Katrina report lists 125 fixes

Expert questions whether Congress will approve funds to implement the fixes

“The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned”

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A new White House report, “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned,” documents widespread deficiencies in the federal government’s planning and management response to the natural disaster. The sheer number of its recommendations — 125 in all —reveals the magnitude of the remedy for the government’s ineffectiveness in responding to the disastrous hurricane.

An appendix to the document, titled “What Went Right,” offers evidence that pockets within the federal government and individual federal employees performed effectively and even heroically. But the report, based on an investigation by Frances Townsend, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, concludes that the federal government has not done enough to plan, train and equip its employees to respond to catastrophes.

The report shows that the process for coordinating and assigning relief tasks outlined in the 2005 National Response Plan proved to be too bureaucratic. Many frustrated federal officials simply acted on their authority rather than wait for assignments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Their actions created further confusion and duplication.

Townsend’s investigators found that key decision-makers at all levels were unfamiliar with the National Response Plan, the document that assigns accountability and dictates actions during a national incident. Investigators also identified weak regional planning and coordination as major reasons for the federal government’s inadequate response to Katrina. For instance, FEMA programs that once operated out of the FEMA regions, such as the state and local liaison program and all grant programs, are now located in the Homeland Security Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., which has weakened local coordination efforts.

Alan Webber, a senior analyst at Forrester Research who read the White House report, said no command structure linked DHS to New Orleans. “A lot of good things happened down there, but I would not give credit to the people who manage from above,” Webber said. “I would give credit to the people who did the job on the ground and just used their initiative.”

Buried in the 228-page report are narratives that describe some agencies’ initiative and effectiveness in responding to Katrina. For example, the Defense Department’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency began collecting information on airports, hospitals, police stations, emergency operations centers, highways and schools well in advance of Katrina’s landfall. Merging imagery with other information, NGA employees created hundreds of intelligence products for federal, state and local emergency response teams. NGA’s imagery also helped relief workers locate and recover oil platforms.

Among its 125 recommendations, the report calls for creating a national operations center and establishing a national information and knowledge management system to provide a common operating picture for federal incident managers. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff attributed his absent leadership during the Katrina catastrophe to a lack of real-time situational awareness of the facts of the disaster and the relief efforts.

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