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Context of 'Morning August 28, 2005: FEMA’s National Situation Update Focuses on Preparations for Hurricane Katrina'

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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

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

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

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

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

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