Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 31, 2006

New book on the Katrina response

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christian Beckner on July 31, 2006

A new book comes out next week entitled “Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security” by Wall Street Journal reporters Bobby Block and Christopher Cooper. The WSJ had an article last Thursday that highlights one of the linchpin issues in the response to Katrina: the information flow regarding the breach of the levees in New Orleans. The article describes how the Homeland Security Operations Center became a bottleneck to information rather than a centralized clearinghouse:

disaster.jpg

…Likewise, Matthew Broderick, the director of the Homeland Security Operations Center, or HSOC, saw no reason for extraordinary action without definitive proof that there was a catastrophe in New Orleans. And his view of what constituted a catastrophe was pivotal: As HSOC commander, he was responsible for giving Mr. Chertoff and the White House virtually all of the ground intelligence they would receive during the disaster.

To Mr. Broderick, the trigger for a heightened response was clear: If the city’s levee system was seriously breached and couldn’t be repaired immediately, it was a catastrophe. Flooding over the levees, by contrast, even if it was severe, was “normal, typical, hurricane background stuff,” he would later tell Senate investigators. “You know, we have floods in Pennsylvania all the time. We have floods in New Jersey all the time. Every time there’s a hurricane, there’s a flood.”

A retired Marine brigadier general with some 30 years of experience, Mr. Broderick was determined that the information he delivered to Mr. Chertoff and the White House be stripped of innuendo and boiled down to only the hardest facts. “One of the jobs of HSOC is to not overreact, not get hysterical and get the facts,” Mr. Broderick told investigators. Under this rubric, he simply didn’t pass on much of the information he collected.

The result is that even though the breach of the levees began on Monday morning (8/29), and there were numerous channels by which this information was reported, it did not make it to the senior decision-makers until late that night (in part because contradictory information was given undue value), and Katrina was not declared an Incident of National Significance (activating the NRP) until the next morning.

Block is one of the top DHS beat reporters, and Cooper came to the WSJ from the Times-Picayune, so I’m expecting the whole book to be a worthwhile read, in terms of synthesizing the narrative of the response to Katrina. I’ll post a full review at some point in the near future.

Update (7/31): Here’s another longer excerpt.

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6 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 1, 2006 @ 5:01 am

Typical of DHS they were only one-man deep where it really counted. Broderick went home to sleep exhausted on Monday night and there was no one he had to replace him that was competent or authorized to act. Nor did he observe the basics of briefing in detail those who might have realized his errors in judgement. The story is an old one. A brave competent fire commander has become a battalion chief in a large city. A full-box alarm has been called and when he arrives becomes catatonic at the scale and dimensions of a fire that is beyond anything he has seen. He is carried off and someone else has to replace him. Clearly, the DHS leadership were not ops guys and did not get it. Now the critical personnel are David Paulison and George Foresman in DHS and they don’t get it. But then why should they when we don’t have a President or Vice President that have had to face the reality of military operations even in peacetime at a junior level when they are the front line.

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

August 1, 2006 @ 8:04 am

Thanks for posting this. The excerpt was very interesting. I have the book on order.

Pingback by EmergencyTech.org » New Book on Homeland Security’s Failures During Hurricane Katrina

August 3, 2006 @ 12:01 pm

[...] I haven’t had a chance to read the whole thing yet but I am anxiously awaiting my copy especially with endorsements like this one from HLSW: Block is one of the top DHS beat reporters, and Cooper came to the WSJ from the Times-Picayune, so I’m expecting the whole book to be a worthwhile read, in terms of synthesizing the narrative of the response to Katrina. [...]

Comment by Marie marcal

August 4, 2006 @ 4:46 pm

I have an invitation to a review of the new book on August 11 and look forward to attending.

As president of one of the older neighborhood associations, I have attended many presentations about what we should expect from a direct hit by a major hurricane. All of these talked about the water from Lake Pontchartrain being pushed over the levees into the bowl we call home. None of them that I’ve seen ever suggested the levees would break. I guess we had more confidence in American engineering than it deserved.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » New Katrina docs on ‘Disaster’ website

August 8, 2006 @ 4:17 pm

[...] The website for the new book Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security (mentioned in this post last week) contains links to a number of primary documents related to the response to Hurricane Katrina that until now haven’t seen the light of day (or perhaps have been overlooked). These includes e-mails sent from the White House Homeland Security Council, complete transcripts of key video teleconferences, and a Senate HSGAC interview with former HSOC chief Matthew Broderick where he admits that DHS didn’t realize that the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center were different sites until Thursday: Q: At 7:00 p.m. or sometime thereafter on Wednesday night, CNN was reporting 3,000 people at the convention center. Was there any awareness on Wednesday night, to your recollection, of 3,000 plus people at the convention center? [...]

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