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Context of 'After 11:00 am August 26, 2005: Internet Weather Forums, Blogs, Begin to Buzz about Katrina’s Threat to New Orleans'

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General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gives Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld an update on what he knows about the crisis and the military’s response to it, which includes details of the rules of engagement for fighter jets. Since 12:19 p.m., the two men have been in the Executive Support Center on the third floor of the Pentagon (see 12:19 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132; Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 156-157]
Myers Says Planes Are Inbound from the Far East - Myers now informs Rumsfeld that the FAA has reported that five airliners inbound to the United States from the Far East have come too far on their journeys to head back due to low fuel. One of these, Korean Airlines Flight 85, is squawking the hijack code on its transponder, although this may be the result of pilot error rather than evidence of another hijacking, Myers will later recall telling Rumsfeld. [Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 157] (However, according to USA Today, while the FAA has been alerted to this suspicious flight (see (Shortly Before 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), the plane will only start squawking the hijack code over 40 minutes later, at 1:24 p.m. (see 1:24 p.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/12/2002] ) Fighters have been scrambled to escort all five airliners, Myers says (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
NORAD Wants More Air Defense Units - He tells Rumsfeld that NORAD has contacted the Pentagon requesting an additional Reserve call-up of air defense units and this request will be routed through the secretary of defense’s office to the president. To avoid any confusion, he reminds Rumsfeld that air defense and air sovereignty are primarily Air National Guard missions. He also says the US Coast Guard is completing its own Reserve call-up and Admiral James Loy, commandant of the Coast Guard, has given his commanders authority to challenge any inbound vessels. [Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 157]
Rumsfeld Wants to Settle the Issue of Rules of Engagement - Rumsfeld brings up the subject of “rules of engagement” for fighters defending US airspace. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 225] Since they arrived at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center, at around 9:58 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. respectively, Myers and Rumsfeld have worked on these rules, which include guidelines for when fighter pilots should shoot down a suspicious aircraft (see (Between 10:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004 pdf file; George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, 8/3/2012] “I want to tie up the rules of engagement,” Rumsfeld says. He adds: “We need granularity here. This is not simple for a pilot, especially if he knows he’s shooting down a plane over a civilian area like Washington.” [Clarke, 2006, pp. 225]
Rumsfeld Approves NORAD's Rules of Engagement - “I’ve got the final recommended [rules of engagement] from General [Ralph] Eberhart at NORAD,” Myers tells Rumsfeld. He describes what these are. “If our fighters intercept an aircraft obviously heading for a runway, they will let it land, but if a plane is on a glide path toward a possible government target or civilian installation, they will shoot it down,” he says. “Clearly, shooting down a civilian airliner with innocent men, women, and children on board was not a good option, but given the circumstances, it was really the only course of action to minimize the death and destruction planned by the hijackers,” he will reflect. “Our pilots will have to exercise great discipline and judgment,” he tells Rumsfeld, since, “If that aircraft veers off, it will be too late.” Rumsfeld approves these rules. “This was not a time to be indecisive,” Myers will comment, since rules of engagement are “a deadly serious matter.” [Myers and McConnell, 2009, pp. 157-158] However, the Department of Defense will only circulate written rules of engagement sometime after 1:00 p.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (1:45 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 465]

Entity Tags: James Loy, Donald Rumsfeld, Ralph Eberhart, Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Richard B. Myers, US Coast Guard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Around this time, various weather forums and bloggers begin to discuss the threat to New Orleans that Katrina poses. Brendan Loy, a self-described “meteorology nerd” from Indiana, posts the following blog, titled “New Orleans in Peril,” at 11:37 am: “At the risk of being alarmist, we could be 3-4 days away from an unprecedented cataclysm that could kill as many as 100,000 people in New Orleans. Such a scenario is unlikely—the conditions would have been just right (or rather, just wrong)—but IMHO, it’s not nearly unlikely enough to feel good about things. If I were in New Orleans, I would seriously consider getting the hell out of dodge right now, just in case.” Loy continues: “Normally, watches go up approximately 48 hours before the leading edge of the storm is expected to hit, but I wonder whether the NHC might fudge that a bit, and issue watches earlier, if New Orleans looks like the target, in light of the time-consuming logistical nightmare that a citywide evacuation would be. On the other hand, an evacuation that ultimately proves to have been unnecessary is economically costly and, more importantly, may have a vigilance-lowering ‘boy who cried wolf’ effect, especially since it would be the second time in as many years. So this is going to be a tough call for the NHC. Here’s hoping they get it right… and here’s praying that New Orleans is spared.” [Loy, 8/26/2005] (See also, generally, [Masters, 8/26/2005] )

Entity Tags: Brendan Loy

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Meteorologist Jeff Matthews, Director of the Weather Underground, reports that the latest computer models indicate, “the threat of a strike on New Orleans by Katrina as a major hurricane has grown. The official NHC forecast is now 170 miles west of where it was at 11am, and still is to the east of the consensus model guidance. It would be no surprise if later advisories shift the forecast track even further west and put Katrina over New Orleans. Until Katrina makes its northward turn, I would cast a very doubtful eye on the model predictions of Katrina’s track.” [Masters, 8/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Jeff Matthews, Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Throughout this afternoon and evening, Katrina’s threat to New Orleans dominates the airwaves and the internet. Residents, officials, and weather experts repeatedly plead with residents to evacuate and warn of the inevitability of massive flooding Katrina will bring. Douglas Brinkley, historian and New Orleans resident, sums up the twin problems as follows: “Unfortunately, this is an economically depressed city. And a lot of poor people living in shotgun shacks and public housing don’t have the ability to get in a car and just disappear. And we’ve made openings at the Superdome where people will be fed and have a place to sleep if they want to get out of their low-lying house.” With respect to the flooding threat, Brinkley laments: “The Army Corp. of Engineers has done a good job with the levee system. Not good enough. I’ve heard it, it’s almost become a cliche, but it is like a tea cup or bowl here in New Orleans. And if you get hit from the east, Pontchartrain water comes flooding in. And that’s—at all costs, we don’t want that to happen. By and large, more than any major city in the United States, New Orleans is unprepared for a disaster from a hurricane. It’s just the—one of the names you called it the Big Easy. It’s also the City Time Forgot, and sometimes we let things get into disrepair, you know. Potholes and weak levees are recipes for potential disaster when a hurricane like Katrina comes around the bend.” [Fox, 8/27/2005] Online news and blogs buzz with the coming catastrophe. [Associated Press, 8/27/2005; Masters, 8/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina, US Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans Superdome

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

“Although the damage will be incredible, it could have been much, much worse,” states Jeff Matthews, meteorologist with the Weather Underground. Masters notes, however, that the National Weather Service “is reporting that the levees in Orleans and St Bernard parishes have been overtopped by the storm surge, and there are reports of life-threatening flooding, roof damage, and building collapses in the city.” Masters warns that “Bay Saint Louis, Biloxi, and Gulfport Mississippi will take the full force of Katrina’s right eyewall, and a storm surge of 15-20 feet is likely along the west and central Mississippi coast.” Masters closes his post with a personal note: “A special thanks need to be given to the Air Force Hurricane Hunters based at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, who have flown Katrina around the clock while their families remained on the ground in Biloxi. Biloxi will suffer Katrina’s harshest blow, and many of the Hurricane Hunters will see their homes destroyed or heavily damaged.” [Masters, 8/29/2005] Tomorrow morning, Masters will recall the initial relief after Hurricane Andrew: “As news reports begin to filter in from the hardest hit areas, the scope of Katrina’s destruction is slowly being realized. Remember in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, how there was a lot of relief about how much worse it could have been, and how well Miami fared? This cheerfulness faded once the search teams penetrated to Homestead and found the near-total devastation there [W]ith a two block long breach in the Lake Pontchartrain levee allowing the entire City of New Orleans to flood today, we are witnessing a natural disaster of the scope unseen in America since the great 1938 Hurricane devastated New England, killing 600. Damage from Katrina will probably top $50 billion, and the death toll will be in the hundreds.” [Masters, 8/30/2005]

Entity Tags: National Weather Service, Jeff Matthews, Hurricane Andrew, Keesler Air Force Base, Air Force Hurricane Hunters

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina


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