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FEMA Chief waited 5 hours after storm hit before asking permission to help

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050907/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/katrina_disaster_response FEMA Chief Waited Until After Storm Hit By TED BRIDIS,
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6, 2005
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      FEMA Chief Waited Until After Storm Hit

      By TED BRIDIS, Associated Press Writer 23 minutes ago

      WASHINGTON - The government's disaster chief waited
      until hours after Hurricane Katrina had already struck
      the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch
      Homeland Security employees to the region — and gave
      them two days to arrive, according to internal

      Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency
      Management Agency, sought the approval from Homeland
      Security Secretary Mike Chertoff roughly five hours
      after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29. Brown said
      that among duties of these employees was to "convey a
      positive image" about the government's response for

      Before then, FEMA had positioned smaller rescue and
      communications teams across the Gulf Coast. But
      officials acknowledged Tuesday the first
      department-wide appeal for help came only as the storm

      Brown's memo to Chertoff described Katrina as "this
      near catastrophic event" but otherwise lacked any
      urgent language. The memo politely ended, "Thank you
      for your consideration in helping us to meet our

      The initial responses of the government and Brown came
      under escalating criticism as the breadth of
      destruction and death grew. President Bush and
      Congress on Tuesday pledged separate investigations
      into the federal response to Katrina. "Governments at
      all levels failed," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

      Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said Brown had
      positioned front-line rescue teams and Coast Guard
      helicopters before the storm. Brown's memo on Aug. 29
      aimed to assemble the necessary federal work force to
      support the rescues, establish communications and
      coordinate with victims and community groups, Knocke

      Instead of rescuing people or recovering bodies, these
      employees would focus on helping victims find the help
      they needed, he said.

      "There will be plenty of time to assess what worked
      and what didn't work," Knocke said. "Clearly there
      will be time for blame to be assigned and to learn
      from some of the successful efforts."

      Brown's memo told employees that among their duties,
      they would be expected to "convey a positive image of
      disaster operations to government officials, community
      organizations and the general public."

      "FEMA response and recovery operations are a top
      priority of the department and as we know, one of
      yours," Brown wrote Chertoff. He proposed sending
      1,000 Homeland Security Department employees within 48
      hours and 2,000 within seven days.

      Knocke said the 48-hour period suggested for the
      Homeland employees was to ensure they had adequate
      training. "They were training to help the
      life-savers," Knocke said.

      Employees required a supervisor's approval and at
      least 24 hours of disaster training in Maryland,
      Florida or Georgia. "You must be physically able to
      work in a disaster area without refrigeration for
      medications and have the ability to work in the
      outdoors all day," Brown wrote.

      The same day Brown wrote Chertoff, Brown also urged
      local fire and rescue departments outside Louisiana,
      Alabama and Mississippi not to send trucks or
      emergency workers into disaster areas without an
      explicit request for help from state or local
      governments. Brown said it was vital to coordinate
      fire and rescue efforts.

      Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said Tuesday that Brown
      should step down.

      After a senators-only briefing by Homeland Security
      Secretary Michael Chertoff and other Cabinet members,
      Sen. Charles E. Schumer said lawmakers weren't getting
      their questions answered.

      "What people up there want to know, Democrats and
      Republicans, is what is the challenge ahead, how are
      you handling that and what did you do wrong in the
      past," said Schumer, D-N.Y.

      Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the administration is
      "getting a bad rap" for the emergency response.

      "This is the largest disaster in the history of the
      United States, over an area twice the size of Europe,"
      Stevens said. "People have to understand this is a
      big, big problem."

      Meanwhile, the airline industry said the government's
      request for help evacuating storm victims didn't come
      until late Thursday afternoon. The president of the
      Air Transport Association, James May, said the
      Homeland Security Department called then to ask if the
      group could participate in an airlift for refugees.


      On the Net:

      Federal Emergency Management Agency:

      Homeland Security Department: http://www.dhs.gov

      The memo from FEMA Director Mike Brown to Homeland
      Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is available at: http://wid.ap.org/documents/dhskatrina.pdf
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