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Context of '(After 4:00 pm) August 26, 2005: Louisiana Officials Discuss Emergency Preparations'

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Judy Martz.Judy Martz. [Source: Publicity photo]Emergency managers from around the US, including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Joseph Allbaugh and representatives from the emergency management agencies of 47 states, are away from their home states at the time of the terrorist attacks, attending the annual conference of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) at a resort in Big Sky, Montana. The main focuses of the event have included the issues of domestic terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] The conference began on September 8, and was originally planned to continue until September 12 (see September 8-11, 2001). [Natural Hazards Observer, 3/2001; National Emergency Management Association, 8/15/2001]
Emergency Managers Learn of Attacks - At 9:00 a.m., conference attendees are scheduled to participate in a series of sessions on domestic preparedness, which has been a key topic for NEMA over the past three years. [National Emergency Management Association, 8/15/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] According to the New York Times, “One of the day’s main seminar topics was how to prepare for terrorist attacks.” [New York Times, 9/12/2001] However, numerous pagers go off as officials are notified of the events in New York. By the time officials gather around the television in the resort’s bar to see what is happening, the second plane has hit the World Trade Center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the nature of the emergency is obvious. [Stateline (.org), 9/10/2002]
Emergency Managers Respond to Attacks - After the emergency managers at the conference see the coverage of the attacks on television, they “automatically organized themselves into particular groups to focus on transportation issues or to capture information,” Trina Hembree, the executive director of NEMA, will later recall. [Stateline (.org), 10/11/2001] The emergency managers, along with federal personnel and private-sector members, go about coordinating their jurisdictions’ responses to the attacks from the resort. Hotel employees add phone lines and equipment so as to enable communication and the tracking of events. A 24-hour emergency operations center is set up, and teams are organized to address specific areas, such as transportation and medical needs. The emergency managers monitor events and stay in contact with their agencies by phone, and also attend briefings at the resort, where they are updated on the national situation. [State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file]
State of Emergency Declared in Montana - Partly due to concerns over the safety of the emergency management officials at the conference, Montana Governor Judy Martz declares a state of emergency. [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001] Furthermore, roads to the Big Sky resort are closed, and security for the resort is provided by the local sheriff’s department and volunteer fire department, the Montana Highway Patrol, the Montana National Guard, and the FBI.
Arrangements Made to Fly Key Officials Home - The conference’s organizers arrange for military aircraft to fly state emergency management leaders back to their capitals. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] Allbaugh and officials from several states that are directly involved in the attacks are flown home throughout the day (see (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (After 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001), but others at the conference have to drive long distances back to their states.
Emergency Managers 'Not Where They Wanted to Be' - As one news report will later describe, when the attacks occur, “emergency managers were not where they wanted to be.” FEMA spokesman Mark Wolfson will note the inconvenient timing of the attacks, saying that FEMA officials do not know whether they were timed to catch emergency officials off guard. “That would be speculation,” he says. “But it is something that law enforcement investigators might be looking at.” [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] NEMA is the professional association of state emergency management directors. [Natural Hazards Observer, 3/2001] Hundreds of state emergency management officials, including almost all of the US’s state emergency management directors, and most of the senior FEMA staff are in Montana for its annual conference. [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Joseph M. Allbaugh, Judy Martz, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Emergency Management Association, Trina Hembree, Mark Wolfson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

State officials hold a conference call with emergency preparedness directors for the Southeastern Louisiana parishes to discuss the storm forecasts and state plans. The Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP), has already mobilized its crisis action team, although, representative Mark Smith remarks that while they are getting prepared, they are “in a state of flux. Nobody’s real sure exactly what Katrina is going to do.” The office plans to activate its Baton Rouge Emergency Operations Center Saturday morning at 7:30 am, with a statewide conference call. [Louisiana, 8/26/2005; Times-Picayune, 8/27/2005]

Entity Tags: National Emergency Operations Center, Mark Smith

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

By this time, Louisiana has asked for voluntary evacuations of ten parishes, and mandatory evacuations of St. Charles Parish, according to Jim Ballow, Assistant Chief of Operations of the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Local parishes are in conference with Governor Blanco to discuss further evacuations. Ballow explains the challenges of evacuating New Orleans: Evacuating residents “with… limited evacuation routes and some that are susceptible to high water as well, pose[] a challenge. We need to decide early—certain number of hours out, as per state evacuation plan, to begin evacuating them, so we can effectively remove as many people as possible and then stop the evacuation prior to the storm striking.” [CNN, 8/27/2005 Sources: Jim Ballow]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

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

Stanley McChrystal, nominated to lead US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, directs the transfer of a large area of the National Military Command Center—the Pentagon’s principal underground command and control center and emergency operations facility—to the Afghan war effort. This indicates that McChrystal is at work even before his official confirmation to the top war post. McChrystal’s pre-confirmation activity is corroborated by an account by analyst Mark Perry, who will later report that McChrystal and staff arrive in Kabul within days of his nomination as top commander to assess the case for sending more troops (see Between May 12 and June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, National Military Command Center, Stanley A. McChrystal

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

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