Katrina Exercise

Ken AshfordBush & Co., DisastersLeave a Comment

It’s been two weeks now, and they still don’t get it.

As reported here, this is the latest moronic utterance from the Bush Administration:

"There are a lot of lessons we want to learn out of this process in terms of what works," Cheney said.

"I think we are in fact on our way to getting on top of the whole Katrina exercise," he said, but added, "we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us obviously."

An exercise?  This is practice?

Meanwhile, Newsweek has excellent story on Katrina entitled "How Bush Blew It".  But if that’s too long for you, here’s an excellent bullet point-like summary from AmericaBlog, including an expose of the insular bubble that Bush keeps himself in.

What we learn in the Newsweek story.

1. Bush’s aides are SO afraid of telling him bad news that they practically drew straws to see who would have to tell him, on TUESDAY, that the hurricane was so bad he’d need to come home.

2. Even on Thursday AFTER the storm, Bush didn’t realize how bad the storm was:

President Bush knew the storm and its consequences had been bad; but he didn’t quite realize how bad.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

So Bush didn’t realize how bad the storm damage was until Thursday night, almost the fifth day AFTER the storm hit. Good God. He was going to watch the weekly news Friday for the FIRST TIME to get a sense of how bad things were.

3. No one wanted to tell Bush the truth

When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn’t act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.

4. Rumsfeld opposed sending in troops as cops.

5. "Bush created a disaster within a disaster."

A NEWSWEEK reconstruction of the government’s response to the storm shows how Bush’s leadership style and the bureaucratic culture combined to produce a disaster within a disaster.

6. Washington just wouldn’t listen

A man in a blue FEMA windbreaker arrived to brief them on his helicopter flyover of the city. He seemed unfamiliar with the city’s geography, but he did have a sense of urgency. "Water as far as the eye can see," he said. It was worse than Hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Camille in 1969. "I need to call Washington," he said…. The FEMA man found a phone, but he had trouble reaching senior officials in Washington. When he finally got someone on the line, the city officials kept hearing him say, "You don’t understand, you don’t understand."

7. 8pm on Monday, the day of the storm, the governor asked Bush for everything he’s got.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a motherly but steely figure known by the nickname Queen Bee, knew that she needed help. But she wasn’t quite sure what. At about 8 p.m., she spoke to Bush. "Mr. President," she said, "we need your help. We need everything you’ve got."

8. Instead of helping New Orleans Monday night, Bush went to bed.

here are a number of steps Bush could have taken, short of a full-scale federal takeover, like ordering the military to take over the pitiful and (by now) largely broken emergency communications system throughout the region. But the president, who was in San Diego preparing to give a speech the next day on the war in Iraq, went to bed.

9. Wednesday morning, while Bush was STILL on vacation, he wouldn’t take the governor’s call for help

Early Wednesday morning, Blanco tried to call Bush. She was transferred around the White House for a while until she ended up on the phone with Fran Townsend, the president’s Homeland Security adviser, who tried to reassure her but did not have many specifics.

10. FEMA improved under Clinton, then was hurt under Bush

Once a kind of petty-cash drawer for congressmen to quickly hand out aid after floods and storms, FEMA had improved in the 1990s in the Clinton administration. But it became a victim of the Iron Law of Unintended Consequences. After 9/11 raised the profile of disaster response, FEMA was folded into the sprawling Department of Homeland Security and effectively weakened. FEMA’s boss, Bush’s close friend Joe Allbaugh, quit when he lost his cabinet seat.

11. Bush wanted to hear good news, so that’s all they gave him until Friday.

Bad news rarely flows up in bureaucracies. For most of those first few days, Bush was hearing what a good job the Feds were doing. Bush likes "metrics," numbers to measure performance, so the bureaucrats gave him reassuring statistics. At a press availability on Wednesday, Bush duly rattled them off: there were 400 trucks transporting 5.4 million meals and 13.4 million liters of water along with 3.4 million pounds of ice. Yet it was obvious to anyone watching TV that New Orleans had turned into a Third World hellhole.

The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday.

12. It took local officials ripping Bush a new one on Friday for him to finally wake up – a full 5 days after the disaster.

The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president’s plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved." Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin