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.
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 pâ€”-ed off.”