Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 10, 2006

NYT: DHS learned of levee breaks on Monday night

Filed under: DHS News,Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on February 10, 2006

The New York Times has a front-page story on Friday on the timeline by which DHS and the White House were notified that the levees in New Orleans had broken and the situation was far worse than reported:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.

But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department’s headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a major levee breach Monday morning. By late Monday afternoon, Mr. Bahamonde had hitched a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter over the breach at the 17th Street Canal to confirm the extensive flooding. He then telephoned his report to FEMA headquarters in Washington, which notified the Homeland Security Department.

“FYI from FEMA,” said an e-mail message from the agency’s public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, “are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires.”

Michael D. Brown, who was the director of FEMA until he resigned under pressure on Sept. 12, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he personally notified the White House of this news that night, though he declined to identify the official he spoke to….

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we are not going to become better prepared and make strides to fix the system for the next incident (whether it be a natural disaster or a terrorist attack) if we don’t have an ethos of full disclosure and full responsibility at all levels of government in these investigations.

The whole story is worth reading. Look for much more on this topic in the coming days. Brown is scheduled to testify before the HSGAC on Friday, and Chertoff next week. And I’ve seen suggestions that the House Katrina Committee will be releasing its report next week.

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1 Comment »


Comment by William R. Cumming

February 11, 2006 @ 10:02 am

Typically, Public Affairs Officers (which is actual title of Mr. Bahamonde) are not directly involved in issuances of PARs (Protective Action Recommendations) to the public. If the current system is that the White House must be notified of levee breeches before PAR’s can be issued or response activities be conducted the current federal level response system is broken. The Press should be notified and trained on the technical disinctions between Public Affairs (counter-propaganda at the federal level) and Emergency Public Information (life and property saving measures that must be issued through all available notification channels.)

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