Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 18, 2005

Newsweek interviews Sec. Chertoff on Katrina

Filed under: DHS News,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on December 18, 2005

In Newsweek’s year-end issue, Sec. Chertoff reflects candidly on DHS’s response to Katrina:

“We weren’t where we needed to be,” acknowledges Chertoff. His department was in the midst of something called “second-stage review” on disaster planning, and FEMA, he says, lacked “the skill set” to do “preparedness.” Pre-Katrina, Chertoff himself appeared to have been more focused on exotic threats from a bio-warfare attack by terrorists than storm damage from hurricanes.

And later:

In Washington, Chertoff was left groping for information. During the day on Tuesday, he recalls, “I’d ask, ‘When did the levees break?’ and I’d hear a dozen different stories.” Chertoff says his first “big twinge” that things were not going well came when “I tried to reach [New Orleans Mayor Ray] Nagin on Tuesday and couldn’t get him.” On Thursday, Chertoff was unable to find out how many buses had reached the Superdome to evacuate people. He says he received a “big jolt” that day when the National Guard told FEMA that it could no longer guarantee the safety of agency personnel. The tightly controlled former prosecutor began showing his emotions. “On Wednesday, you could hear this impatience in his voice,” says his spokesman, Brian Besanceney. “By Friday, he was p—-ed off.”

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1 Comment »


Comment by Scott Carter

February 21, 2006 @ 12:35 am

To describe the response to Hurricane Katrina as “a case study in how not to handle a disaster” leaves out the most damning fact. It was a case study in how not to respond to a disaster which the government had years to prepare for. FEMA had long ago tagged a major hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast region as not a potential catastrophe, but a certain one.

Hurricane Katrina was inevitable; Hurricane Camille in 1969 was the proof of it. Thirty-seven years is a long time not to have prepared for this disaster. The Bush administration made a promise to the American people – it would make disaster preparedness a priority, even in the event of a natural disaster. Nearly 4 years after 9/11, our government still hadn’t make good on that promise. If DHS and FEMA were not prepared to respond to a certain disaster, how could it possibly respond adequately to a surprise?

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