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March 1, 2006

Ninety Days and Counting
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:10 PM *

The next Atlantic hurricane season starts on the 1st of June. That’s three months from today.

Are we ready? Well, Michael “Heckuva Job Brownie” Brown has gone on to his own emergency preparedness consulting business. Who’s in charge of FEMA?

First on the list is the Acting Director, R. David Paulison.

He began his career as a rescue firefighter and rose through the ranks of rescue lieutenant commander, district chief of operations, division chief, assistant chief and then deputy director for administration before becoming the Miami-Dade Fire Chief. He is a certified paramedic and, as fire chief, oversaw the Miami-Dade Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. His emergency management experience includes Hurricane Andrew and the crash of ValuJet Flight 592. He is also past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

This is good. All other causes aside, this is the sort of “old fire dog” who should have been there to start with. He’s starting in the bottom of the ninth with two men out, no one on, and two strikes against him, but hey, the folks in Emergency Services are used to that. He can shine.

It’s who’s on the bench that worries me. Number two man, the Chief of Staff (formerly Patrick Rhode, best known for being Bush’s advance man and nothing else) has been replaced with Reynold N. Hoover.

What’s Mr. Hoover bring to the plate?

Before joining FEMA, Mr. Hoover was a commercial litigation attorney in Florida, where he also provided legal instruction to federal, state and local law enforcement and served as a consultant to the Air Line Pilots Association’s National Security Committee. Mr. Hoover, a licensed pilot, has served in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard for more than 20 years, most recently as colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard. He was awarded the Bronze Star for distinguished service during Operation Desert Storm.

Better than judging horse shows, but still, as far as emergency management experience, zero.

Number three man at the agency is the same as before: Deputy Chief of Staff Scott R. Morris.

Before joining FEMA, Mr. Morris served as the deputy chief of staff and White House liaison for the U.S. Small Business Administration. Mr. Morris was also the marketing director for the world�s leading provider of e-business applications software in California, and worked for Maverick Media in Austin, Texas, as a media strategist for the George W. Bush for President primary campaign and the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign.

Scott is best known for producing Bush’s campaign TV commercials.

Of course, the Secretary of Homeland Security is still Michael Chertoff, a lawyer with no emergency preparedness credentials, but with high marks as a Bush loyalist. And Bush is still president.

The 2005 hurricane season was the most active one on record. Global warming would suggest that the 2006 season will be pretty active too.

Good thing there’s no such thing as global warming, isn’t it? Darn good thing….

Comments on Ninety Days and Counting:
#1 ::: Christian Griffen ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 04:28 PM:

Not to mention that 2/3 of the Katrina rebuilding money has already been spent, and the need is still overwhelming. So not only did they screw up the preparation and immediate response, but the rebuilding is also horribly executed and underfunded (and we all know where the money's going instead).

#2 ::: Gabe ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 04:37 PM:

Leave it to the government, ANY government, to screw up paving the road to hell.

That's why I'm in favor of leaders decided by the tossing of swords by watery tarts.

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 04:47 PM:

The problem is not government, the problem is how the government is run. FEMA worked effectively under Clinton.

The right, conservative and conservatarian alike,likes to call any mention of social and economic inequalities 'class warfare'. The reality is that class warfare is being waged for and on behalf of the rich against the poor. Katrina simply raised one corner of the carpet.

#4 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 05:26 PM:

It's 40 degrees on the the 1st of March in Minneapolis. No global warming my *ss.

#5 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 05:29 PM:

On last night's NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams interviewed Michael Brown who insisted that he didn't just manage the horse thing, he had to do all sorts of legal stuff, none of which seemed to me to be any better preparation for disasters.

Ah, here's a transcript.

#6 ::: Steinn Sigurdsson ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 05:37 PM:

Sure we're ready, Weather Channel has three teams ready to go, and CNN has Anderson Cooper on call.

#7 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 05:40 PM:

Can they learn from their mistakes? Besides not to go public?

Tape: Bush, Chertoff Warned Before Katrina
By MARGARET EBRAHIM and JOHN SOLOMON, Associated Press Writers
1:57 PM PST, March 1, 2006

WASHINGTON -- In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, risk lives in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage of the briefings.

Bush didn't ask a single question during the final government-wide briefing the day before Katrina struck on Aug. 29 but assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

Six days of footage and transcripts obtained by The Associated Press show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Linked by secure video, Bush's bravado on Aug. 29 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

Some of the footage conflicts with the defenses that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response:

* Homeland Security officials have said the "fog of war" blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. "I'm sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done," National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield warned the day Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast.

"I don't buy the `fog of war' defense," Brown told the AP in an interview Wednesday. "It was a fog of bureaucracy."

* Bush declared four days after the storm, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility -- and Bush was worried too.

#8 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 05:47 PM:
How high's the water, mama?
'Two feet high and rising'
How high's the water, papa?
'She said it's two feet high and rising
But we can make it to the road in a homemade boat
'Cause that's the only thing we got left that'll float
It's already over all the wheat and oats'
Two feet high and rising

-- Johnny Cash

#9 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 05:56 PM:

For somebody who ostensibly hates lawyers and the work they do (can you say "tort reform? Sure you can!"), he sure seems to like hiring them to do jobs they don't know how to do.

Disclaimer: my cousin and her husband are both lawyers, and nice people to boot.

#10 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 06:04 PM:

PJ beat me to it, but for compleatness' sake here is the link to the MSNBC article:

I'm sure the administration will learn from its mistakes and move to correct this problem right away . . . by banning videotaping of briefings.

Fucking incompetent idiot.

#11 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 06:08 PM:

The joys of working with software that is slow, while having instant high-speed access.

#12 ::: Cynthia Wood ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 08:03 PM:

We were in New Orleans about a month before Katrina for a convention. Most of the locals were worried then - levees, hurricanes, flooding, were all high on the list of concerns, and everyone, but everyone, knew exactly how far above or below sea-level their residence was.

Just once I'd like to see Bush put someone in office simply because they would be good at the job. The only time he's put in even marginally competant people is when he knows the public is watching him closely. The new FEMA appointment was one, the quick change after he put a male veterinarian in charge of women's health issues was another. They're pretty much the only adequate appointments I know of.

#13 ::: Jim Kiley ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 09:04 PM:

C'mon, FEMA, let's try not to fnck up 2006 like you fncked up 2005. We don't have an infinite supply of these things you know.

#14 ::: Darice Moore ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 09:04 PM:

I live on the west coast of Florida, where it's never too early to start battening down the hatches (e.g., slowly stocking up on extra nonperishables and batteries). My parents' house was battered by Charley in '04, my mother-in-law's was hit twice last year. They went weeks without power after each storm.

The poor FEMA response after the hurricanes last year doesn't bode well, but even worse is the probability that many people around me won't have prepared and will be depending on whatever others -- government entitites, charity groups, etc. -- can bring in. To top that off, Pinellas County will likely turn into an island for at least a short while after a major storm.

I'm taking the Boy Scout motto as my own. Be prepared!

#15 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 12:17 AM:

Darice, i sure wouldn't want to be there. I currently live waaaaaaaay above a flood plain. We do get water through our basement in a rainstorm if it's heavy enough because our driveway/parking pad is crappy. We're in a house that was built in 1912. I'd go nuts if i was on the coast, but you live with what you can deal with. (today we had 70 degree weather, tomorrow it's going to be closer to 50.... and we occasionally get ice storms, but since we moved here, we're out less because we're closer to downtown and vital service trunklines. Longest we've been down is 18 hours, in an ice storm that took a lot and a lot of branches down.)

#16 ::: Darice Moore ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 01:42 AM:

Paula, I'm jealous of your 1912 house, sight unseen. (Ours dates from 1973... not an auspicious architectural era!)

We are about 4 miles from the beach but, more importantly, we're 42 feet above sea level, which is as good as it gets here. (We're in a non-evac zone. Hunker down! *drink*)

People talk about the New Orleanians building in a place that's doomed -- Floridians do it too. There's a post near the beach with markings to show the various storm surge levels predicted for each category of hurricane. The Cat 2 one is over my head, and Cat 5 is high above the gas station next to the post.

I will not rant here about overdevelopment and the loss of valuable wetlands that would provide natural drainage for storm surges, because it would be long and possibly vituperative. *sigh*

#17 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 02:21 AM:

The mayor of Los Angeles, where I live, recently gathered a number of city officials and emergency preparedness experts to begin a massive brainstorming and planning session to make sure Los Angeles' emergency preparedness was up to speed, including a plan for evacuating the entire city.

Under any circumstances, one should always make emergency plans under the assumption that outside help may be severely delayed; still, it really rubbed in the appalling incompetence and lack of concern of the current federal government that every single person the paper quoted in its article on the first LA meeting was saying that after the response to Katrina, they would not expect and were not planning for any help from the federal government whatsoever.

If you can't trust that the federal government will help you if your city is leveled by an earthquake, then what exactly is the point of its existence?

#18 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 04:56 AM:

"the conservatives, meanwhile, belied their name by refusing to take the most elementary precautions to conserve even the lives of the population..." John Wyndham, 'The Kraken Wakes'. A great global warming novel.

What happens at the top now? Does the acting director get confirmed, or will someone else be brought in from outside?

#19 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 09:45 AM:

The mayor of Los Angeles, where I live, recently gathered a number of city officials and emergency preparedness experts to begin a massive brainstorming and planning session to make sure Los Angeles' emergency preparedness was up to speed, including a plan for evacuating the entire city.

And Arizona's governor has I think been working on response plans should LA ever need to be evacuated, too.

Hasn't the West started working on its own responses to climate change as well? Again, because we know we can't count on the feds to do much?

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 10:23 AM:

There's an argument, and the Soviet Union was considered an exampple, that central control can't do the job. FEMA or GosPlan, the man in the office a thousand or more miles away can't know what is happening.

#21 ::: Leslie B ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 11:02 AM:

I have to be honest, as a long time Floridian, I'm kind of puzzled about all the stuff dumped on FEMA's door. Until Katrina, everyone I know considered FEMA to just be the people who showed up a week after the storm with a stack of paperwork for you to fill out so that hopefully the government would pay for whatever insurance didn't. They were paperpushers, nothing more.

#22 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 02:01 PM:

Global warming may not be the issue. The total count of tropical cyclones for 2005 was about average, but the distribution was weird: a record number of Atlantic storms, counter-balanced by unusually low numbers on the other oceans.

What worries me isn't just that the Atlantic hurricane season is 90 days away: there is no month of the year in which there has never been a North Atlantic tropical storm. Bear in mind that this is on a database of maybe a century and a half, and a good dataset for much less than that (pre-satellites, the data for storms that didn't strike land are agreed to be incomplete).

Meanwhile, what had been the largest seller of homeowner's insurance in New York State has declared, as a matter of business policy, that it won't be selling new insurance in New York City, on Long Island, or in a couple of nearby counties, and is going to be cancelling a significant number of existing policies (apparently selected either at random or by zip code, not based on anything the policyholders have done) because they expect a major hurricane here soon and couldn't afford to pay that many claims.

#23 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 02:01 PM:

"the man in the office a thousand or more miles away can't know what is happening"

The guy a thousand miles away at corporate headquarters isn't supposed to know what's happening in detail. He's supposed to make strategic decisions. He relies (or should rely) on information from his emergency control centre, which should be located as close to site of the incident as possible, and whose task is to co-ordinate the operations of the various services and agencies involved and to gather information on what's happening on the ground.
Page 1 of the emergency management textbook.
When you're dealing with a crisis, the last thing you need is the pointy-haired ones trying to micromanage the situation from forty thousand feet. The key person is the tactical commander on site.

Having said that, it's well established that any organisation that's run by lawyers or accountants is likely to fail or may already have failed (except, perhaps, law firms and accountancy practices respectively).

#24 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 02:45 PM:

Leslie B., when FEMA was placed under Homeland Security, its purpose was supposed to be to, y'know, manage federal emergencies, like big disasters from terrorist attacks or hurricanes. It might not have been so bad if they'd stayed out of it all, even, but they got involved in the worst possible way, blocking other efforts while managing to bungle their own.

#25 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 03:10 PM:

FEMA has a lot of problems, one being not enough employees:

They've got 90 days to hire 2,500 people.

Considering how fast my departement processes new hires, they haven't got a snowball's chance in hell...

#26 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 06:42 PM:

It just occurred to me that the current administration is using the "Forrest Gump Method For Dealing With Hurricanes", which is, in short, what hurricane?. Alternatively, they may strap themselves in to the ship's mast, shake their fist at God, and scream "Bring it on!".

#27 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 08:54 PM:

Of course, it could be a mild season, and then all the Bushies will be saying that there's no climate change...

BTW, it appears that a major part of FEMA's problem during Katrina was Bush's unwillingness to give the orders; Michael Brown is perhaps not as much at fault as we thought.

Would someone please give Bush a blow job so we could impeach him already?

#28 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2006, 02:23 AM:

Randolph Fritz: man, talk about taking one for the team...

#29 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2006, 07:20 AM:

Over on CNN this morning we read:

Ex-FEMA chief: Chertoff should be fired

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff should be fired for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, former federal emergency management chief Michael Brown said Thursday, accusing Chertoff of lacking disaster management knowledge.

And if anyone knows what "lacking disaster management knowledge" means, it's Heckuva Job Brownie.

That doesn't stop him from being right. Chertoff should be fired, and Bush should be impeached. What else is new?

"It appears to me that, you know, when Chertoff does things like tells me that I've got to go to Baton Rouge and plop my butt down on a seat in Baton Rouge and run a disaster from there, I think that shows naivete about how disasters are run," Brown told CNN. "And you've either have to get with it, or move on."

Of course, that didn't force Michael Brown to take leisurely dinners while his man at the Superdome was telling him that people were dying. There's lots of blame to go around here.

Good thing the terrorists haven't hit us again.

#30 ::: Juliet E McKenna ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2006, 08:01 AM:

Readers may like to know that Michael Brown gave an interview to the BBC's 'Today' radio programme this morning. It makes for interesting listening and can be accessed via their listen again facility, at 0731 on the timeline. (And off this particular topic, there are other items relating to current US policy at 0737 and 0810.)

#31 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2006, 10:52 AM:

James, when I heard about the briefing tape Wednesday, my first reaction was that we'll have to give Brown half a point for at least trying to get the word to Shrub. Not a whole point, because he still didn't do enough. E for effort, yes?

Brown got fired. but Shrub needs to be impeached.

#32 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2006, 05:39 PM:

I do believe the video tape mentioned above was the same video tape the White House told the grand jury it didn't have. Or maybe it was a congressional committee. Somebody you don't want to mess with, anyway. As I pondered that info, memories of Watergate and Nixon's tapes wandered thru my brain.

And I wondered how long it would take before the neocons blamed Clinton for the existance of the video tape, or causing the White House to lie about it.

#33 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2006, 11:12 PM:

Protected static: W. Bush has a perfect genius for getting other people to take the fall for him: Colin Powell, Brown, lots of economists. It is enough to make one believe that "the devil looks after his own."

#34 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2006, 04:09 AM:

Mark York: See also John Barnes' Mother of Storms, which I re-read recently. There was a lot more disturbed sex in it than I had remembered, but the picture of what a real climate worst-case could look like was pretty much what I remembered. And we're starting to have some major methane releases this past year...

#35 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2006, 07:27 PM:

Lin said: Or maybe it was a congressional committee. Somebody you don't want to mess with, anyway.

Alas, the way the Republicans are running things, there's not much for the WH to fear from Congressional committees. Talk about paper tigers...

#36 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 09:03 AM:

More to give you every confidence in Bush's FEMA:

No room at the inn for New Orleans dog search team

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- One of three canine search-and-rescue teams trained to look for bodies left by Hurricane Katrina plans to leave New Orleans after just a few days on the job, because there won't be a hotel room to stay in, the men said Wednesday.


According to FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews, the agency has paid for a block of rooms at the hotel, and she promised to follow up on the men's dilemma Thursday.

Carter and Guay said that Tuesday night, a FEMA representative greeted them at the hotel with a disclosure form asking them to identify themselves as long-term evacuees needing financial assistance; the men said they refused.

A canine team from south Georgia also may leave New Orleans. The third team, from Missouri, which is coordinating the other rescue efforts, has been in the city for a longer period and, apparently, has no housing issue.


#37 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 10:20 AM:

Speaking of the dog teams, they're still finding new bodies in homes this week, because for the past 3 1/2 months, FEMA red tape wouldn't pay for the dog teams. And given they're finding bodies in houses previously searched, I think we're about to see a rise in the death toll...

Quoting a CNN transcript:

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you look at the pictures on this house in Lakeview, you'll see one of those familiar markings on the front. And it says "zero," meaning no bodies found inside. That building was checked as recently as three days ago by the New Orleans Fire Department. But yesterday, cadaver dogs, by a group from Maine, located a victim. The individual was tucked behind the air conditioning vent in the attic apparently. According to the state medical examiner, he believes this guy was trying to crawl out of a vent in the window -- the floodwater was all the way up to the top of the house -- but met an unfortunate end there.
So these cadaver dogs, along with machinery from the Army Corps of Engineers, are going to be going through legions of houses throughout this area very carefully. First, the cadaver dogs go in. If they make a hit, then the urban search and rescue team, along the with Corps of Engineers, begins to move the splintered remains of the house aside. And at that point the medical team will go in and try and remove the remains -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Sean, it's been six months since Katrina hit and they're just now using cadaver dogs?

CALLEBS: Yes, it...

COSTELLO: I mean why hasn't this been done before? Why wasn't that like the top priority, to find these bodies in these homes?

CALLEBS: It's a great question and it is a sensitive issue for people who live here. They were using cadaver dogs from October until December. Then the city simply ran out of money. And they asked FEMA for more money to fund this research -- or this rescue operation, search and rescue recovery operation. And somehow, through red tape, through bureaucratic mess, the funding just came through last week. So they've only been doing this -- well, think, December, January, February, March -- about three-and-a-half months until they were able to resume.
So they expect to be working at least two more months trying to find all the victims they can, because there's going to be a lot of demolition in this area. They certainly don't want to sweep away remains along with the splintered homes.

#38 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2006, 10:17 PM:

Heck of a job, Bushie:

Wardens Yank Dogs From Katrina Zone

The dogs from Maine were taken home, their handlers couldn't put up with FEMA's incompetence.

#39 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2006, 01:35 PM:

What hurricane damage looks like: photos

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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