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Context of 'Evening August 28, 2005: FEMA Director, Louisiana Officials at Odds on Response'

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John Magaw.John Magaw. [Source: Public domain]About a week before 9/11, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Joe Allbaugh replaces the agency’s acting deputy director, John Magaw, a veteran federal law enforcement agent and experienced counterterrorism official, with Michael Brown, a close friend of his and a long-time political associate with no previous experience in emergency management. [Baker, 2009, pp. 484] Magaw is a former director of the US Secret Service and of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). In December 1999, Magaw was appointed at FEMA to coordinate the agency’s domestic terrorism efforts. [Market Wire, 12/1999] Allbaugh nominated Michael Brown as the agency’s general counsel upon taking office in January. Brown previously worked as a lawyer for a horse racing association. He has no experience in disaster management (See March 1, 2003). According to Russ Baker, an independent investigative journalist and author of Family of Secrets, a Bush family expose: “One day, Mr. Allbaugh came in and said, ‘I know you’ve got these other things to do. I’m going to ask Mr. Brown to be deputy,’ recalled Magaw who promptly returned to the subordinate position assigned him by Clinton. The timing was remarkable. Just a week before September 11, 2001, Allbaugh replaced a key anti-terrorism official with a crony who had close to zero relevant experience.” [Baker, 2009, pp. 484]

Entity Tags: Joseph M. Allbaugh, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown, John W. Magaw

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael D. Brown, an Oklahoma lawyer, replaces Joseph Allbaugh as Director of FEMA. Brown, who was Allbaugh’s college roommate, joined the Bush administration in 2001 as FEMA’s general counsel at Allbaugh’s invitation. [Knight Ridder, 9/3/2005; Boston Herald, 9/3/2005; New York Times, 9/7/2005] Upon Brown’s appointment, Allbaugh says, “The president couldn’t have chosen a better man to help… prepare and protect the nation.” However, prior to joining the Bush administration, Brown apparently had little prior experience in disaster relief or prevention. From 1991 to January 2001, Brown worked as the commissioner of judges and stewards of the International Arabian Horse Association, earning about $100,000 per year. In this role, Brown was charged with ensuring that horse-show judges followed the rules and investigating any allegations of cheating. He was asked to resign in 2001 after accepting donations to a personal legal defense fund. [Boston Herald, 9/3/2005; New York Times, 9/7/2005]

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

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D-LA) is sworn into office as Louisiana’s first woman governor, replacing Governor Mike Foster (R-LA). [Louisiana, 9/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Mike Foster, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declares a state of emergency in light of the threat to the state posed by Katrina. This declaration effectively activates Louisiana’s emergency response and recovery program under the command of the director of the state office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. [Louisiana, 8/26/2005] According to Deputy Press Secretary Roderick Hawkins, Blanco issued the declaration in anticipation of possible damage from Hurricane Katrina, noting that the declaration effectively places the Louisiana National Guard on alert: “It puts us on standby just in case we need to mobilize the National Guard.” [KSLA 12 (Shreveport), 8/26/2005 Sources: Roderick Hawkins] . This declaration, in fact, grants Blanco broad powers to respond to the pending disaster, including the power to “[d]irect and compel the evacuation of all or part of the population from any stricken or threatened area within the state if he deems this action necessary for the preservation of life or other disaster mitigation, response or recovery.” [Louisiana State Law, Rev. St. sec. 766] Blanco, however, will decline to exercise this power in the coming hours, electing to defer to local officials.

Entity Tags: Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Louisiana Governor Blanco, determining that the storm will be so big that state and local governments will not be able to handle it, asks President Bush to declare a state of emergency. The exact timing of Blanco’s letter is unclear. The PDF version of the letter is dated August 28. [Louisiana, 8/28/2005 pdf file] However, the Federal News dateline for the letter is 4:27 am EDT August 27. [Federal News Service, 8/27/2005] Governor Blanco’s office and the Times-Picayune will publish the full text of the letter today. [Louisiana, 8/27/2005; Walker, 8/27/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina will make landfall in Louisiana in only 48 hours . Governor Blanco has declared a state of emergency (see 4:00 pm August 26, 2005), and requested that President Bush declare a state of emergency, to enable direct federal assistance in the potential disaster (see Early Morning August 27, 2005). FEMA has apparently sent 10-20 staff members to Louisiana by this time (see 11:00 am August 27, 2005).

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

St. Charles Parish issues a mandatory evacuation at 9:00 am. Around the same time, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin encourages Jefferson Parish officials to follow the state evacuation plan, which calls for low-lying coastal areas to evacuate first, warning that: “The problem with this storm is that it’s going to compress everything. We have a shorter window to deal with this storm and we’ve got to get people to start evacuating.” Jefferson Parish declares a voluntarily evacuation for most of the parish and a mandatory evacuation for the coastal areas of Grand isle, Crown Point, Lafitte and Barataria. Plaquemines Parish declares a mandatory evacuation and begins evacuating special-needs residents by mid-day. St. Bernard Parish officials recommend that all residents evacuate, although Larry Ingargiola, Emergency Management Director, states that the parish will not declare a mandatory evacuation because it will not offer shelters. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/27/2005 Sources: Jefferson Parish]

Entity Tags: Larry Ingargiola, St. Charles Parish, Ray Nagin

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

FEMA activates its National Emergency Response Team (Blue Team), deploying to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 8/28/2005] FEMA Director Michael Brown will tell the New York Times that the team arriving in Louisiana today to review evacuation plans with local officials consists of “10 or 20 people.” [New York Times, 9/15/2005]

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

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

President Bush declares an emergency for Louisiana, and orders federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the affected area. This declaration activates the National Response Plan, and authorizes FEMA to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures to save lives, protect property and public health and safety for parishes in the storm’s path and to minimize or avert the threat of a catastrophe in multiple parishes. Bush’s declaration authorizes FEMA to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, including specifically, “[m]easures undertaken to preserve public health and safety and to eliminate threats to public or private property.” In response to this declaration, FEMA Director Michael Brown appoints William Lokey as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area. [White House, 8/27/2005; US Department of Homeland Security, 9/7/2005] . As Governor Blanco will later note, this pre-impact declaration is extremely unusual. The last time a president issued a pre-impact declaration was when Hurricane Andrew was bearing down on Florida in 1992. [CNN, 8/27/2005] Note that while President Bush’s emergency declaration identifies 39 parishes, it does not identify the parishes in Katrina’s path, apparently due to a clerical error. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005] This omission has no practical effect, and a corrected declaration will be issued on Monday. [US Department of Homeland Security, 9/7/2005]
Note 1 - Reuters will later incorrectly report that Bush appoints William Lokey as the Federal Coordinating Officer, and will imply that such action is somehow unusual. [Reuters, 9/15/2005] In fact, as reflected in the official Federal Register entry, and in the White House release, Brown appoints Lokey as the coordinating officer for Louisiana. This appointment is consistent with standard practice: For each declared emergency, a different (lower level) individual is appointed as the federal coordinating officer.
Note 2 - Knight Ridder (and other news media) will later incorrectly report that Bush failed to trigger the federal government’s responsibility, and that it is not triggered until DHS Secretary Chertoff’s August 31 announcement that the Katrina disaster is an “Incident of National Significance.” [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005; Knight Ridder, 9/15/2005] In fact, Bush’s declaration (a) effectively authorizes FEMA to provide a full and immediate federal response to the unfolding crisis, and (b) makes the crisis an “Incident of National Significance.” [US Department of Homeland Security, 12/2004] , at 7 (“Note that while all Presidentially declared disasters and emergencies under the Stafford Act are considered Incidents of National Significance, not all Incidents of National Significance necessarily result in disaster or emergency declarations under the Stafford Act.”); [US Department of Homeland Security, 9/7/2005] (granting FEMA full authority to respond to the emergency.) The strategy behind DHS Secretary Chertoff’s much ballyhooed—and inaccurate—August 31 announcement that his declaration triggers for the first time a coordinated federal response to states and localities overwhelmed by disaster remains unclear at this time.

Entity Tags: Stafford Act, National Response Plan, William Lokey, Michael Chertoff, George W. Bush, Michael D. Brown, Hurricane Andrew, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin tells local WWLTV that, “Come the first break of light in the morning, you may have the first mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.” Nagin states that that his legal staff is researching whether he can order a mandatory evacuation of the city, a step he’s been hesitant to do because of potential liability on the part of the city for closing hotels and other businesses. [Times-Picayune, 8/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Ray Nagin

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warns that Katrina, still a Category 4 hurricane, continues to intensify and grow larger. The NHC reiterates the hurricane warning for Louisiana to Florida, and expands the area covered by a tropical storm warning. It warns further that, “While the details of the landfall intensity cannot be known at this time… Katrina will be a very dangerous hurricane at landfall…. It must be emphasized that the exact landfall point cannot be specified and that Katrina is a large hurricane that will affect a large area,” warns the NHC. “NHC now expects Katrina’s path to move north later today.” Other aspects of the NHC Advisory include:
bullet Location: 275 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River
bullet Direction and Speed: West-northwest at 10 mph
bullet Maximum Sustained Winds: Near 145 mph, with higher gusts
bullet Estimated Central Pressure: 935 mb
bullet Size: Hurricane force winds extend outward from center up to 85 miles; tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 185 miles
bullet Probability that in the next 69 hours, Katrina’s eye will pass within 75 miles of:
bullet Panama City, FL: 11 percent
bullet Gulfport, MS: 26 percent;
bullet New Orleans, LA: 29 percent [National Hurricane Center, 8/28/2005; National Hurricane Center, 8/28/2005; National Hurricane Center, 8/28/2005]

Entity Tags: National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

According to a later interview with the New York Times, FEMA Director Mike Brown states that upon return to Baton Rouge from New Orleans, he has become concerned about the lack of coordinated response from Louisiana officials. “What do you need? Help me help you,” Brown said he asked them. “The response was like, ‘Let us find out,’ and then I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing.” Bob Mann, Blanco’s Communications Director will assert, however, that during this period, Blanco becomes frustrated with Brown and FEMA for expecting itemized requests before they will do anything. According to Mann, “It was like walking into an emergency room bleeding profusely and being expected to instruct the doctors how to treat you.” [New York Times, 9/15/2005]

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

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina will make landfall in Louisiana in only 48 hours . At Governor Blanco’s request (see Early Morning August 27, 2005), President Bush has declared a state of emergency in Louisiana (see (Midday) August 27, 2005). Low-lying parishes have issued mandatory or recommended evacuations, and New Orleans has issued something between a voluntary and a recommended evacuation (see Morning, August 27, 2005; Evening August 27, 2005). FEMA apparently has sent 10-20 staff members to Louisiana by this time (see 11:00 am August 27, 2005). FEMA publishes a graphic projecting the path of Hurricane Katrina this hour, based on the National Hurricane Center Advisory 21 (see 4:00 am August 28, 2005). FEMA’s graphic indicates that Katrina will pass through New Orleans approximately 32 hours from now, at 2:00 pm tomorrow. [Agency, 8/28/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Governor Kathleen Blanco holds a press conference urging evacuated residents to stay put. Blanco reports that officials have received calls from 115 people in New Orleans who say they are stranded, as well as an Unknown number of people in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes. When the winds subside, boats will be deployed from Jackson Barracks in the Lower 9th Ward to go look for people who are trapped. Blanco discusses the widespread flooding in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, reporting that the water as deep as 10-12 feet in some places. Local officials at the St. Bernard courthouse are trapped on the second floor, and water is rising to that level. State officials have received reports that as many as 20 buildings in New Orleans have collapsed or toppled from the winds. Water is leaking from the 17th Street Canal floodwall. [Times-Picayune Blog, 8/29/2005] During the press conference, Blanco thanks FEMA Director Michael Brown and says, “I hope you will tell President Bush how much we appreciated—these are the times that really count—to know that our federal government will step in and give us the kind of assistance that we need.” Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) reiterates Blanco’s praise: “We are indeed fortunate to have an able and experienced director of FEMA who has been with us on the ground for some time.” Brown responds to their praise in kind: “What I’ve seen here today is a team that is very tight-knit, working closely together, being very professional doing it, and in my humble opinion, making the right calls.” [New York Times, 9/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Mary L. Landrieu, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael D. Brown, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Boeing is awarded a contract to upgrade the fleet of four E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes over the next five years. The E-4B is a modified Boeing 747 crammed with electronics to serve as a flying command post in war or during an emergency. The contract is capped at $2 billion, but it is unclear why so much money is needed to modernize such a small number of aircraft. [Defense Industry Daily, 12/27/2005] An E-4B was seen over Washington, DC on 9/11 (see Early September 2001).

Entity Tags: Boeing Company, E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military

Congress, stung into action by the Bush administration’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina and particularly the ineptitude of Michael Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA—see Early September 2001), passes a law saying that President Bush must nominate a replacement who has “a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management,” and “not less than five years of executive leadership.” In a signing statement, Bush says that only he, the head of the executive branch, can decide who to appoint to offices. Therefore, he states, he is ignoring the prohibition. [Savage, 2007, pp. 239-240]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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