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FEMA Incompetence: Michael Brown's Background Was Not Disaster Relief
Paula Zahn: How can it be that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of victims have not received any food and water more than 100 hours after Katrina hit
I will tell you this though, every person in that convention center, we just learned about that today. And so I had directed that we have all available resources to get to that convention center to make certain that they have the food and water, the medical care they need...
A clearly pissed Paula Zahn: Sir, you're not telling me, you're not telling me you just learned that the folks at the convention center didn't have food and water until today did you? You had no idea they were completely cut off?
FEMA's Brown: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.
From failed Republican congressional candidate to ousted "czar" of an Arabian horse association, there was little in Michael D. Brown's background to prepare him for the fury of Hurricane Katrina.
But as the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brown now faces furious criticism of the federal response to the disaster that wiped out New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. He provoked some of it himself when he conceded that FEMA didn't know that thousands of refugees were trapped at New Orleans' convention center without food or water until officials heard it on the news.
"He's done a hell of a job, because I'm not aware of any Arabian horses being killed in this storm," said Kate Hale, former Miami-Dade emergency management chief. "The world that this man operated in and the focus of this work does not in any way translate to this. He does not have the experience."
Following are excerpts of some of Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown's remarks about Hurricane Katrina:
_"The federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today (Thursday). ... And I - my heart goes out to every - even if they chose not to evacuate, my heart still goes out to them, because they now find themselves in this catastrophic disaster. Now is not the time to be blaming."
_"I think the other thing that really caught me by surprise was the fact that there were so many people, and I'm not laying blame, but either chose not to evacuate or could not evacuate. And as we began to do the evacuations from the Superdome, all of a sudden, literally thousands of other people started showing up in other places, and we were not prepared for that. We were, we were surprised by that."
_"We pre-positioned all the manpower and equipment that we could prior to the storm making landfall. And I think once the storm made landfall, it was still at a Category 5, and the devastation became so widespread that it moved further inland and geographically wider than we expected. And so now we're having to work our way inward from a lot further out than we anticipated."
_An exchange with Ted Koppel on ABC's "Nightline":
Brown: "The people in the convention center are being fed; the people on the bridges are being provided with water. ..."
Koppel: "With all due respect, sir, the people, the people in the convention center are not being fed. Our reporters. ..."
Brown: "I misspoke. The people in the, the people in the Superdome. I'm sorry, you're absolutely correct. We're getting the supplies to the convention center now. But the people in the Superdome have been being fed, that supply chain has been working, and that has been moving along and those evacuations have been continuous."
"I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans."
"Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans - virtually a city that has been destroyed - that things are going relatively well."
"I've had no reports of unrest, if the connotation of the word unrest means that people are beginning to riot or, you know, they're banging on walls and screaming and hollering or burning tires or whatever. I've had no reports of that."
In President Bush's other Gulf war, Michael Brown is his field commander, struggling with the reality of Hurricane Katrina relief and the apocalyptic images from the South.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency — once a lone agency, now part of the Homeland Security Department — has been slow to answer the crisis in the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
City and state officials, Republicans and Democrats have assailed FEMA in an unrelenting barrage. Brown, 50, a soft-spoken Oklahoma lawyer, has tried to oversee the hurricane damage repair as well as manage the political damage control — with limited success.
On Friday, shortly after Brown contended that "people are getting the help they need," President Bush offered a different assessment, saying the level of relief was unacceptable. Later, the president praised Brown during a tour of Alabama, telling him, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
Brown, the director of FEMA since April 2003, conceded that all the resources that the agency had positioned before the storm were overwhelmed and that he did not anticipate the total lack of communications.
Friends of Brown defended the job he has done and argued that the unprecedented magnitude of the hurricane and its aftermath are far more daunting than the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or previous natural disasters.
Others point out that in the past, the FEMA director answered directly to the president, but as one of 22 agencies and departments in Homeland Security since 2003, Brown must work through the department's secretary, Michael Chertoff.
FEMA took a battering for its sluggish response to Hurricanes Andrew and Hugo. After President Clinton took office in 1993 he revamped the agency, placing James Lee Witt, the former Arkansas emergency service chief, in charge.
The agency later won praise for its vigorous reaction to Midwest floods and the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles.
In March of this year Witt told the National Hurricane Conference, meeting in New Orleans, that placing FEMA under the Homeland Security Department has hampered its ability to deal with hurricanes and other disasters.
The arrangement "has minimized their effectiveness in responding, in planning and training, the national hurricane program, everything," said Witt, directed the agency from 1993 to 2001.
He said placing the agency under another department has reduced direct communication between FEMA officials and top government leaders and created problems sending funding where it is needed.
FEMA Head Forced Out Of Last Job
by Joe Gandelman
When you read this Boston Herald piece you have to think: "Gee, it's so nice to know that this administration looked for the 'best and the brightest' in filling a vital, life-and-death post such as FEMA chief....and perhaps that has something to do with the quality of job performance so far":
The federal official in charge of the bungled New Orleans rescue was fired from his last private-sector job overseeing horse shows.
And before joining the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a deputy director in 2001, GOP activist Mike Brown had no significant experience that would have qualified him for the position.
The Oklahoman got the job through an old college friend who at the time was heading up FEMA.
The agency, run by Brown since 2003, is now at the center of a growing fury over the handling of the New Orleans disaster.
``I look at FEMA and I shake my head,'' said a furious Gov. Mitt Romney yesterday, calling the response ``an embarrassment.''
Ted Koppel interviewed Michael Brown, head of FEMA on Nightline. He had no interest in the spin, and began at least five questions with "With all due respect Mr Brown, but..." Koppel is leading the growing chorus of speaking truth to power. (At last.)