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Context of 'Early 2004: Journal Notes FEMA Reorganization Shifts Focus Away from Natural Disasters'

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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; Gerstenzang 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)

Joseph Allbaugh.Joseph Allbaugh. [Source: Greg Schaler / FEMA]Joseph Allbaugh, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is flown back to Washington, DC, after leaving a major conference he has been attending in Montana. (DeMers 10/2001 pdf file; CNN 10/4/2001; Borgstrom 10/25/2001) Allbaugh was one of hundreds of emergency management officials from around the US attending the annual conference of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) in Big Sky, Montana, which began on September 8 and was originally scheduled to continue until September 12 (see September 8-11, 2001). He was the keynote speaker at the conference, and in his speech the previous day, September 10, talked about his focus on improving capabilities and preparing for disaster. (National Emergency Management Association 8/15/2001; Janofsky 9/12/2001; DeMers 10/2001 pdf file)
Allbaugh Sees Second Attack on TV - Allbaugh will later recall that on this morning, he “turned on CNN” and “actually saw the second plane hit the tower.” He will comment, “I thought it was a movie clip,” but then “reality started sinking in.” When he learned that the plane was the second to have hit the World Trade Center, he knew “immediately it was terrorism.” (CNN 10/4/2001) Allbaugh went into the meeting he was due to attend and announced: “You all will have to excuse me. I have more pressing matters.” (Fournier 9/8/2002) He was then one of the first to leave the NEMA conference. (Janofsky 9/12/2001)
Conflicting Accounts of Flight - Allbaugh is subsequently flown back to Washington, although there are conflicting accounts of his journey. Allbaugh will later recall that after leaving the conference, he moved on to the city of Bozeman, Montana, and then “waited a couple of hours for a plane.” Finally, he will say, a KC-135 military tanker plane flies him back to the capital. (CNN 10/4/2001) According to another account, Major Rick Gibney, a pilot with the 119th Fighter Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard, was originally tasked with flying Allbaugh home in his F-16 fighter jet, but, instead, an Air Force C-17 cargo plane is diverted to transport the FEMA director back to Washington. (Borgstrom 10/25/2001) But the Gainesville Sun will report that Allbaugh initially headed out from the conference with Craig Fugate, the director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management. Fugate rented a car to drive back to Florida and Allbaugh joined him as a passenger. Allbaugh was then dropped off in Missouri, from where he is flown back to Washington. (Arndorfer 10/22/2005) Other emergency management officials that were at the NEMA conference are also flown home on military aircraft throughout the day (see (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (After 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Nagy 9/13/2001; DeMers 10/2001 pdf file; Murphy 10/11/2001)
Allbaugh Joins President and Others at the White House - Allbaugh will recall that his flight to Washington takes four and a half hours. After arriving back in the capital, he heads directly to the White House, where he spends the evening with the president, vice president, and many others. (CNN 10/4/2001) It is unclear when exactly Allbaugh arrives in Washington, though he will be at the White House by 7:15 p.m., when he gives a press briefing. (White House 9/11/2001)
Allbaugh in Charge of Responding to Domestic Terrorist Attacks - In May this year, President Bush put Allbaugh, as FEMA director, in charge of “consequence management” in response to any terrorist attacks in the United States. Allbaugh was charged with creating an Office of National Preparedness to coordinate the government’s response to any such attack (see May 8, 2001). (White House 5/8/2001; Gerstenzang 5/9/2001) FEMA plays an important part in the government’s response to the attacks in New York and Washington on this day. It puts its “federal response plan” into effect, which involves coordinating with 28 other federal agencies and the American Red Cross; it dispatches eight urban search and rescue teams to New York to search for victims in the rubble of the WTC; and it has four urban search and rescue teams sifting through the remains of the crash at the Pentagon. (Ballard and Lunney 9/11/2001; White House 9/11/2001)

In a memo to FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh, the agency’s inspector general relays concerns over the Bush administration’s proposal to merge FEMA, along with several other agencies, into the newly-constituted new Department of Homeland Security. “There are concerns of FEMA losing its identity as an agency that is quick to respond to all hazards and disasters,” the inspector general writes. (Elliston 9/22/2004)

An article in the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management notes: “[Joseph M.] Allbaugh brought about several internal, though questionably effective, reorganizations of FEMA. The Bush-Allbaugh FEMA diminished the Clinton administration’s organizational emphasis on disaster mitigation.” (Sylves and Cumming 2004; Elliston 9/22/2004)


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