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FEMA failed to use all available resources

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"
More:

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.

Why wasn't the "Catastrophic Incident Supplement" completed?

Rep. Henry Waxman has asked Michael Chertoff to explain, according to democrats.reform.house.gov/story.asp?ID=956. That Supplement is part of the National Response Plan. PDFs of the letter at that page.

"Early warnings raised doubt on Bush disaster plans"

WASHINGTON, Sept 17 (Reuters) - In the months before Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush sought to cut a key program to help local governments raise their preparedness, and state officials warned of a "total lack of focus" on natural disasters by his homeland-security chief, documents show...
...In July, the National Emergency Management Association wrote lawmakers expressing "grave" concern that still-pending changes proposed by Chertoff would undercut the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"Our primary concern relates to the total lack of focus on natural-hazards preparedness," David Liebersbach, the association's president, said in the July 27 letter to Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat, the leaders of a key Senate committee overseeing the agency...
...[In February, a month after the National Response Plan was created], however, Bush's fiscal 2006 budget proposed a 6 percent cut in funding for Emergency Management Performance Grants, from the $180 million appropriated by Congress in 2005 to $170 million in 2006.
State and local officials protested what they saw as White House cuts targeting the very program that would help them meet Bush's new disaster-preparedness goals.
"The grants are the lifeblood for local programs and, in some cases, it's the difference between having a program in a county and not," said Dewayne West, the director of Emergency Services for Johnston County, North Carolina, and president of the International Association of Emergency Managers...

Experts: Bush already has enough military powers, he just failed to use them

The article "Key military help for victims of Hurricane Katrina was delayed" says that Bush already had enough military powers to do what was necessary, he - and Michael Chertoff - simply failed to act quickly enough. The military has taken part in past disasters, and that's allowed as long as they don't perform police activities.

..."If the 1st Cav and 82nd Airborne had gotten there on time, I think we would have saved some lives," said Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who was the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Reagan from 1985 to 1989. "We recognized we had to get people out, and they had helicopters to do that."
...Between 1992 and 1996, the Pentagon provided support in 18 disasters and developed five training manuals on how to work with FEMA and civilians in natural disasters...
... Several emergency response experts, however, questioned whether Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff understood how much authority they had to tap all the resources of the federal government - including those of the Department of Defense.
"To say I've suddenly discovered the military needs to be involved is like saying wheels should be round instead of square," said Michael Greenberger, a law professor and the director of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security...
..."Everything he did and everything he has said strongly suggests that [the National Response Plan] was never read," Greenberger said of Chertoff...
... Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, who served under President Clinton, believes that the Bush administration is mistaken if it thinks there are impediments to using the military for non-policing help in a disaster.
"When we were there and FEMA was intact, the military was a resource to us," said Witt. "We pulled them in very quickly. I don't know what rule he (Bush) talked about. ... We used military assets a lot."
Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration who also was a member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terror attacks, said clear legal guidelines have been in place for using the military on U.S. soil since at least 1996, when the Justice Department was planning for the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
"It's not like people hadn't thought about this," Gorelick said. "This is not new. We've had riots. We've had floods. We've had the loss of police control over communities.
"I'm puzzled as to what happened here," she said...
... "I see no impediment in law or in policy to getting them there," [ Scott Silliman, a former judge advocate general who's now the executive director of Duke University Law School's Center for Law, Ethics and National Security] said. "We could have sent in helicopters. We could have sent in forces to do search and rescue and to provide humanitarian aid. Everything but law enforcement."
... "They're trying to say that greater federal authority would have made a difference," said George Haddow, a former FEMA deputy chief of staff and the co-author of a textbook on emergency management. "The reality is that the feds are the ones that screwed up in the first place. It's not about authority. It's about leadership. ... They've got all the authority already."

Other parts of this article were covered in "Levee break, military response timeline".

Will Michael Chertoff be the new scapegoat?

You're going to need a map and a large sheet of paper to follow the article "Conflicting accounts from top on Katrina response", which tries to figure out who exactly dropped the ball (if any), and whether it was DHS head Chertoff.
Apparently it happened like this:

  1. On the night of Aug. 27, the White House issued a statement on Katrina [That's the same statement discussed and linked in "Some LA counties missing from White House emergency declaration"].
    That did several things:

    1. it initiated the National Response Plan..
    2. it authorized DHS and FEMA "to coordinate all disaster relief efforts" under the Stafford Act...
    3. the NRP says that if the Stafford Act is used, the incident is a matter of "national significance".
  2. The NRP references a "principal federal official" who will lead the federal government's response, and the Stafford Act requires a "federal coordinating officer". (I'm confused over what they do, but apparently those aren't the same roles.) Sometime on Aug. 27, Bush named William Lokey as the FCO. In any case, Bush did not name Brown of FEMA as the PFO or the FCO.
  3. Aug. 29: Katrina hits
  4. Aug. 30: Chertoff names Brown as the PFO and declares Katrina an "incident of national significance".

The latter had apparently already been done three days prior by the White House, and perhaps Brown should have been the PFO from the beginning...
Can someone check these acronyms please?
Continuing:

At first it was Brown who took the brunt of the criticism for the federal response to Katrina and he resigned under pressure on Monday.
But some congressional aides involved in the investigation are now questioning why Chertoff waited until Aug. 30 to designate Brown as the "principal federal official" and to declare the storm an "incident of national significance."
...But it is unclear why Chertoff did not immediately designate Brown as the "principal federal official" with oversight over Lokey and other federal and state officials...
...But under the National Response Plan, Chertoff could hold off. "Depending on the magnitude of the disaster, a principal federal official may not always be designated, in which case the federal coordinating officer will provide the federal lead," the plan says.
Knocke said Chertoff did not hold off designating Brown as the "principal federal official" because he doubted the severity of the storm. Chertoff was working from home on Aug. 27 and kept in touch with officials by phone, he said.
Knocke said Brown already "was in fact the lead federal official in the field before and after (Chertoff's) declaration. ... Everyone knew their roles and responsibilities."

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