FEMA Failures

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A new website has been created to detail where FEMA went wrong in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Its title, appropriately enough, is FEMA Failures.

Remember, sites like this are important as the spin doctors in Washington try to do damage control surrounding FEMA’s initial response.

And if you have any news you’d like to share with the creator of that blog, there’s always email: femafailures@yahoo.com.

  • jimf

    An important thing to remember that although FEMA may not have done a great job…the city of NO and the state of LA are primarily responsible for their citizens.

  • http://www.kozoru.com Justin Gardner

    Recently, I’ve heard this time and time again. Not to take away from your comments jimf, but of course they’re responsible for their people. First the cities are, and then the state and then the federal government.

    However, when a disaster is on the scale of this, local and state resources dry up almost immediately. Once FEMA is needed, and that was almost immediately, they need to act swiftly. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  • http://almostaverage.com tommy

    Once FEMA is needed, and that was almost immediately, they need to act swiftly.

    If you want immediate reactions from FEMA then we need to redo the entire program since it isn’t structured to provide that. I’m against that simply because it would require federal control of local assets and I just think that is a bad idea. I think the timeline for when they reacted was pretty much what the planned called for, but mistakes made after that complicated everything.

    As of yet no one really knows what happened, because any of the response team worth a crap is still trying to do the job and aren’t spending time talking about who screwed up and where. The people yapping about what went wrong now are the ones least worth listening too. Unfortunately they are playing a game of get my story out first in hopes that it sticks as fact, and it looks like they may be winning.

  • http://www.kozoru.com Justin Gardner

    All in the eye of the beholder, tommy. Many bloggers and journos are simply trying to figure out what happened. And by the way, some focus on failures AND successes, as we have here on Donklephant.

    Moreover, some may feel that it’s essential to keep track of what happened and when so we can hold ourselves accountable so this doesn’t happen next time. It’s about getting it right, and that entails looking at both sides of the coin.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • Meredith

    If what just happened was “pretty much what the planned called for,” then I would say: 1) it was a pretty crappy plan and 2) that seems like a pretty clear admission of incompetence – i.e. “that’s what we wanted to happen.”

    I think by now anyone who wants to deny or not talk about the ways in which this situation was screwed up is in some serious denial. This country, throughout its history, has had to deal with numerous natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc.), and usually the federal government does a damn good job of responding quickly and coming to the aid of people who are in need with money, manpower and supplies. And, when the government does a good job, people acknowledge that.

    By the way, in other times of tragedy no one was proclaiming that an individual city or state should have been on its own – if you’re region of the country or world was virtually destroyed, do you think the responsibility should be placed on your city or state? I would suggest that no one city or state would ever be able to handle something like this on their own – hell, when a tornado hits a few neighborhoods in one city and the damage is bad enough, a state of emergency is declared and in comes the federal relief.

    For the most part, people are not using this tragedy as a handy way to criticize the government. It’s simply a fact that this got screwed up, and we all have to be willing to acknowledge that so that it doesn’t happen again. After all, if the evildoing terrorists sneak in here and cause disaster, shouldn’t our government be prepared to handle it? And, again, for anyone who doesn’t believe that the federal government has the power or responsibility to handle this stuff, I would direct you to the General Welfare Clause of the US Constitution, as well as Supreme Court decisions that deal with the issue of the taxing and spending powers of the federal government.

  • Jim other

    “I’m against that simply because it would require federal control of local assets and I just think that is a bad idea.”

    This is a good general principle, but we have just seen one instance where a on-size-fits-all genral principle may not work. Does it make sesne to apply the same principle in the case of all states, as if all states are equal? Does it in other words make sense to treat Louisiana like California, for example? Louisiana is by its nature prone to being overwhelmed by a single event, as we have seen, where a state like California or Texas is so large and has centers of power and resources so dispersed that only an asteroid impact could take out the whole state. States the size of Rhode Island or Connecticut may need on kind of relationship to the federal government and california another.

    The entire process for mobilizong resources in the form of Guard, federal troops and so on needs to be rethought. We may come to the same conclusion as befrore, we may decide on something differnet. We need to see to what extent Posse Comitatus got in the way of re-establishing public order. We need to see to what extent the military response was impeded by reliance on orders or permission form FEMA, and what we think of that. We need ot see what we think about allowing a mayor to continue in a dream wprld and refuse to issue evacuation orders, especailly when the resulting mess will impact people beyond his particualr city. We need to see what went right; why was there comparatively little looting in other areas. How were the police different, what role did gun ownership play, what role the numbers of the drug addicts?

    we wil be chewing on this ofr a long time.

  • http://almostaverage.com tommy

    One thing this highlights is the possibility that after the event you may not have any “first responder” capability, either to the fact that they don’t exist or simply no longer are capable of responding. That’s in a perfect world where there were no management mistakes at the local level. Even then, I still don’t see how a response in under 48 hours or so can be expected from the Feds. If you position them close enough to ensure it, then they are subject to the same forces that prevented the local authorities from responding. But otherwise you don’t have the capability to get it there faster, no air or sea port capability exists, trucks take time, and you are left with helicopters I guess but there isn’t the lift capability there to move sufficient supplies or personnel to stage a massive relief effort.

    I just don’t see a system that doesn’t rely on local control in the first couple of days, and the possiblity exists that some events can be significant enough to prevent a local response. In this instance it seems likely that there was some serious mistakes made there, and once outside help arrived, the mistakes continued.

  • http://theleotest.typepad.com jonathon

    One thing I can say about this entire situation is that FEMA’s Denton office has been overwhelmed. In the past it had generally been able to handle localized emergencies such as the Oklahoma City bombing, or the Ft. Worth tornado, or the barge wreck on the Kerr-McClellan Navigation System. However, for years FEMA’s nightmare scenario (at least for the Denton office, based on past interviews with WFAA) has been a city-level or region-level widespread emergency, partly because they were ill-prepared for such events, but also because FEMA’s strategic plan as of FY2003 was specifically shifted toward response to acts of terrorism rather than natural disasters.
    Here’s a link to the plan itself:

    Hurricane Katrina, a region-level natural disaster, appears to have exposed known problems with, and realized some of the worst fears of, the entire emergency response system.

  • http://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/fema_strat_plan_fy03-08append.pdf FEMA Strategic Plan


  • Monica

    The Fema Failures site only contains editorials, very little facts.
    I want raw data to make my decision about FEMA – not what this site is offering. Disappointed.

  • Meredith

    Monica – why don’t you go find them then?

  • debsay

    I have tried to find facts about the situation and here are some facts for you:

    The Lousiana Emergency Operations Plan states under Section B. Assumptions: #5 The primary means of hurricane evacuation will be personal vehicles. School and municipal buses, government owned vehicles and vehicles provided by volunteer agencies may be used to provide transportation for individuals who lack transportation and require assistance in evacuating….. (Policy was not followed, the buses were left locked in the garages and lots and allowed to be destroyed by the flooding waters instead of being bused to transport people out of the area) #8 Voluntary evacuation will be advised well in advance of landfall. Much of the public will evacuate high-risk areas when recommended by local authorities. Most will evauate under a Mandatory Evacuation order. (People didn’t believe the ‘media hype’ because everything is hyped by the media to get ratings, and readership…. this is unfortunately a ‘boy who cried wolf story’….

    Under Concept of Operations/Recommended Evacuation #2 Mobilize parish/local transportation to assist persons who lack transportation or who have mobility problems. #3 Announce the location of staging areas for people who need transportation. Public transportation will concentrate on moving people from the staging areas to safety in host parishes with priority given to people with special needs. (This is to happen before the hurricane so that complete evacuation can be completed before the crisis arises… this was not done.)

    I’ve seen several posts that say that New Orleans told their officers to stay home during the storm and report the next day to save money, I don’t have any verification of this and it may just be rumor. I can’t imagine a police department doing this so I really don’t think it is true.

    Under the section that is titled State of Lousiana, #5 Mobilize State transportation resourses to aid in the evacuation of people who have mobility and/or health problems. Deploy to support risk area parishes…. this was not done, they were told to evacuate and that is where it was left!!!!

    The stated refuge of last resort (Superdome) was announced but then citizens started showing up without the provisions that they were told to bring with them, there wasn’t enough security in the Superdome (which is just so disgusting that you would need that much armed security during an emergency like this…. people caught committing crimes in a situation like this should just be shot on sight!!!) and then they started to arrive at the Convention Center on their own – this information was not shared by local authorities with FEMA so they didn’t even know that there were thousands of citizens there…. (I know, you have to wonder how this happened).

    In the City of New Orleans Hurricane Preparedness document under: Part 2: Evacuation, Concept of Operations: The City of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas. Those evacuated will be directed to temporary sheltering and feeding facilities as needed. When specific routes of progress are required, evacuees will be directed to those routes. Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life saving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedures as needed.

    Under Human Services you see: Feeding and food and supply distribution sites shall be established following a disaster in geographically distributed sites across the Parish. Feeding sites shall be established by ESF?6, Mass Care, in conjunction with ESF?11, Food and Water. The Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army shall provide the lead in establishing and operating these sites. The Second Harvest Food Bank shall provide leadership in the acquiring and distribution of food and water. ESF?15, Volunteers and Donations, shall direct outside resources to the appropriate sites where these volunteer services can best be used. Temporary living areas shall be established when possible on city owned property. ESF?7, Resource Support, shall assist in the location and acquisition of non city owned property. The New Orleans Housing Authority shall be called upon to assist with public housing for the temporarily displaced.

    And yet you have an interview with Major Garrett by Hugh Hewitt that makes the following claim:

    MG: Well, the Red Cross, Hugh, had pre-positioned a literal vanguard of trucks with water, food, blankets and hygiene items. They’re not really big into medical response items, but those are the three biggies that we saw people at the New Orleans Superdome, and the convention center, needing most accutely. And all of us in America, I think, reasonably asked ourselves, geez. You know, I watch hurricanes all the time. And I see correspondents standing among rubble and refugees and evacuaees. But I always either see that Red Cross or Salvation Army truck nearby. Why don’t I see that?

    HH: And the answer is?

    MG: The answer is the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security, that is the state agency responsible for that state’s homeland security, told the Red Cross explicitly, you cannot come.

    HH: Now Major Garrett, on what day did they block the delivery? Do you know specifically?

    MG: I am told by the Red Cross, immediately after the storm passed.

    HH: Okay, so that would be on Monday afternoon.

    MG: That would have been Monday or Tuesday. The exact time, the hour, I don’t have. But clearly, they had an evacuee situation at the Superdome, and of course, people gravitated to the convention center on an ad hoc basis. They sort of invented that as another place to go, because they couldn’t stand the conditions at the Superdome.

    HH: Any doubt in the Red Cross’ mind that they were ready to go, but they were blocked?

    MG: No. Absolutely none. They are absolutely unequivocal on that point.

    HH: And are they eager to get this story out there, because they are chagrined by the coverage that’s been emanating from New Orleans?

    MG: I think they are. I mean, and look. Every agency that is in the private sector, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Feed The Children, all the ones we typically see are aggrieved by all the crap that’s being thrown around about the response to this hurricane, because they work hand and glove with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. When FEMA is tarred and feathered, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army are tarred and feathered, because they work on a cooperative basis. They feel they are being sullied by this reaction.

    HH: Of course they are. Now Major Garrett, what about the Louisiana governor’s office of Homeland Security. Have they responded to this charge by the Red Cross, which is a blockbuster charge?

    MG: I have not been able to reach them yet. But, what they have said consistently is, and what they told the Red Cross, we don’t want you to come in there, because we have evacuees that we want to get out. And if you come in, they’re more likely to stay. So I want your listeners to follow me here. At the very moment that Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans was screaming where’s the food, where’s the water, it was over the overpass, and state officials were saying you can’t come in.

    HH: How long would it have taken to deliver those supplies, Major Garrett, into the Superdome and possibly the convention center?

    MG: That is a more difficult question to answer than you might think. There were areas, obviously, as you approached the Superdome, that were difficult to get to, because of the flood waters. And as the Red Cross explained it to me, look. We don’t have amphibious vehicles. We have trucks and ambulance type vehicles. In some cases, after the flood waters rose as high as they did, we would have needed, at minimal, the Louisiana National Guard to bring us in, or maybe something bigger and badder, from the Marines or Army-type vehicle. They’re not sure about that. But remember, Hugh, we were transfixed, I know I was. I’m sure you were and your listeners were, by my colleague, Shep Smith, and others on that overpass.

    Part of the New Orleans Emergency Plan calls for aid from Red Cross and Salvation Army and yet they ‘don’t allow them to respond’…. if this doesn’t just tick you off I don’t know what will…..

    Add to this the complete collapse of communicatons and law and order, and you have a MESS!!! That is what this is, it is a MESS!!

  • ChuckIt

    FEMA as a whole has pretty much been a failure since Carter created the bloated agency.


    The response to Love Canal, Three Mile Island, the Loma Prieta Earthquake, Hurricane Andrew….they were all very poor responses. The only grand scale disaster they handled with any efficiency was the Northridge earthquake, and that may have been due more to local (state) changes rather than efforts by FEMA.

    Then Bush puts an already large and inefficient agency inside a newly created entity creating more red tape and confusion. I’d say it’s pretty much time to scrap FEMA and find a real solution.

  • http://vernondent.blogspot.com/ Callimachus

    As an old-school states’ rightist, I tend to prefer these things be handled at the lowest possible level that is capable of handling them. You need something like FEMA to stand on the edge of the calamity and hand the local agency every resource it needs as soon as it calls for it.