At 1:47 a.m. (Eastern) on Aug. 29 the White House's situation room received an email from the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC) containing a dire assessment of Katrina's likely impact, the WaPo breathlessly reports:
The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina's size would "likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching" and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair. Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said.
The assessment was 41 pages. In other words, it had probably been prepared well before Aug 29. In other words, it's not like the White House was suddenly presented with stunning new information; that info had been "in the system" for a while.
In a second document, also obtained by The Washington Post, a computer slide presentation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prepared for a 9 a.m. meeting on Aug. 27, two days before Katrina made landfall, compared Katrina's likely impact to that of "Hurricane Pam," a fictional Category 3 storm used in a series of FEMA disaster-preparedness exercises simulating the effects of a major hurricane striking New Orleans. But Katrina, the report warned, could be worse.
The hurricane's Category 4 storm surge "could greatly overtop levees and protective systems" and destroy nearly 90 percent of city structures, the FEMA report said. It further predicted "incredible search and rescue needs (60,000-plus)" and the displacement of more than a million residents.
That also represented information that was in the system. Obvious to all but the WaPo and Democrats, this was a systemic failure involving all levels of government and not just one specific to the White House.