The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has released FEMA documents showing yet another series of lapses in their response. "Hundreds of available trucks, boats, planes and federal officers were unused in search and rescue efforts immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit because FEMA failed to give them missions".
The ever-dependable DHS spokesman Russ Knocke says:
Katrina "pushed our capabilities and resources to the limit - and then some."
FEMA also called off their search and rescue operations three days after the storm hit, apparently because they were concerned for the safety of the rescuers. However, that might have just been a temporary suspension and Knocke says which it was will be determined later. From the email sent before the suspension:
"All assets have ceased operation until National Guard can assist TFs (task forces) with security."
See also "FEMA suspends PHX SAR team over bringing in own security" and "Canadian SAR team describes rioting, looting"
Responding to a questionnaire posed by investigators, Interior Department Assistant Secretary P. Lynn Scarlett said her agency offered to supply FEMA with 300 dump trucks and other vehicles, 300 boats, 11 aircraft and 400 law enforcement officers to help search and rescue efforts.
"Although the department possesses significant resources that could have improved initial and ongoing response, many of these resources were not effectively incorporated into the federal response to Hurricane Katrina," Scarlett wrote in the response, dated Nov. 7.
Scarlett added: "Although we attempted to provide these assets through the process established by the [National Response Plan], we were unable to efficiently integrate and deploy those resources."
At one point, Scarlett's letter said, FEMA asked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to help with search and rescue in New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish and St. Tammany Parish but that the rescuers "never received task assignments." The agency, a branch of the Interior Department, apparently went ahead anyway, according to the letter, which said that Fish and Wildlife helped rescue 4,500 people in the first week after Katrina.
Other Interior Department resources that were offered, but unused, included flat-bottom boats for shallow-water rescues. "Clearly these assets and skills were precisely relevant in the post-Katrina environment," Scarlett wrote.
Knocke, the Homeland Security spokesman, said up to 60,000 federal employees were sent to the Gulf Coast to response to Katrina. However, "experience has shown that FEMA was not equipped with 21st century capabilities, and that is what (Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff) has committed as one of our top priorities going forward," he said.
They're always looking forward, and getting control over things, aren't they? Of course, competent administrations would actually try to get things right the first time.