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Context of 'June 3, 2004: FEMA Awards Contract to Consulting Firm to Develop New Orleans Hurricane Response Plan'

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Local, state, and federal officials join the American Red Cross and New Orleans community and faith-based groups to launch a three-year pilot hurricane evacuation program, called “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” under which churches would provide rides to city residents without cars. [Times-Picayune, 7/24/2005; Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2005] The program will be funded through a State Farm Insurance grant to the Red Cross. [Times-Picayune, 5/31/2004; Times-Picayune, 7/24/2005]

Entity Tags: American Red Cross, State Farm Insurance, Operation Brother’s Keeper

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Consistent with its strategy to outsource disaster management functions (see Summer 2004), FEMA solicits bids for a contract to develop a hurricane disaster management plan for Southeastern Louisiana. FEMA’s “Scope of Work” for the contract demonstrates that it is acutely aware of the region’s vulnerability to hurricanes, and of the inadequacy of current plans to manage a major hurricane effectively. According to the document, FEMA and the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness “believe that the gravity of the situation calls for an extraordinary level of advance planning to improve government readiness to respond effectively to such an event.” FEMA describes the catastrophe that will result when a hurricane strikes Southeastern Louisiana. For example, FEMA writes that “the emergency management community has long feared the occurrence of a catastrophic disaster” that would cause “unprecedented levels of damage, casualties, dislocation, and disruption that would have nationwide consequences and jeopardize national security.” It cites “various hurricane studies” predicting that “a slow-moving Category 3 or almost any Category 4 or 5 hurricane approaching Southeast Louisiana from the south could severely damage the heavily populated southeast portion of the state creating a catastrophe with which the State would not be able to cope without massive help from neighboring states and the Federal Government.” FEMA also expressly recognizes that “existing plans, policies, procedures and resources” are inadequate to effectively manage such a “mega-disaster.” The work specified in the contract, awarded to Innovative Emergency Management (IEM) in early June (see June 3, 2004), is to be performed in three stages. During Stage I, scheduled for completion between May 19 and September 30, 2004, IEM will conduct a simulation exercise featuring a “catastrophic hurricane striking southeastern Louisiana” for local, state, and FEMA emergency officials. (FEMA will pay IEM $518,284 for this stage (see July 19-23, 2004)) IEM completes this stage when it conducts the “Hurricane Pam” exercise in July 2004 (see July 19-23, 2004). During Stage 2, IEM will develop a “full catastrophic hurricane disaster plan.” FEMA allocates $199,969 for this stage, which is to be completed between September 23, 2004 and September 30, 2005 (see September 23, 2004). The status of Stage 2 is currently unclear. [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file; Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file; US Congress, 9/9/2005] IEM apparently provides FEMA with a draft document titled “Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Functional Plan,” in August 2004. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004 pdf file] The Times-Picayune will identify a later 109-page draft, dated September 20, 2004 [Times-Picayune, 9/9/2005] [Times-Picayune, 9/9/2005] , and the Chicago Tribune will report that as Hurricane Katrina bears down on Louisiana during the evening of August 28, 2005, emergency officials are working from a functional plan, based on the 2004 Hurricane Pam exercise, that is only a few months old. The third stage relates to earthquake planning for the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) in the Central United States. [US Congress, 9/9/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/11/2005] The Scope of Work specifies that the contractor must plan for the following conditions:
bullet “Over one million people would evacuate from New Orleans. Evacuees would crowd shelters throughout Louisiana and adjacent states.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Hurricane surge would block highways and trap 300,000 to 350,000 persons in flooded areas. Storm surge of over 18 feet would overflow flood-protection levees on the Lake Pontchartrain side of New Orleans. Storm surge combined with heavy rain could leave much of New Orleans under 14 to 17 feet of water. More than 200 square miles of urban areas would be flooded.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “It could take weeks to ‘de-water’ (drain) New Orleans: Inundated pumping stations and damaged pump motors would be inoperable. Flood-protection levees would prevent drainage of floodwater. Breaching the levees would be a complicated and politically sensitive problem: The Corps of Engineers may have to use barges or helicopters to haul earthmoving equipment to open several hundred feet of levee.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Rescue operations would be difficult because much of the area would be reachable only by helicopters and boats.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Hospitals would be overcrowded with special-needs patients. Backup generators would run out of fuel or fail before patients could be moved elsewhere.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “The New Orleans area would be without electric power, food, potable water, medicine, or transportation for an extended time period.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Damaged chemical plants and industries could spill hazardous materials.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Standing water and disease could threaten public health.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “There would be severe economic repercussions for the state and region.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]
bullet “Outside responders and resources, including the Federal response personnel and materials, would have difficulty entering and working in the affected area.” [Department of Homeland Security, 2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Innovative Emergency Management (IEM), an emergency management and homeland security consulting firm, announces that the Department of Homeland Security has awarded it a $500,000 contract to lead the development of a catastrophic hurricane disaster plan (see September 23, 2004) for Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. Announcing the award, IEM Director of Homeland Security Wayne Thomas notes that “the greater New Orleans area is one of the nation’s most vulnerable locations for hurricane landfall. Given this area’s vulnerability, unique geographic location and elevation, and troubled escape routes, a plan that facilitates a rapid and effective hurricane response and recovery is critical.” [Innovative Emergency Management, 6/3/2004; Insurance Journal, 6/9/2004; US Congress, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Innovative Emergency Management

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure in Louisiana’s House of Representatives votes against Senate Bill 598, which would have provided immunity from civil liability for private drivers who evacuate carless hurricane evacuees. Voting against the measure are Representatives Shirley Bowler, (R-Harahan), and Austin Badon Jr., (D-New Orleans). The measure, already passed in the Senate with a 33-0 vote, was introduced by Senator Francis Heitmeier (D-Algiers) at the request of the New Orleans emergency preparedness office, as well as a coalition of government officials, the Red Cross, and community groups seeking to implement “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” a program designed to increase evacuation of New Orlean’s poor population (see (Spring 2004)). House members who rejected the bill were reportedly concerned that a drunken driver giving a ride to an evacuee could evade responsibility if there was an accident. Representative Badon also argued that immunity was not necessary since a driver’s insurance policy would provide indemnity in the case of an accident. [Times-Picayune, 6/8/2004; Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Operation Brother’s Keeper, American Red Cross, State Farm Insurance

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Archdiocese of New Orleans decides that its 142 parishes should not participate in “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” a program under which churches will help evacuate New Orleans residents who lack cars if the city is threatened by a hurricane (see (Spring 2004)), until new legislation has been passed to minimize liability risks, Local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins says. [Times-Picayune, 7/24/2005]

Entity Tags: City Of New Orleans Office Of Emergency Preparedness, Archdiocese of New Orleans

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, which borders New Orleans’ west and south side, tells the local Times-Picayune that the war on terror is endangering flood control: “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.” [Editor & Publisher, 8/31/2005; Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Walter Maestri

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Bush administration shifts FEMA funds away from pre-disaster preparation and implements policies to promote outsourcing of relief efforts to private companies. FEMA staff members warn that these policies will slow response times in emergency situations [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Deforest B. Soaries Jr.Deforest B. Soaries Jr. [Source: MSNBC]On July 6, John Kerry named John Edwards as his running mate. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] This produced a slight increase in the opinion polls and a media focus on the Kerry campaign. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Two days later, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warns that “Al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.” [Department of Homeland Security, 7/8/2004] Officials cite “alarming” intelligence about a possible al-Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall and admit they are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of an attack. Officials point to the recent Madrid train bombings as an attempt by al-Qaeda to influence the political process in a democratic nation (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Intercepted chatter leads one analyst to say, “they want to interfere with the elections.” It is reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze the necessary legal steps that would permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] The head of the US Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., confirms he has written to Tom Ridge to discuss this prospect. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Soaries notes that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001 was suspended by the State Board of Elections after the attacks, “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.” Soaries advises Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress that would grant such power to the DHS. DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says, “We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election.” [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] A top European spy says of the threat, “I am aware of no intelligence, nothing that shows there will be an attack before the US presidential election.” No attack will materialize and no further information on the threat will be presented to the public. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Ridge will later concede that he had no “precise knowledge” of the attack he warned against, and he never made plans to raise the color-coded threat level. [Rich, 2006, pp. 146]

Entity Tags: US Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., John Edwards, John Kerry, Tom Ridge, Brian Roehrkasse

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

FEMA sponsors a 5-day exercise rehearsing for a mock storm, named “Pam,” that destroys over half a million buildings in New Orleans and forces the evacuation of a million residents. The drill is conducted by Innovative Emergency Management (IEM). [Associated Press, 7/24/2004; Times-Picayune, 7/24/2004; Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005] It is attended by about 250 emergency officials and involves more than 40 federal, state, and local agencies, as well as volunteer organizations. As part of the scenario, about 200,000 people fail to heed evacuation orders. Pam slams directly into New Orleans bringing 120 mph winds, 20 inches of rain, 14 tornadoes, and a massive storm surge that overtops levees flooding the city with 20 feet of water containing a toxic mix of corpses, chemicals, and human waste. Eighty percent of the city’s buildings are damaged. Survivors crawl to the rooftops to wait for help, but rescue workers are impeded by impassable roads. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 7/23/2004; Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005; New York Times, 9/1/2005; MSNBC, 9/2/2005; Associated Press, 9/9/2005] The flooding results in a massive number of casualties and leaves large portions of southeast Louisiana uninhabitable for more than a year. [Associated Press, 9/9/2005] At the conclusion of the exercise, Ron Castleman, regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, states: “We made great progress this week in our preparedness efforts. Disaster response teams developed action plans in critical areas such as search and rescue, medical care, sheltering, temporary housing, school restoration and debris management. These plans are essential for quick response to a hurricane but will also help in other emergencies.” [Reuters, 9/2/2005] As a result of the exercise, officials come to realize how difficult it will be to evacuate the city’s population in the event of a real hurricane. They expect that only a third of the population will be able leave before the storm hits, in part due to the fact that up to 100,000 residents live in households without a car. When asked how many people might die in such a storm, FEMA spokesman David Passey hesitates before stating, “We would see casualties not seen in the United States in the last century.” [Times-Picayune, 7/20/2004] In December 2004, a 412-page draft report summarizing the exercise will be completed with detailed predictions of what the government should expect in the event that a major hurricane strikes New Orleans.
Predictions - Flood waters would surge over levees, creating “a catastrophic mass casualty/mass evacuation” and leaving drainage pumps crippled for up to six months. “It will take over one year to re-enter areas most heavily impacted,” the report predicts. More than 600,000 houses and 6,000 businesses would be affected, and more than two-thirds of them would be destroyed. Almost a quarter-million children would have no school. “All 40 medical facilities in the impacted area [would be] isolated and useless.” Casualties would be staggering: 61,290 deaths, 187,862 injured, and 196,395 ill. A half million people would be made homeless by the storm. Storm “refugees” would be housed at college campuses, military barracks, hotels, travel trailers, recreational vehicles, private homes, cottages, churches, Boy Scout camps, and cruise ships. [Associated Press, 9/9/2005]
Recommendations - “Federal support must be provided in a timely manner to save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate severe damage. This may require mobilizing and deploying assets before they are requested via normal (National Response Plan) protocols.” [Associated Press, 9/9/2005]
Top officials briefed - Ivor van Heerden, the Louisiana State University hurricane researcher who ran the exercise, reports that a “White House staffer was briefed on the exercise,” and thus, “there is now a far greater awareness in the federal government about the consequences of storm surges.” [Louisiana State University, 2005] After the Hurricane Katrina Disaster, van Heerden will recall in an interview with MSNBC that the federal government didn’t take the exercise seriously. “Those FEMA officials wouldn’t listen to me. Those Corps of Engineers people giggled in the back of the room when we tried to present information.” When Heerden recommended that tent cities be prepared for displaced residents, “their response… was: ‘Americans don’t live in tents’ and that was about it.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2005]
Follow-up - Another exercise is scheduled the following year, but it’s cancelled when its funding is cut (see 2005).

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Ivor Van Heerden, Ron Castleman

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The Department of Homeland Security issues a task order for Innovative Emergency Management, Inc. (IEM) to “complete the development of the SE Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane plan.” IEM is to receive $199,969 for the work. [US Congress, 9/9/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Innovative Emergency Management

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Funding is cut for a FEMA disaster exercise meant to prepare government agencies for a major hurricane in New Orleans. The exercise, a follow-up to the Hurricane “Pam” exercise that was conducted the prior year (see July 19-23, 2004), was to develop a plan to fix such unresolved problems as evacuating sick and injured people from the Superdome and housing tens of thousands of displaced residents. [Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005] “Money was not available to do the follow-up,” Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will later say in an interview with the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 9/9/2005] After the disastrous Hurricane Katrina, Eric Tolbert, FEMA’s former disaster response chief, will tell Knight Ridder Newspapers: “A lot of good was done, but it just wasn’t finished. I don’t know if it would have saved more lives. It would have made the response faster. You might say it would have saved lives.” [Knight Ridder, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Eric Tolbert, Michael D. Brown

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Total Community Action, a New Orleans faith-based organization, reportedly secures promises from Amtrak to help evacuate the city’s carless residents in the event of a major hurricane. [Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Total Community Action, Amtrak

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Louisiana Governor Blanco and local officials from Southeastern Louisiana parishes hold a special press conference to urge residents to evacuate. Blanco reports that the parishes are cooperating in following the evacuation plan, and encourages residents to listen to their parish leaders regarding when they should leave their area. Aaron Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish, then outlines the particulars of the evacuations, noting that residents of low-lying regions need to leave immediately, so that other residents can follow. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warns residents that Hurricane Katrina poses a grave danger to the city: “This is not a test. This is the real deal. Things could change, but as of right now, New Orleans is definitely the target for this hurricane.” Nagin says that New Orleans will follow the state’s evacuation plan, and thus, he will not officially order evacuations until 30 hours before expected landfall, to allow those residents in low-lying surrounding areas to leave first. However, he recommends that residents in low-lying areas of the city, such as Algiers and the 9th Ward, get a head start, noting: “We want you to take this a little more seriously and start moving—right now, as a matter of fact.” Acknowledging that many residents have no independent means of transportation, Nagin says that the city might open the Superdome as a shelter of last resort for evacuees with special needs, but advises evacuees who plan to stay there to bring their own food, drinks, and other comforts necessary. Police Chief Eddie Compass states that New Orleans likely will issue a curfew at some point, and the police department will station police officers at shopping centers to prevent looting. Blanco sums up the situation: “We have been very blessed so far. We’ve escaped the brunt of most of the hurricanes that have been generated. But now it looks like we’re going to have to bear some of the brunt of this storm.” [CNN, 8/27/2005; Times-Picayune Blog, 8/27/2005; Associated Press, 8/27/2005; Washington Post, 9/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Hurricane Katrina, Aaron Broussard, Ray Nagin, Eddie Compass

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

NHC Director Max Mayfield calls New Orleans Mayor Nagin: “This is going to be a defining moment for a lot of people.” [Houston Chronicle, 9/8/2005; Washington Post, 9/11/2005] Nagin will tell City Councilwoman Cynthia Morrell early Sunday morning, “Max Mayfield has scared me to death.” [Newsweek, 9/19/2005] Nagin will later recall that Mayfled’s message “scared the crap out of me.” “I immediately said, ‘My God, I have to call a mandatory evacuation,’” according to a later Knight Ridder report. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005] Nagin will call for the evacuation Sunday morning at 9:30 am (see (9:30 am) August 28, 2005).

Entity Tags: Max Mayfield, Cynthia Morrell, Ray Nagin

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The last Amtrak train leaves New Orleans, with equipment—but no passengers. Earlier, Amtrak decided to run a nonscheduled train from New Orleans to Macomb Mississippi to move equipment out of harm’s way. Amtrak representative Cliff Black will later assert that Amtrak offered to take New Orleans evacuees on the train, which has room for several hundred passengers, but the city declined the offer. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005] Mayor Ray Nagin, however, denies this claim, asserting, “Amtrak never contacted me to make that offer. As a matter of fact, we checked the Amtrak lines for availability, and every available train was booked, as far as the report that I got, through September. So I’d like to see that report.… I would love to have had that call. But it never happened.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2005] The Los Angeles Times will later report that Total Community Action, a non-profit community based agency serving disadvantaged New Orleans residents, had previously secured a commitment from Amtrak to transport residents without cars to safety in the event of an evacuation (see (Spring-Summer 2005)). Most reports indicate that no such transport occurred, although the Los Angeles Times article references “reports that at least one Amtrak train got out of the city with evacuees.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Ray Nagin, Cliff Black, Amtrak

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

After noting that the Red Cross has predicted that as many as 100,000 people could die if a hurricane would hit New Orleans, ABC reporter Kate Snow asks Louisiana Governor Blanco how the evacuation is proceeding. Blanco responds: “We started evacuations early yesterday. Started encouraging people to voluntarily evacuate from the low-lying areas surrounding the Orleans area. And today we’re focusing on the final people who are still in the city, encouraging them to leave. There will be all sorts of modes of transportation available to those who have no transportation. City buses will be available. Other people are bringing buses in. We also, I believe are lining up trains to move as many people out as possible.” [ABC, 8/28/2005] Note that Amtrak’s last train reportedly left Saturday evening around 8:30 pm (see 8:30 pm August 27, 2005).

Entity Tags: Kate Snow, American Red Cross, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

FEMA’s Situation Update indicates that it is starkly aware of the dire situation in New Orleans, including the lack of transportation for many of the poorer residents: “Katrina could be especially devastating if it strikes New Orleans because the city sits below sea level and is dependent on levees and pumps to keep the water out. A direct hit could wind up submerging the city in several feet of water. Making matters worse, at least 100,000 people in the city lack the transportation to get out of town.” FEMA outlines preparations as follows: FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) Red Team and the National Emergency Response Team (Blue) have been fully activated. Region 4 (serving Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, among others) and Region 6 (serving Louisiana) are also fully activated. At the state level, both Mississippi’s and Louisiana’s Emergency Operations Centers are fully activated. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/28/2005]

Entity Tags: National Emergency Operations Center, National Response Coordination Center, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

According to a later interview with the New York Times, FEMA Director Mike Brown states that by this time, he has grown so frustrated with Mayor Nagin’s apparent refusal to order a mandatory evacuation that he calls President Bush to ask for help. “‘Mike, you want me to call the mayor?’ the president responds in surprise,” according to Brown. [New York Times, 9/15/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ray Nagin, Michael D. Brown

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

President Bush telephones Governor Blanco (apparently in response to FEMA Director Michael Brown’s request to call New Orleans Mayor Nagin (see Before 9:30am August 28, 2005), to urge a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, according to later reports. Blanco responds that Mayor Nagin has already decided to do so, and will make the announcement shortly. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Ray Nagin, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

At 9:30 am this morning, Mayor Nagin announces the first-ever mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. After reading the official declaration, Nagin states: “Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I had better news for you. But we are facing a storm that most of us have feared. I do not want to create panic. But I do want the residents to understand that this is very serious, and it’s of the highest nature. And that’s why we are taking this unprecedented move. The storm is now a Cat 5… with sustained winds of 150 miles an hour, with wind gusts of 190 miles per hour. The storm surge most likely will topple our levy system. So we are preparing to deal with that also. So that’s why we’re ordering a mandatory evacuation.” Acknowledging that many people will be unable to obtain transportation, Nagin announces that the city has established ten pickup areas for residents without transportation. City buses will transport residents from the pickup areas to the city’s shelters. The Superdome will open as a shelter of last resort, although Nagin states that, “I want to emphasize, the first choice of every resident should be to leave the city.” The Superdome is likely to be without power for days—and possibly weeks—after the storm fits, and it will not be a comfortable place. Hotels and their patrons are exempted from the order. Police and firefighters will spread out throughout the city sounding sirens and using bullhorns to tell residents to get out. Police may commandeer any vehicle or building that could be used for evacuation or shelter. Nagin concludes his announcement as follows: “This is an opportunity in New Orleans for us to come together in the way that we’ve never come together before. This is a threat that we’ve never faced before. And if we galvanize and rally around each other, I am sure that we will get through this. God bless us.” [CNN, 8/28/2005; Russell, 8/28/2005; City of New Orleans, 8/28/2005]
Note 1 - Various sources have reported that Nagin issued the mandatory evacuation later than 9:30. [Houston Chronicle, 9/8/2005; Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] However, according to the contemporaneous CNN transcript, Nagin makes this announcement only minutes after 9:23 am CDT.
Note 2 - The Washington Post will later report, incorrectly, that Nagin never mentioned the estimated 100,000 residents who had no personal means of transportation. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005] In fact, Nagin acknowledged this issue as early as Saturday (see (1:30 pm) August 27, 2005). State and federal officials also acknowledge this problem, and are seeking buses to evacuate these residents. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/28/2005; Dallas Morning News, 8/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Ray Nagin, New Orleans Superdome

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Louisiana Governor Blanco takes the podium to reinforce the need for evacuation: “I want to reiterate what the mayor has said (see (9:30 am) August 28, 2005). This is a very dangerous time. Just before we walked into this room, President Bush called (see Shortly before 9:30 am August 28, 2005) and told me to share with all of you that he is very concerned about the residents. He is concerned about the impact that this hurricane would have on our people. And he asked me to please ensure that there would be a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. The leaders at the highest ranks of our nation have recognized the destructive forces and the possible awesome danger that we are in. And I just want to say, we need to get as many people out as possible. The shelters will end up probably without electricity or with minimum electricity from generators in the end. There may be intense flooding that will be not in our control, which would be ultimately the most dangerous situation that many of our people could face. Waters could be as high as 15 to 20 feet.… That would probably be ultimately the worst situation. We’re hoping that it does not happen that way. We need to pray, of course, very strongly, that the hurricane force would diminish.” Blanco then describes the gridlock on roads leading out of New Orleans, and urges residents to take alternate routes. [CNN, 8/28/2005; WWLTV 4 (New Orleans), 8/28/2005; KATC News (Lafayette, LA), 8/30/2005]

Entity Tags: Ray Nagin, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

From his ranch in Crawford, President Bush speaks briefly with reporters. Bush first explains that he has spoken with FEMA Director Michael Brown (see Before 9:30am August 28, 2005) and with the governors of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana (see Shortly before 9:30 am August 28, 2005), and Mississippi. He announces that he has already signed disaster declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi. Bush then addresses the residents in the storm’s path: “Hurricane Katrina is now designated a Category 5 hurricane. We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities. I urge all residents to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground. Please listen carefully to instructions provided by state and local officials.” Bush then turns to Iraq, congratulating “the people of Iraq on completing the next step in their transition from dictatorship to democracy.” Bush’s brief statement contains 203 words about the pending Katrina disaster, and 819 words about the new Iraqi constitution. [US President, 9/5/2005]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina, Iraq under US Occupation

Throughout this afternoon and evening, Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and some school buses will run between the designated pick-up areas and the Superdome throughout the afternoon and evening. “They’re using school buses and about everything they can find to get people out of here,” reports French Quarter resident Rob Ramsey. [Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 8/29/2005; Times-Picayune, 8/29/2005 pdf file] Nagin will later explain that the plan is to get people to higher ground: “Get them out of their homes, which—most people are under sea level—Get them to a higher ground and then depending upon our state and federal officials to move them out of harm’s way after the storm has hit.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2005] Neither the number of buses deployed by the city, nor the number of people successfully evacuated on city buses, is known at this time. In the days to come, after publication of a photo showing hundreds of flooded buses, many will question why the city failed to use these buses to evacuate more people. [MSNBC, 9/6/2005] However, as Mayor Nagin will later note, “Sure, there was lots of buses out there. But guess what? You can’t find drivers that would stay behind with a Category 5 hurricane, you know, pending down on New Orleans. We barely got enough drivers to move people on Sunday, or Saturday and Sunday, to move them to the Superdome. We barely had enough drivers for that. So sure, we had the assets, but the drivers just weren’t available.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2005] In fact, officials at all levels of government:
bullet (a) know that that many residents will need transportation (see (1:30 pm) August 27, 2005) (see Between 7:00-8:00 am August 28, 2005) (see Morning August 28, 2005)
bullet (b) know that local officials do not have sufficient resources to evacuate all residents who lack transportation (see (Spring 2004)) (see July 19-23, 2004) ; and
bullet (c) fail to dispatch the number of buses necessary for the evacuation. [Dallas Morning News, 8/29/2005; Advocate (Baton Rouge), 9/9/2005; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] In short, officials at all levels of government are seeking buses; and officials at all levels of government fail to use the fleet of buses in the city that will be flooded during the hurricane. [MSNBC, 9/6/2005]
Note 1 - MSBNC will later report that it has obtained a draft emergency plan prepared by FEMA, which calls for “400 buses to… evacuate victims.” [MSNBC, 9/6/2005] More details regarding this plan are not yet known.
Note 2 - It is unclear whether Passey’s post-hurricane statement refers to buses requested before the hurricane or after. However, his report that FEMA is scrambling for buses occurs sometime prior to August 29, when it is reported in the Dallas Morning News. Regardless of which bus request (i.e., pre- or post-hurricane) Passey is referencing, it is undisputed that, along with the city and state, FEMA was scrambling for buses pre-hurricane, and that, along with the city and state, FEMA failed to deploy the many city school buses that will be flooded due to the hurricane.
Note 3 - Although not yet clear, it may be that officials elect to stage people at the Superdome because of their inability to deploy sufficient buses, in order to maximize the number of people that can be evacuated from low-lying neighborhoods in the hours leading up to the storm. Had officials used the available buses to transport people out of the city via the clogged interstates, the total number of people evacuated necessarily would have been much smaller. Each bus likely could make only a single run. Instead, the buses can make multiple trips from pickup areas to the Superdome.

Entity Tags: Rob Ramsey, Ray Nagin, New Orleans Superdome, Regional Transit Authority

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The 2004 Hurricane Pam exercise (see July 19-23, 2004) indicated that approximately 65 percent of the New Orleans-area population would evacuate before a major hurricane. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005] However, initial reports indicate that the Katrina evacuation has exceeded these expectations—significantly. Almost one million people (or about 80 percent of the population) have left the greater New Orleans area, according to Jeff Smith, Deputy Director of Louisiana’s Emergency Planning. Later, Smith will note that, “Everyone is kind of focusing on response at this point in time. I don’t hear anybody talking about how successful that evacuation was. It probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and nobody wants to talk about that.” Smith will acknowledge, however, that up to 100,000 residents may not have evacuated. [National Public Radio, 9/9/2005 Sources: Jeff Smith] When asked about the evacuation of the reported 100,000 residents without transportation, FEMA Director Mike Brown will say “I think enough was done,” adding that his only question is whether the mandatory evacuation should have been announced sooner. [Wall Street Journal, 9/12/2005] Jefferson Parish reports a 70 percent evacuation rate, in part due to a “church buddy program,” which provided rides for approximately 25,000 residents. St. Bernard Parish reports an astounding 90 percent evacuation rate. [Washington Post, 9/11/2005] The Chicago Tribune later reports that the area has achieved 75 percent evacuation. [Chicago Tribune, 9/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Michael D. Brown

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Around midnight, local emergency officials from southeastern Louisiana hold a teleconference with FEMA to discuss plans for responding to Katrina’s aftermath. Local officials are so certain of catastrophe that they ask FEMA to include extra medical staff in its first wave of responders to help the expected casualties. At this point, officials are reportedly following a plan drafted only months ago, as a result of the Hurricane Pam exercise conducted in 2004 (see July 19-23, 2004). [Chicago Tribune, 9/11/2005]
Note - Following the 2004 Hurricane Pam exercise, Innovative Emergency Management (IEM issued a Draft Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Functional Plan (Draft Plan) on August 6, 2004. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004 pdf file] Whether local officials are following this draft plan, or a later plan, remains unclear at this time. The Chicago Tribune reports that the plan in place provides that local officials should be prepared to deal with the aftermath of the storm for 48 to 60 hours (or until August 31). However, the Draft Plan expressly contemplates that local search and rescue resources will be unavailable to rescue the estimated 500,000 people in flooded or damaged areas. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 69-70, 72 pdf file] Thus, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the US Coast Guard are expected to serve as the primary first-responders, while local officials are tasked with requesting assistance. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 70-74 pdf file] Further, while local parishes are tasked with identifying required support, the Plan recognizes that they may be unable to do so: “State and Federal SAR operations personnel will respond to Parishes without a request if initial assessment indicates that the Parish is severely damaged and is not capable of requesting assistance.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 75 pdf file] The Plan also contemplates that 500,000 residents will need transport from the initial search and rescue staging area to shelters, and that because the Louisiana National Guard will be otherwise tasked, it will be unable to meet this transportation need. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/6/2004, pp. 27-28 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Pam, US Coast Guard, Louisiana National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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