Hurricane Katrina: FEMA

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The role which FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Department of Homeland Security, has played in Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast of the United States on August 29, 2005, has and most likely will continue under fire for some time.

FEMA Privatized New Orleans' Hurricane Disaster Plan

"In June 2004, FEMA privatized its hurricane disaster plan for New Orleans, contracting the work to the Baton Rouge, La., firm Innovative Emergency Management (IEM) whose motto is 'Managing Risk in a Complex World'," Joel Bleifuss and Brian Cook reported in the September 2, 2005, issue of In These Times.

"IEM announced the contract on its Web site on June 3, 2004, trumpeting that the company 'will lead the development of a catastrophic hurricane disaster plan for Southeast Louisiana and the City of New Orleans under a more than half a million dollar contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'," they wrote. "But in the days after Katrina hit, the press release was removed from the company’s online press release archives, as China Mieville noted on the blog Lenin’s Tomb."

"IEM Director of Homeland Security Wayne Thomas told the magazine Biz New Orleans, 'Given this area’s vulnerability, unique geographic location and elevation, and troubled escape routes, a plan that facilitates a rapid and effective hurricane response and recovery is critical. The IEM team’s approach to catastrophic planning meets the challenges associated with integrating multi-jurisdictional needs and capabilities into an effective plan for addressing catastrophic hurricane strikes, as well as man-made catastrophic events'," Bleifuss and Cook wrote.

"As Mieville opined, 'So, the IEM team’s approach isn’t to siphon off tax money, spout management shit, provide a demonstrably catastrophically inadequate plan, then f**k off like craven f**king caveworms and hide the evidence when the f**king corpses start piling up?'"

Related Links

  • Jon Elliston, "Disaster in the making," The Independent Weekly, September 22, 2004: "As FEMA weathers a storm of Bush administration policy and budget changes, protection from natural hazards may be trumped by 'homeland security'."


"Adoption of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) would have made most of the plans moot anyway -- FEMA's adherence to the untried NIMS is a primary reason for the chaos and ineptitude surrounding their relief efforts," a former IEM employee wrote September 6, 2005.

Hastert Was Warned About FEMA's Problems

On January 6, 2005, the Association of State Floodplain Managers, Inc., sent a letter to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to tell him that "The effectiveness of FEMA's all hazards programs is increasingly threatened with regard to natural disasters" following the organization of the Department of Homeland Security, under which FEMA now fell.

"Since FEMA has become part of the Department of Homeland Security, it has been a struggle. Funds have been raided, staff have been transferred into other DHS functions without being replaced, slowdowns because of added layers of bureaucracy for nearly all functions have dramatically increased, and there is the constant threat of reprogramming appropriated funds," the organization wrote.

FEMA Figureheads

R. David Paulison Appointed FEMA's Acting Director

"The White House moved quickly" to replace FEMA director Michael D. Brown, who resigned September 12, 2005, by "installing" R. David Paulison, FEMA's U.S. Fire Administrator, "a top agency official with three decades of firefighting experience as acting director." [1]

Michael D. Brown Resigned

Michael D. Brown resigned September 12, 2005, "'in the best interest of the agency and best interest of the president,' three days after losing his onsite command of the Hurricane Katrina relief effort." [2]

Brown was relieved of his Hurricane Katrina duties on September 6, 2005, the Washington Post reported September 7, 2005. [3]

Brown, who had been "under fire for the federal government's slow response to the storm that devastated much of the Gulf Coast region, [was] replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who was overseeing New Orleans relief and rescue efforts," Lara Jakes Jordan reported for the Associated Press.

FEMA Sent Help After Storm Ended

Internal FEMA documents show that the "top U.S. disaster official," Michael D. Brown, "waited hours after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast before he proposed to his boss," Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, "sending at least 1,000 Homeland Security workers into the region to support rescuers," Associated Press writer Ted Bridis reported September 7, 2005.

"Part of the mission, according to the documents obtained by The Associated Press, was to 'convey a positive image' about the government's response for victims.

"Acknowledging that such a move would take two days," Brown sought Chertoff's "approval ... roughly five hours after Katrina made landfall" on August 29th. "Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But officials acknowledged the first department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm raged.

"Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as 'this near catastrophic event' but otherwise lacked any urgent language. The memo politely ended, 'Thank you for your consideration in helping us to meet our responsibilities.'"

"The same day Brown wrote Chertoff, Brown also urged local fire and rescue departments outside Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi not to send trucks or emergency workers into disaster areas without an explicit request for help from state or local governments. Brown said it was vital to coordinate fire and rescue efforts." [4]

"Meanwhile, the airline industry said the government's request for help evacuating storm victims didn't come until late Thursday afternoon. The president of the Air Transport Association, James May, said the Homeland Security Department called then to ask whether the group could participate in an airlift for refugees." [5]

Model Community?: FEMA City, Florida

Will FEMA City, Florida, "a dusty, baking, treeless collection of almost 500 trailers that was set up by the federal emergency agency last fall to house more than 1,500 people made homeless by Hurricane Charley," serve as the model community for "some of the 1 million people displaced by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast"? In Florida, the "free shelter was welcomed by thankful survivors back then; almost a year later, most are still there -- angry, frustrated, depressed and increasingly desperate," Marc Kaufman, wrote in the September 17, 2005, Washington Post.

As "the badly damaged town of Punta Gorda is beginning to rebuild and even substantially upgrade one year after the storm, many of the area's most vulnerable people are being left badly behind," Kaufman wrote.

"The hurricane began that slide, destroying hundreds of modest homes and apartments along both sides of the Peace River as it enters Charlotte Harbor, and almost all of Punta Gorda's public housing. Then as the apartments were slowly restored -- a process made more costly and time-consuming because of a shortage of contractors and workers -- landlords found that they could substantially increase their rents in the very tight market.

"As a result, the low-income working people most likely to have been displaced by the hurricane are now most likely to be displaced by the recovery, too."

Misappropriation of Assets

"Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers. ... Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.

"On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency," Lisa Rosetta of The Salt Lake Tribune reported September 6, 2005].

Lost "Frozen" Assets

"FEMA Presents: Mismanagement on Ice!" Think Progress, September 21, 2005:

"Media outlets around the country are reporting that trucks loaded with millions of pounds of ice meant for the Gulf region are popping up nationwide. FEMA redirected the trucks away from the South after realizing they had ordered too much ice, but the agency is paying truckers up to $900 a day to sit idly in their trucks far away from the affected areas."


The Daily Dissent Blogspot asked September 5, 2005: "Why did the Federal Emergency Management Agency...

FEMA National Situation Update August 27, 2005

On August 27, 2005, FEMA stated it its FEMA/Department of Homeland Security National Situation Update for Saturday, August 27, 2005, that "Katrina Becomes a Category Three Hurricane, Aims Towards Northern Gulf Coast."

Photographs of the Dead

In an email that stated "'space was needed on the rescue boats'," a FEMA spokesman "rejected journalists' requests to accompany rescue boats searching for storm victims," Reuters reported September 7, 2005.

However, on September 9, 2005, attorneys for CNN "argued that the ban was an unconstitutional prior restraint on news gathering. ... U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison issued a temporary restraining order against a 'zero access' policy announced earlier Friday by Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who is overseeing the federal relief effort in the city, and Terry Ebbert, the city's homeland security director."

"Rather than fight a lawsuit by CNN, the federal government abandoned its effort Saturday to prevent the media from reporting on the recovery of the dead in New Orleans." [6]

Earlier Predictions for New Orleans

However, even before it made that announcement on the internet, criticism of FEMA's performance in the face of such a massive natural disaster began.

Prediction: December 1, 2001
"New Orleans is sinking. ... And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi River delta, is quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster. ... So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most castastrophic disasters facing this country. The other two? A massive earthquake in San Francisco, and, almost prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York City. The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all." [7]

Related SourceWatch Resources: Hurricane Katrina: List of related pages

  • In particular, also see:

Related Links

December 2001

September 2005