Do you believe we will be better prepared next time a disaster hits?
Posted Feb. 23, 2006 – The fallout from the worst storm in U.S. history continued Thursday as the White House released its own report illustrating how the government failed the residents of the Gulf Coast.
The 228-page report – which comes on the heels of two other major Katrina reports in recent days – offered little in the way of surprises. Much like the version issued by a special House committee and one by two Democratic members of Congress, the administration’s report highlighted the poor planning, poor coordination and poor communication that added up to complete and utter government failure.
"I wasn't satisfied with the federal response," Bush said Thursday shortly after the report was released. "We will learn from the lessons of the past to better protect the American people."
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But the Bush report was less critical than the one investigated by Republican members of Congress, which found that every level of government neglected the people of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana when they were needed most. And it was far kinder than the report issued by Louisiana Democrats Charlie Melancon and William Jefferson, which concluded that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Director Michael Chertoff should be fired immediately.
The White House, instead of changing directors, urged changes in 11 key areas; most centered on improving coordination of disaster relief efforts among federal, state and local governments and agencies.
In a news briefing following Thursday, Frances Townsend, the administration’s DHS adviser, said that “Chertoff enjoys the confidence of the president.” She cited failures across several federal agencies, even pointing a finger inward at DHS for failing to interact quickly with emergency responders and the American public, and for neglecting to stockpile supplies in the event of a disaster.
“We did not use all of the federal assets available to us,” she said. “We need to know what’s available….”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should be able to get supplies like ice, water and food to affected areas quickly if Federal Express can do it, she said. And the Emergency Public Alert System – identified by the occasional long-beep interruptions on TV and radio stations – “was not used adequately,” she added.
The report also calls for the Pentagon to be more involved in planning for disasters. This would likely mean federalizing the state-run National Guard and deputizing others as federal law enforcement officers, she said.
Some critics noted the potential political backlash from such a proposal, remembering the firestorm that ignited between the Bush administration and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Balco (D) over the use of National Guard troops. “It may be that our military is the last and best resource,” Townsend said.
More than 1,300 residents of the Gulf Coast died as a result of Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in about $100 billion in damage.
The White House, in acknowledging that "the response to Hurricane Katrina fell far short of the seamless, coordinated effort that had been envisioned by President Bush," ordered that the various agencies develop disaster response plans by June 1, when the next hurricane season begins.
But some Democrats, who have been critical of the administration’s handling of the whole Katrina mess, told BET.com that the time for action is long overdue.
"While you cannot prevent storms of this magnitude, you can predict and plan for them," said Jefferson. "Our federal government must do a better job planning for natural disasters and it seems the White House has acknowledged that much."
He said the report does not go far enough to recommend "what I believe will be the key to successful preparedness and disaster management in the future: FEMA must have cabinet-level authority, allowing the director to have the federal resources to adequately respond in times of natural disaster."
He also chided the Bush administration for failing to release documents to the House panel investigating the disaster.
"Unfortunately, while this report is highly critical of the federal response and does cite numerous failures, the White House failed to release documents to the House panel investigating the disaster, and I fear that the administration was unable to make adequate recommendations without allowing for an independent review.
"We also need firm commitments beyond this hurricane season for our hurricane protection system -levees and coastal restoration and wetland restoration projects. This disaster was man-made, caused by the failure of our federally funded levees. The federal government must take responsibility and dedicate the resources to recovery, rebuilding and keeping us safe."
Do you agree with the White House report? Do you believe we will be better prepared next time a disaster hits?