workers set to arrive in New Orleans on Aug. 31 were turned away due to security concerns. How could this even happen? Amazing.

A heavily criticized $236 million contract with Carnival Cruise Lines for temporary housing was reasonable, and similar "unfounded negative publicity" could hurt relief efforts in the future. The Carnival ships have been a godsend, with most of our police and other first responders living on them. It's going to be a huge burden when they sail away in a month or so.

The lead relief agency in the disaster, the Red Cross was aware of crowding at the Superdome but was unable to staff that and other locally operated shelters because its workers were denied access. Again, how could the first responders not have access???

When the Red Cross placed orders for food such as Meals-Ready-to-Eat through the government, many of the requests got lost in an overburdened FEMA computer system. The FEMA computer system is not what you think it is.

Visits to emergency operation centers by politicians and celebrities, including talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and actor Sean Penn, distracted personnel from their more urgent tasks. Maybe celbs will get the picture next time and stay away? I doubt it.

FEMA sent unprecedented amounts of supplies to the region, including 11 million liters of water, 19 million pounds of ice, 6 million ready-made meals and 17 truckloads of tarps. But they initially went untouched because of confusion by state and federal officials.

FEMA failed to prepare adequately for emergency disaster supplies and had poor accounting of what was needed and what resources it had on the ground.

FEMA's failure to negotiate contracts in advance led to chaos and the potential for waste and fraud due to last-minute agreements for emergency assistance.

Read more here

Don't forget that the local and state government didn't perform to well either. This is from that same Forbes article.

"Despite adequate warning 56 hours before landfall, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin delayed ordering a mandatory evacuation in New Orleans until 19 hours before landfall. Evacuations in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish were either declared late or not at all, a failure that "led to preventable deaths, great suffering and further delays in relief."
I was tempted to add that, but I don't think it is accurate. 56 hours before landfall (if landfall was 6:10 AM on Monday) would have been 10PM on Friday night. I was following this storm much more closely than most, as we were where the storm was initially projected to make landfall (Ft. Walton Beach). Going to bed on Friday, the storm had shifted further to the west, but projected landfall at that time was Alabama/Mississippi Border. It wasn't until the following morning that things began to look much more grim for the New Orleans Metro area.
That may be true evacuee, but the feds weren't the only ones who screwed up on this one. State and locals folks didn't do so well either.
J. Ryan

PS: I posted the previous comment as well.
I agree with you on that point. I certainly don't want to abdicate responsibility for the local leadership here. I just don't really think they had as much time as the report seems to indicate.

Thanks JR,

I have not finished reading the entire report yet (I swear I will), but I do get New Orleans Magazine up here in PA. The first edition post-K had an article by Dr. Brobson Lutz about the medical situation in the city in the first few weeks after the storm. The medics, who were sent in to help the injured and sick and were stationed at the Royal-Orleans, did nothing because there was no one there to help. Clearly, someone saw the need for those people to get somewhere. Dr. Lutz was doing more. I think that's the lesson here - do it ourselves. We can do it better, and we know what we need. Hang in there!
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