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Context of 'Morning August 28, 2005: Staff Feels FEMA is Still Not Preparing Adequately for Disaster'

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known best as a relief agency for victims of natural disasters, is secretly dedicated to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of national emergency. Upon its establishment, FEMA absorbs the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (DCPA) and the Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA), which were previously responsible for the top-secret plans (see April 1, 1979). During the 1980s and into the early 1990s, FEMA’s budget and workforce are overwhelming geared towards the COG program (see 1982-1991 and February 1993). FEMA remains in charge of overseeing the government’s continuity plans up to present day. According to FEMA’s website, the agency’s Office of National Continuity Programs (NCP) is currently the “Lead Agent for the Federal Executive Branch on matters concerning continuity of national operations under the gravest of conditions.” [fema.gov, 6/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Office of National Continuity Programs, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, Federal Preparedness Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bruce Baughman.Bruce Baughman. [Source: Elise Moore / FEMA]Bruce Baughman, director of the planning and readiness division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), takes charge at FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC, because more senior FEMA officials, including the agency’s director, are away from the capital. FEMA Director Joseph Allbaugh and Lacy Suiter, FEMA’s assistant director of readiness, response, and recovery, are in Big Sky, Montana, attending the annual conference of the National Emergency Management Association (see September 8-11, 2001 and After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Baughman, who led FEMA’s response to the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), therefore has to take charge of FEMA’s response to today’s terrorist attacks. In this capacity, he is responsible for activating FEMA’s emergency operations center, dispatching disaster medical personnel to the scenes of the attacks, and establishing emergency communications for New York. After the Twin Towers come down (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), he calls up the first FEMA urban search and rescue teams, which specialize in rescuing people from collapsed structures. [Block and Cooper, 2006, pp. 73-75] He will subsequently personally brief President Bush on three days while response operations are underway. [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 pdf file]
FEMA Will Help Local Agencies Respond to the Attacks - In May, Bush put FEMA in charge of responding to terrorist attacks in the United States (see May 8, 2001). [White House, 5/8/2001; Los Angeles Times, 5/9/2001] The agency therefore plays a key role in the government’s response to today’s attacks. The emergency response team at its headquarters is activated today, along with all 10 of its regional operations centers. It also activates its federal response plan, which, it states, “brings together 28 federal agencies and the American Red Cross to assist local and state governments in response to national emergencies and disasters.” It deploys eight urban search and rescue teams to New York to search for victims in the debris from the collapsed World Trade Center buildings, and four urban search and rescue teams to the Pentagon to assist the response there. These teams consist mainly of local emergency services personnel, and are trained and equipped to handle structural collapses. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 9/11/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency, 9/11/2001; US National Response Team, 2014, pp. 2 pdf file] In the days and weeks following the attacks, it will work with state and city officials to carry out the task of removing the debris from the WTC site. [Block and Cooper, 2006, pp. 75]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Joseph M. Allbaugh, Bruce Baughman, Lacy E. Suiter

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FEMA’s National Situation Update once again leads with Katrina, noting that the Mississippi and Louisiana governors have declared a state of emergency, due to the threat posed by the hurricane. The Update warns, in bold type, that “New Orleans is of particular concern because much of that city lies below sea level,” and then continues: “[I]f the hurricane winds blow from a certain direction, there are dire predictions of what may happen in the city.” According to the Update, Department of Defense and Rapid Needs Assessment functions “are being activated,” while Region 4 (which serves Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, among others) remains at Level 2 operations. Curiously, the Update does not mention the status of Region 6, which serves Louisiana. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/27/2005] Leo Bosner, FEMA Emergency Management Specialist (and president of the union representing FEMA staff), will later state that FEMA staff issues this Update at 5:30 this morning, and that they pointedly focused on New Orleans: “We used good, heavy black type. We said there’s a storm going toward New Orleans and it’s a Force—I think it was a Force 3, expected to strengthen into a Force 4 at that point. And we let them know this is a very serious situation. There were some resources being mobilized but really not quite enough for that kind of a scale. They get these things in person. They go to their office computer and to their BlackBerry.” According to Bosner’s later recollection, “We sent the information up and we’d expected that by the time we come in, everything would be swinging into action. We got there, and there was the sounds of silence.” [National Public Radio, 9/16/2005 Sources: Leo Bosner]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

When Leo Bosner, FEMA Emergency Management Specialist (and president of the union representing FEMA staff), returns to FEMA’s Emergency Operations Center this evening, he and his colleagues are “aghast” at the lack of preparations taking place, according to a later interview with National Public Radio: “We’d been expecting that, given our reports and so on, that there’d be some extraordinary measures taking place. So when we come in Saturday night and nothing much had happened—you know, we had a few medical teams, a few search teams were in place, but there was no massive effort that we could see. There was no massive effort to organize the city of New Orleans in an organized way that clearly had to be done. There was no massive mobilization of national resources other than the few that were out there. And I think most of us—I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that I and a number of my colleagues just—we felt sort of shocked.… You assume that if there’s a fire, you’re gonna pull that lever and—someone will pull the lever, and you assume if you pull the lever that in no time these trucks and sirens are gonna come roaring up to your building and people will jump out and will have hoses and fire extinguishers and rescue equipment and things will be taken care of. Well, you sort of imagine now if your building catches fire and you pull that lever and nothing happens, the lever comes off in your hand, there’s nothing there; that’s, I think, how we felt.” Senior FEMA officials deny Bosner’s claim, although their denial reflects an expectation that state and local officials will handle the emergency. “We pleaded and informed state and local officials of the severity of this and encouraged everyone to take it seriously,” Russ Knocke, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff representative, will later contend, after asserting that, “Without question, there was a significant amount of recognition and appreciation for the magnitude of this storm.” [National Public Radio, 9/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Leo Bosner, National Emergency Operations Center, Russ Knocke, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Inside FEMA’s National Emergency Operations Center this morning, “None of the things that [are] supposed to be happening at the national level are happening. Nobody [is] mobilizing extra National Guard troops or organizing buses to help evacuate New Orleans,” Leo Bosner, FEMA Emergency Management Specialist, will later claim. (Bosner is president of the union representing FEMA staff.) According to Bosner, at one point today, he looks around and counts only 12 people in the office: “We [are] sitting around and somebody [says], you know, ‘Where are the buses? Where are the resources to get these people out of here?’ And I think we all just felt pretty despondent, let down, kind of numb about the whole thing.” [National Public Radio, 9/16/2005] FEMA Director Michael Brown, however, will paint a very different picture of FEMA’s preparation to President Bush (see (10:00-11:00 am) August 28, 2005), and to the public (see (8:05 am) August 28, 2005) later today.
Note - Bosner will be inconsistent regarding exactly when this conversation about buses takes place. He reportedly tells the New York Times that it occurs on Friday. [New York Times, 9/11/2005] However, given that by his own reports, he and other staff members became focused on the threat to Louisiana on Friday night and Saturday morning [National Public Radio, 9/16/2005] , it appears more likely that this conversation takes place on Sunday morning.

Entity Tags: Leo Bosner, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Emergency Operations Center

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

FEMA Director Michael Brown appears on CNN this morning. Brown first assures viewers that FEMA has been preparing to respond to a catastrophic hurricane hitting New Orleans for two years, before turning to the issue of evacuation: “I’m more concerned right now, not about our readiness, but about the individual people in Louisiana. I understand that there are, you know, voluntary evacuations right now. I’ll tell you this personally. If I lived in New Orleans, I’d be getting out of there. I think it’s time to leave now.” Brown warns that the hurricane likely will bring massive flooding: “[T]he storm surge in a category five, can easily exceed 20 feet. You have areas that are already below sea level. We have photographs that show, graphically show what that means. If you go into the French quarter, we’re talking about a storm surge that is on the tops of those buildings. It’s very, very devastating. So people need to take the storm seriously. Let me put it this way. I’ve got rescue teams, urban search and rescue teams, swift water teams that are moving in there right now to be prepared. You don’t want them to have to come and rescue you. So you need to get out of the way of the storm now.” If the “devastation is widespread as we anticipate it to be,” people may be cut off from rescuers for up to 48 hours. Brown promises that FEMA is ready: “We’re going to respond and we’re going to do exactly what we did in Florida and Alabama and the other places. We’re going to do whatever it takes to help victims.” [CNN, 8/28/2005]

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

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center hosts a teleconference with FEMA officials, including FEMA Director Michael Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. [Times-Picayune, 9/4/2005; Los Angeles Times, 9/5/2005] President Bush receives a briefing via video conference from his ranch in Crawford Texas. [US President, 9/5/2005] Brown assures Bush during this briefing that FEMA is ready for the storm, according to ABC News. [ABC News, 9/8/2005] Bush tells Brown that he is very impressed with everything FEMA is doing, according to Brown [CBS News, 8/29/2005]
Note - Whether President Bush participates in this particular briefing is not clear from current reports. However, it is undisputed that Bush receives a briefing from Mayfield via videoconference at some point this morning.

Entity Tags: Michael D. Brown, Michael Chertoff, George W. Bush, Max Mayfield, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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