Bobby Knight once said “The key is not the will to win… everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” I have to wonder if those in the position of influence to affect change really have the will to prepare to win during disasters and catastrophes.
There is a tremendous amount of conversation regarding FEMA’s role during disasters and of course it has become a political issue at this critical juncture in a close election. As opposed to making the conversation a political football, how about just evaluating the facts on have we or have we not gotten better at preparing and responding to major disasters as a nation. Many of the areas of concern may not be assessable until days or weeks later, but reports of lack of potable water at this early stage are disconcerting and suggest we still have plenty of room for improvement. More important than improvement in factors such as a quicker appointment of a principal federal official, we should be concerned more about disaster survivors receiving support within a timely manner. Also we need to judge if the responders (public, private, volunteer and ad hoc) received the support and services they needed when they needed them.
I have listed below findings from the executive summary in a report entitled A FAILURE OF INITIATIVE. It was the final report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. The Select Committee identiﬁed failures at all levels of government that signiﬁcantly undermined and detracted from the heroic efforts of ﬁrst responders, private individuals and organizations, faith-based groups, and others. Take a look at their findings and compare if our performance has improved significantly in the last seven years since Katrina.
Area of Concern – The failure of complete evacuations led to preventable deaths, great suffering, and further delays in relief.
■ Evacuations of general populations went relatively well in all three states.
■ Despite adequate warning 56 hours before landfall, Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin delayed ordering a mandatory evacuation in New Orleans until 19 hours before landfall.
■ The failure to order timely mandatory evacuations, Mayor Nagin’s decision to shelter but not evacuate the remaining population, and decisions of individuals led to an incomplete evacuation.
■ The incomplete pre-landfall evacuation led to deaths, thousands of dangerous rescues, and horrible conditions for those who remained.
■ Federal, state, and local ofﬁcials’ failure to anticipate the post-landfall conditions delayed post-landfall evacuation and support.
Area of Concern – The Hurricane Pam exercise reﬂected recognition by all levels of government of the dangers of a category 4 or 5 hurricane striking New Orleans
■ Implementation of lessons learned from Hurricane Pam was incomplete.
Area of Concern – Levees protecting New Orleans were not built for the most severe hurricanes
■ Responsibilities for levee operations and maintenance were diffuse.
■ The lack of a warning system for breaches and other factors delayed repairs to the levees.
■ The ultimate cause of the levee failures is under investigation, and results to be determined.
Area of Concern – Critical elements of the National Response Plan were executed late, ineffectively, or not at all.
■ It does not appear the President received adequate advice and counsel from a senior disaster professional.
■ Given the well-known consequences of a major hurricane striking New Orleans, the Secretary should have designated an Incident of National Signiﬁcance no later than Saturday, two days prior to landfall, when the National Weather Service predicted New Orleans would be struck by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane and President Bush declared a federal emergency.
■ The Secretary should have convened the Interagency Incident Management Group on Saturday, two days prior to landfall, or earlier to analyze Katrina’s potential consequences and anticipate what the federal response would need to accomplish.
■ The Secretary should have designated the Principal Federal Ofﬁcial on Saturday, two days prior to landfall, from the roster of PFOs who had successfully completed the required training, unlike then-FEMA Director Michael Brown. Considerable confusion was caused by the Secretary’s PFO decisions.
■ A proactive federal response, or push system, is not a new concept, but it is rarely utilized.
■ The Secretary should have invoked the Catastrophic Incident Annex to direct the federal response posture to fully switch from a reactive to proactive mode of operations.
■ Absent the Secretary’s invocation of the Catastrophic Incident Annex, the federal response evolved into a push system over several days.
■ The Homeland Security Operations Center failed to provide valuable situational information to the White House and key operational ofﬁcials during the disaster.
■ The White House failed to de-conﬂict varying damage assessments and discounted information that ultimately proved accurate.
■ Federal agencies, including DHS, had varying degrees of unfamiliarity with their roles and responsibilities under the National Response Plan and National
Area of Concern – Incident Management System.
■ Once activated, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact enabled an unprecedented level of mutual aid assistance to reach the disaster area in a timely and effective manner.
■ Earlier presidential involvement might have resulted in a more effective response.
Area of Concern – Massive communications damage and a failure to adequately plan for alternatives impaired response efforts, command and control, and situational awareness
■ Massive inoperability had the biggest effect on communications, limiting command and control, situational awareness, and federal, state, and local ofﬁcials’ ability to address unsubstantiated media reports.
■ Some local and state responders prepared for communications losses but still experienced problems, while others were caught unprepared.
■ The National Communication System met many of the challenges posed by Hurricane Katrina, enabling critical communication during the response, but gaps in the system did result in delayed response and inadequate delivery of relief supplies.
Area of Concern – Command and control was impaired at all levels, delaying relief.
■ Lack of communications and situational awareness paralyzed command and control.
■ A lack of personnel, training, and funding also weakened command and control.
■ Ineffective command and control delayed many relief efforts.
Area of Concern – The military played an invaluable role, but coordination was lacking
■ The National Response Plan’s Catastrophic Incident Annex as written would have delayed the active duty military response, even if it had been implemented.
■ DOD/DHS coordination was not effective during Hurricane Katrina.
■ DOD, FEMA, and the state of Louisiana had difﬁculty coordinating with each other, which slowed the response.
■ National Guard and DOD response operations were comprehensive, but perceived as slow. The Coast Guard’s response saved many lives, but coordination with other responders could improve.
■ The Army Corps of Engineers provided critical resources to Katrina victims, but pre-landfall contracts were not adequate.
■ DOD has not yet incorporated or implemented lessons learned from joint exercises in military assistance to civil authorities that would have allowed for a more effective response to Katrina.
■ The lack of integration of National Guard and active duty forces hampered the military response.
■ Northern Command does not have adequate insight into state response capabilities or adequate interface with governors, which contributed to a lack of mutual understanding and trust during the Katrina response.
■ Even DOD lacked situational awareness of post-landfall conditions, which contributed to a slower response.
■ DOD lacked an information sharing protocol that would have enhanced joint situational awareness and communications between all military components.
■ Joint Task Force Katrina command staff lacked joint training, which contributed to the lack of coordination between active duty components.
■ Joint Task Force Katrina, the National Guard, Louisiana, and Mississippi lacked needed communications equipment and the interoperability EMAC processing, pre-arranged state compacts, and Guard equipment packages need improvement.
■ Equipment, personnel, and training shortfalls affected the National Guard response.
■ Search and rescue operations were a tremendous success, but coordination and integration between the military services, the National Guard, the Coast Guard, and other rescue organizations was lacking.
Area of Concern – The collapse of local law enforcement and lack of effective public communications led to civil unrest and further delayed relief
■ A variety of conditions led to lawlessness and violence in hurricane stricken areas.
■ The New Orleans Police Department was ill-prepared for continuity of operations and lost almost all effectiveness.
■ The lack of a government public communications strategy and media hype of violence exacerbated public concerns and further delayed relief.
■ EMAC and military assistance were critical for restoring law and order.
■ Federal law enforcement agencies were also critical to restoring law and order and coordinating activities.
Area of Concern – Medical care and evacuations suffered from a lack of advance preparations, inadequate communications, and difﬁculties coordinating efforts
■ Deployment of medical personnel was reactive, not proactive.
■ Poor planning and pre-positioning of medical supplies and equipment led to delays and shortages.
■ New Orleans was unprepared to provide evacuations and medical care for its special needs population and dialysis patients, and Louisiana ofﬁcials lacked a common deﬁnition of “special needs.”
■ Most hospital and Veterans Affairs Medical Center emergency plans did not offer concrete guidance about if or when evacuations should take place.
■ New Orleans hospitals, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and medical ﬁrst responders were not adequately prepared for a full evacuation of medical facilities.
■ The government did not effectively coordinate private air transport capabilities for the evacuation of medical patients.
■ Hospital and Veterans Affairs Medical Center emergency plans did not adequately prepare for communication needs.
■ Following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Veterans Affairs Medical Center and hospitals’ inability to communicate impeded their ability to ask for help.
■ Medical responders did not have adequate communications equipment or operability.
■ Evacuation decisions for New Orleans nursing homes were subjective and, in one case, led to preventable deaths.
■ Lack of electronic patient medical records contributed to difﬁculties and delays in medical treatment of evacuees.
■ Top ofﬁcials at the Department at Health and Human Services and the National Disaster Medical System do not share a common understanding of who controls the National Disaster Medical System under Emergency Support Function-8.
■ Lack of coordination led to delays in recovering dead bodies.
■ Deployment confusion, uncertainty about mission assignments, and government red tape delayed medical care
Area of Concern - Long-standing weaknesses and the magnitude of the disaster overwhelmed FEMA’s ability to provide emergency shelter and temporary housing
■ Relocation plans did not adequately provide for shelter. Housing plans were haphazard and inadequate.
■ State and local governments made inappropriate selections of shelters of last resort. The lack of a regional database of shelters contributed to an inefﬁcient and ineffective evacuation and sheltering process.
■ There was inappropriate delay in getting people out of shelters and into temporary housing – delays that ofﬁcials should have foreseen due to manufacturing limitations.
■ FEMA failed to take advantage of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s expertise in largescale housing challenges.
Area of Concern – FEMA logistics and contracting systems did not support a targeted, massive, and sustained provision of commodities
■ FEMA management lacked situational awareness of existing requirements and of resources in the supply chain. An overwhelmed logistics system made it challenging to get supplies, equipment, and personnel where and when needed.
■ Procedures for requesting federal assistance raised numerous concerns.
■ The failure at all levels to enter into advance contracts led to chaos and the potential for waste and fraud as acquisitions were made in haste.
■ Before Katrina, FEMA suffered from a lack of sufﬁciently trained procurement professionals. DHS procurement continues to be decentralized and lacking a uniform approach, and its procurement ofﬁce was understaffed given the volume and dollar value of work.
■ Ambiguous statutory guidance regarding local contractor participation led to ongoing disputes over procuring debris removal and other services.
■ Attracting emergency contractors and corporate support could prove challenging given the scrutiny that companies have endured.
Area of Concern – Contributions by charitable organizations assisted many in need, but the American Red Cross and others faced challenges due to the size of the mission, inadequate logistics capacity, and a disorganized shelter process