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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Former FEMA Director Fields Questions on Capitol Hill
Aired September 27, 2005 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We'll go ahead and get started. A bit three hours just ahead. Let's start by taking a look at what's happening "Now in the News."
President Bush is making his seventh trip to the Gulf region hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Today the president will get a briefing on oil industry damage in Beaumont, Texas. He'll also take an aerial tour of Rita devastated areas and then meet Louisiana official in Lake Charles.
In world news, Israeli -- actually, from the Capitol Hill, a Senate debate on Judge John Roberts' nomination for chief justice resumes today. Roberts is expected to win Senate approval in a vote tomorrow or Thursday. President Bush is then expected to nominate a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Now to world news. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has survived a challenge in his own Likud party. Mr. Sharon won what amounted to a vote of confidence by 4 percent. Former prime minister and ex-Sharon cabinet member Benjamin Netanyahu led the challenge. Mr. Sharon's critics are angry at his decision to pull his troops and settlers out of Gaza.
And back here in the U.S., gas prices up again. AAA reporting the national average for a gallon of self-serve regular was $2.81 yesterday. The government says pump prices should increase with so many refineries still shut down due to Rita. But officials don't expect the same post-Katrina price spikes.
Good morning to you on this Tuesday morning. I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN Center in Atlanta.
To Capitol Hill this hour. Tough questions ahead for Michael Brown, the embattled former chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The House is launching an inquiry into the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina and the thousands of people left stranded in its aftermath.
That hearing just getting underway. Controversy has been hanging over long before. It is getting gaveled into session. Most Democrats are boycotting the session, dismissing it as a GOP whitewash and demanding an independent investigation. Our Congressional Correspondent Ed Henry is along with us this morning in our Washington bureau for a closer look.
Ed, good morning.
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.
That's right, Michael Brown will be in the hot seat this morning, a star witness before this House select committee, probing governmental mistakes after Hurricane Katrina. You'll remember CNN first reported last week that despite having to resign under fire, Brown was still on the federal payroll for about another month.
CNN has now learned that Brown went behind closed doors yesterday to talk to congressional investigators about what he's going to say publicly today. And he revealed for the first time what he's doing for that money. He's helping FEMA assess what went wrong in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
As you can manage, this is raising some eyebrows this morning on Capitol Hill where Brown is going to be that witness in the hot seat. They're wondering why the person whose own credentials as FEMA chief were questioned, the person who's own performance was questioned, why he is now helping the government and staying on the payroll to help them assess what went wrong.
You can see now in the chair there, that's Chairman Tom Davis, the Republican of Virginia. He's under fire this morning. The House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, as you mentioned, is calling this a whitewash, saying that Republicans are just going to beat up on Michael Brown, try to make sure all the blame lies with him, try to insulate President Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other federal officials and instead pin all the blame on Mr. Brown.
I can tell, you Mr. Davis this morning issued a strong statement defending himself against Nancy Pelosi and insisting an independent investigation is not needed. He says this Republican-led committee will do the job just right.
KAGAN: And, Ed, the question the first, Ed Henry, question of the day, and trust me I have many to get to over the next three hours, but what kind of power do the Democrats have to pull together an independent commission?
HENRY: Not too much their own. But I think where they could have some power is by pushing and getting public pressure on the Republicans on The Hill to get that panel. If you remember back before the 9/11 Commission was formed, the White House and Republicans on The Hill resisted that panel. It took public pressure from the 9/11 families, at least some of those families, to say they wanted an outside probe for the administration and the Congress to finally relent.
We've actually heard in rent days that some Democratic leaders on The Hill, like Nancy Pelosi, have been reaching out to those 9/11 families asking them to join with Katrina families to start putting public pressure on the White House and the Congress to get this independent commission. So far it has not worked. But look for that. There's going to be that pressure. But the Democrats do not have the power on their own. It's going to take some public pressure.
KAGAN: And we want to point out that former FEMA Director Mike Brown has now taken a seat. We expect him and his testimony to get started in about 15 minutes.
One more, Ed Henry, question for you. How powerful is this particular committee that's looking into this right now?
HENRY: Well, that's another question Democrats have. They feel that it does not really have the power to get to the bottom of all of this. You know a couple weeks back, Republican leaders said that they were going to have a bicameral investigation, which means the House and Senate working in concert to bring people like Michael Brown in. Instead what you're seeing is just a House committee bringing in Michael Brown today.
And then I spoke to Senator Lieberman over on the Senate side the other day. He said they expect to bring Michael Brown in, in a few weeks. And Democrats are scratching their heads saying, wait a second, this is going to be duplicative. It's really not going to get to the bottom of it because you're going to have conflicting committees investigating this. I think at the end of the day, there's some confusion about really whether Congress can get to the bottom of it. That's why you're seeing if pressure for some sort of outside force to take a look at this.
KAGAN: All right, Ed, you will not go far. We'll be back with you many times throughout the next three hours. Thank you for that.
And now for more on the Katrina response investigation, I'm joined by John Copenhaver. He is a former regional director for FEMA. Currently head of Disaster Recovery Institute International.
Good morning. Thanks for being here with us.
JOHN COPENHAVER, FMR. REGIONAL FEMA DIRECTOR: Good morning, Daryn. I'm pleased to.
KAGAN: As we listen to this committee try to ask a lot of questions about what went wrong in the response to Katrina, what would you look to hear?
COPENHAVER: I would look to hear testimony having to do with the corporation between local, state and federal government. Obviously that corporation was suspect. It didn't happen the way that it should have happened.
I would look for former Director Brown to talk about FEMA's response. I would look for him to talk about the problems that they experienced in that response. I would look to see whether or not he's going to talk about problems at the top of the organization and how well the transition from FEMA to the Department of Homeland Security, to his boss, Michael Chertoff, was accomplished.
KAGAN: This might sound a little bit bureaucratic, but a big change has happened to FEMA since the days that it was created. As the Department of Homeland Security was created, FEMA, its status dropped some. Not no longer nearly a cabinet position.
KAGAN: And we've heard reports that a lot of the brains at FEMA left. Brain drain. Didn't want to work for that agency at that time.
COPENHAVER: I think there has been a brain drain. And I think that there's been a change in terms of what FEMA can accomplish.
KAGAN: Just in the structure of how the organization is set up now and who and how it has to answer to?
COPENHAVER: Yes. It was put under the Department of Homeland Security. I, along with many others, think that that was not the best thing to do. And by putting it into the Department of Homeland Security and adding to the layers of government on top of it, that it simply does not have the clout to be able to marshall the federal responses as quickly as it should.
KAGAN: One of the one big thing we saw that didn't really work, definitely didn't work in New Orleans and also with Rita was evacuations, for different reasons.
KAGAN: What would you like to see in terms of investigations with that? The different types of evacuations, but even the traffic jams out of Houston shows that clearly we have a problem evacuating a major American city.
COPENHAVER: We would have problems evacuating just about every major American city. In all honesty, at this point in time, I think that evacuation is an issue that we're going to have to go back to the drawing board.
KAGAN: Like maybe that's not what we even want to do?
COPENHAVER: Well, I think we're going to have to do it under certain circumstances. But I think we're going to have to get very realistic in terms of the behavior of people in an evacuation. And we're going to have to look at the different special needs groups and low-income people and make sure that we do it more effectively. Because right now I don't think that we're necessarily set up to do it all that effectively.
KAGAN: All right. We're going to ask you to stick around with us as well. John Copenhaver, thank you very much.
Right now let's listen in. This is Chairman Tom Davis giving the opening statement. REP. TOM DAVIS, (R) VIRGINIA: ...now widely-known exercise called Hurricane Pam in July of 2004, an exercise that predicted with eerie similarity Katrina's impact on New Orleans, including an evacuation of a million people, overflowing levees, and the destruction of hundreds of thousands of buildings.
Dr. Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazard Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said on a recent radio program that government missteps along the Gulf Coast were absolutely unavoidable.
It was common knowledge, she said, that the levees could not withstand more than a category 3 storm, that thousands of residents without cars would be stuck if an evacuation order was given, and that hesitancy in issuing mandatory evacuations would prove devastating.
Even 2003's Isabel, a much smaller hurricane, offered lessons for FEMA, based on oversight hearings we held in this committee. Two years ago in Virginia, we heard disturbing tales of slow federal responses and nearly invisible coordination.
We don't know yet why FEMA failed. That's why we are having this hearing and why we continue to gather documents and why our investigation will soon be on the ground in New Orleans and elsewhere.
At the end of the day, I suspect we will find that government at all levels failed the people of Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama and the Gulf Coast.
I think we will hear from Michael Brown, for example, that there simply was no unified command structure or clear lines of authority in Louisiana. That means we are confronted with profound questions about not only what went wrong with FEMA, but what may be wrong with our governments at all levels when it comes to disaster preparations and response at this level.
Are we lacking a culture of urgency, a culture of getting things done? Or is it even when we have the best possible planning and predictions available, we come face to face with the vast divide...
KAGAN: We've been listening in to Chairman Tom Davis. He is the head of this committee that is looking into what went wrong with FEMA in the wake and during the response to hurricane Katrina. We're going to go back to that in just a few minutes. The former head of FEMA, the embattled former director, Michael Brown, is expected to testify. We will show you that live here on CNN.
Right now we want to go ahead and turn to that aftermath of this weekend's hurricane. That was Rita. Crews spanning out to assess the damage in small, rural town in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. The death toll is climbing. New tragedies are being discovered. At least seven deaths now blamed on the storm. Most coming from a single incident. Authorities in Beaumont, Texas, found the bodies of five people in an apartment. They were apparently killed by carbon monoxide from a generator they were running indoors.
President Bush also heading to Texas today. With more on that, let's go to the White House and Dana Bash.
Dana, good morning.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.
And President Bush is going to two of the areas that Rita hit the hardest. Beaumont, Texas, is one. And the other is Lake Charles, Louisiana. The president will have briefings from the governor's of both those states, the coast guard admiral in charge of the federal recovery for both Katrina and Rita, and he'll also take an aerial tour of the area. The towns along the Texas-Louisiana border made landfall at our home sorry, Daryn, I'm being told to toss back to you. We have to see what's going on with the hearings.
KAGAN: Right. Because things getting started a little bit earlier on Capitol Hill. Here's Michael Brown, the former head of FEMA. Let's listen.
MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: Be learned and should be learned. That was always my philosophy at FEMA. It was what we called our ramp program where we always looked after every disaster, every incident at remedial actions and what we could do to improve things.
I also want to say that I admire the efforts of many members of this committee, including you, Mr. Chairman, to actually get outside of Washington, D.C., and see what's going on in the field. I think the more you do that, the better information that you will get and the better you will understand what took place, not only in Hurricane Katrina, but what goes in disasters all over this country.
The response of the government at all levels to Hurricane Katrina has come under some criticism. Some of it's valid, and I'll tell you some of it is just not valid.
FEMA must be understood in the context of what we do and how we do it before we decide to start Monday morning quarterbacking what took place, and so I think it's really important to understand what the role of FEMA is and what we do.
Likewise, there have been some criticisms leveled against me personally, and so I would like to take time later in this statement to address some of those.
As everyone on this committee certainly understands, you can't believe everything that you read in the newspapers, or everything that you see on television.
To understand the role that FEMA undertook in Hurricane Katrina and all the other disasters that we have successfully handled throughout my tenure and the tenure of others, it's important to understand the basics of emergency management in the United States. At its most basic level, emergency management can best be described as a cycle. You first prepare for a disaster. You then respond to the disaster. You recover from the disaster. And finally, you start mitigating against future disasters based on what you have learned. This cycle is the standard throughout the entire world. It doesn't vary anywhere in the world.
These four pillars that I just described -- prepare, respond, recover, and mitigate -- is how any effective emergency management organization, agency, directorate must be organized in order to be effective and to help citizens in times of emergencies.
Emergency management begins at the local level. Municipal and county governments are best suited to understand the needs and capabilities of their locales. Mayors, city councilmen, county commissioners, county administrators, parish presidents, all of these people are in a unique position to understand both the capabilities of their communities and the vulnerabilities of their communities.
Local governments develop the operations plan by which their communities are going to respond to disasters, either natural or manmade.
State governments have a role. State governments develop emergency operations plans for disasters. They provide liaison support to the local government, and they administer the mitigation programs that the federal government supports at the state and local level.
The reason that this primary responsibility, this first response is at the local level is that it's inherently impractical, totally impractical for the federal government to respond to every disaster of whatever size in every community across this country.
It breaks my heart to think about the disasters that we respond to as FEMA, and to think about also the disasters that we don't respond to -- the small town in Wyoming that has a tornado that wipes out five homes. We don't respond to that, yet those people suffered as much as any other people that we might respond to.
The role of the federal government is not and should not ever be that of a first responder. The role of the federal government in emergency management is generally that of a coordinator and a supporter. The federal government develops national policies and assists the state and locals.
The concept of federalism in this country has long provided the basis by which all levels of government interact. Those principles of federalism should not be lost in the short-term desire to react to a natural disaster of catastrophic proportions, for it is my contention that if we lose that concept of federalism, we will have a breakdown in the local, state, and national emergency management systems, it will inherently drive decision-making to the federal level, it will inherently create a system whereby communities become dependent upon the federal government to respond to all disasters, and that's just not right or workable.
These roles are also fully supported by the basic concept of federalism, recognizing that sovereign states have the primary responsibility for emergency preparedness and response in their jurisdictions.
For example, governors have control over the National Guard. Law enforcement is primarily a local responsibility.
I think if you ask any of your constituents, any citizens in this country, they understand that fire protection, police protection, emergency medical care are clearly a local responsibility.
Now, many may be surprised to learn that FEMA is not a first responder. Many may be surprised to learn that, guess what, FEMA doesn't own fire trucks; we don't own ambulances; we don't own search and rescue equipment. In fact, the only search and rescue or emergency equipment that we own is a very small cadre to protect some property that we own around the country. FEMA is a coordinating agency. We are not a law enforcement agency.
It has always been my contention that the all-hazards approach is the approach that the federal government should take towards emergency management. By that I mean that if we adopt a cycle of preparing through training, exercises, planning, we respond to disasters with those that we have trained with, exercised with, worked with, we recover through rebuilding and reconstruction, we mitigate by enforcing and helping develop building codes, standards, protocols, retrofits.
If we do all of those things in an all-hazards approach, that means that we can respond to any disaster anywhere, regardless of what causes that disaster, whether it's man-made, natural, or a terrorist event.
But I want to emphasize that if we break that cycle and if we break that concept of federalism, we minimize our effectiveness and maximize our potential for failure.
Every level of government in this country has a role to play, including individuals. Individuals must take personal responsibility for being prepared. First responders may not be able to get to them quickly.
And in fact, in speeches that I give all over the country when I talk about preparedness, I always ask individuals this: Do you want to be the person that causes the first responder to either lose their life or become injured because you didn't take the basic steps yourself as an individual to be prepared? Individuals have a responsibility in this system of emergency management also.
Local governments must be prepared to respond just as well, because, as simple as it seems, disasters always occur in local communities. Locals are the first responders, and they have the primary responsibility to respond on behalf of their communities.
The emergency management cycle that I have described does not exist in FEMA today because of it's just wishful thinking. It exists because we recognize that only through our partnerships, with state and local governments, can we be effective. And only through those partnerships can we actually respond and come in and help them coordinate and assist them when disaster strikes in their communities.
FEMA cannot come in and be the first responder, but we can come in and help them train and exercise and learn how to do their job and be prepared for any kind of disaster.
People in the country might be surprised to learn that FEMA is a very small agency. They hear that FEMA is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security has over 180,000 employees, and a budget of some $42 billion.
FEMA has less than 3,000 employees. And if you take away the disaster relief fund, we have an annual operating budget of less than $1 billion dollars.
We are a very small organization within a very large organization.
But despite that, despite that contradiction in the size, I believe that FEMA is an honest broker that can effectively bring to bear the resources of the federal government to help state and local governments when they are responding to disasters.
What happens when we do that? When FEMA responds, we become a partner with the state. We establish a unified command structure -- a unified command structure that has worked well throughout 150-plus disasters that I have overseen since being at FEMA.
This unified command structure allows the federal, state, and local governments to work hand-in-hand, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each level, distributing the resources and assets according to how they can best be utilized, and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the state, federal and local governments so we can best respond to help our citizens.
And it is only through such a unified command structure, coupled with an incident management system within that unified command structure -- and actually, an incident command structure has been recognized by fire departments and the Forest Service and others for decades in this country.
But it is only through that kind of unified command structure that we can be successful when we respond to a disaster.
That's FEMA. It's not a first responder. It's a coordinator. It's an honest broker.
But what was our role during Hurricane Katrina? FEMA began monitoring Tropical Depression 12 long before it became a hurricane -- almost a full week before it made landfall in Louisiana. FEMA prepositioned supplies, equipment and manpower in areas where they were out of harm's way so that that equipment and that manpower would not itself become a victim of Hurricane Katrina.
We prepositioned those assets so that we can move them in rapidly when it's safe to do so. FEMA conducted daily video teleconferences to learn the states' needs, to find out what we could do to best help them coordinate their response, and to respond to any requests that the states might have made of us that they needed in being prepared.
The hurricane liaison teams worked closely with the National Hurricane Center -- FEMA people actually in the National Hurricane Center to provide us the most updated information so we would know what we could tell the states and what the states needed to know.
We established several mobilization centers throughout the Gulf states. Again, these mobilization centers were not in downtown New Orleans. They weren't in Pascagoula. They were located out of harm's way so they themselves would not become disaster victims -- and we could move in after the hurricane made landfall.
FEMA activated and deployed the national disaster medical teams. We activated and deployed the urban search and rescue teams. We activated and deployed the rapid needs assessment teams. We activated and deployed the emergency response teams to all of the potentially affected states.
We sent federal coordinating officers, our eyes and ears on the ground, to each of the state emergency operation centers in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana prior to landfall, so that we could know everything that the state needed to know, that they could convey back to us.
The American Red Cross, one of our partners, established shelters and feeding stations in each of the affected areas. The National Emergency Assistance Compact, EMAC, was activated, so that other states, in partnership with FEMA and the affected states, could move supplies and resources in.
I want this committee to know that FEMA pushed forward with everything that it had, every team, every asset that we had, in order to help what we saw as being a potentially catastrophic disaster. FEMA was prepared to fulfill its role as a partner in responding.
The way that FEMA works with state and local officials is well- established, and it's worked well. FEMA designates the federal coordinating officer to go to the state emergency operations center so that from that moment on, from the moment that our FCO, that federal coordinating officer, lands in an emergency operations center, he or she is hooked up with the state coordinating officers, so that we can have a unified command structure and we can know what the states need and we can start reacting to that before the disaster occurs, before the hurricane makes landfall.
These two persons in the ideal situation work together in the same room. They sit at conference tables like this. They know what they need to do. They work as a team. They feed those requests, those requirements into the emergency support functions, such as transportation, mass care, energy, so that we know what they need, and we can respond and help them get the assets they need. When the needs are identified, the coordinators assess that, so we know where best to utilize those resources and where to send them.
This is exactly -- exactly -- the approach that FEMA used in 2004 to the historic four hurricanes that struck Florida. This is exactly the approach that FEMA used during the Columbia space shuttle disaster that stretched all the way from Texas through New Mexico, Arizona and California. This is exactly the system that FEMA used in the historic outbreak of tornadoes in the Midwest, where small communities were obliterated from the face of the earth. And this is the exact system that FEMA used in the outbreak of wildfires in California in 2003.
I emphasize that because it is also the same unified command structure that FEMA used in Mississippi, in Alabama, and Florida this year when we responded to Hurricane Katrina.
Unfortunately, this is the approach that FEMA had great difficulty in getting established within Louisiana. This exact approach worked well in Mississippi and Alabama and Florida. I had some of our best, most competent coordinators in those states, in all of the states, to do everything we could to assist them.
In retrospect, I got to tell you that I am very glad that on Sunday morning I was on the news shows talking, and I was pushing my staff to find out, has the governor of Louisiana, has the mayor ordered a mandatory evacuation? We could not get the definitive answer that they had or they were going to.
So I went on the news shows Sunday morning, and I said, uncharacteristically of me, that I don't care what the governors are saying and I don't care what the mayors are saying, if you live in New Orleans, evacuate and get out of that city now.
I assume that today some of you are going to ask me whether I did all that I could, or whether I would have done anything differently. The answer is yes. Of course. And I want to talk about that, because we can always improve how we respond to disasters.
I do believe there are a couple of specific mistakes that I made that I want to put on the table right now.
First, I failed initially to set up a series of regular briefings to the media about what FEMA was doing throughout the Gulf Coast region. And instead, I became tied to the news shows, going on the news shows early in the morning and late at night, and that was just a mistake. We should have been feeding that information to the press and in the manner and in the time that we wanted to, instead of letting the press drive us.
Second, I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences and work together. I just couldn't pull that off.
I want to spend just a minute, Mr. Chairman, if I can, to discuss a little bit about the personal charges that have been leveled against me.
While FEMA was trying to respond to probably the largest natural disaster in the history of this country, a catastrophic disaster that the president has described covering an area the size of Great Britain -- I have heard 90,000 square miles -- unless you have been there and seen it, you don't realize exactly how bad and how big it was -- but in the middle of trying to respond to that, FEMA's press office became bombarded with requests to respond immediately to false statements about my resume and my background.
Ironically, it started with an organization called horsesass.org, that on some blog published a false, and, frankly, in my opinion, defamatory statement that the media just continued to repeat over and over. Next, one national magazine not only defamed me, but my alma mater, the Oklahoma City University School of Law, in one sentence alone leveling six false charges.
But that was just a prelude to what was to come. Time magazine then called the press office while I was in Baton Rouge trying to coordinate the response and was told that I supposedly embellished my resume and was given 45 minutes to respond to their story.
The story wasn't true, but apparently that doesn't matter. For almost 20 years, you see, I have worked in state, local and federal government.
I started out as an intern while I was in undergraduate school in the city of Edmond, Oklahoma, which at the time was the fastest growing city in Oklahoma. We were issuing sometimes upwards of 1,000 building permits per month. That's a lot of growth.
I started out as an intern in the planning office. I then became the assistant to the city manager, where I was liaison to the Emergency Services Division, the police and fire departments. I ended up drafting the emergency operations plan. I ended up putting together with a committee the emergency operations center. I worked closely with the emergency, fire and police departments.
I went on those runs, and I know what it is like to see a family's house burn to the ground because they weren't ready, they had a Christmas tree that was faulty, lights that were faulty. I know what it's like to see men and women in police and fire departments put their lives on the line.
I have represented cops throughout my legal career. I have represented police departments. I guess I did a good enough job in negotiating on behalf of the city of Edmond during their labor relations that later the unions came and asked me to negotiate on their behalf.
You see, I get it when it comes to incident command systems. I get it when it comes to emergency management. I know what it's all about.
But if that's not enough, I came to FEMA as general counsel. As general counsel, I had to learn about all of the programs in FEMA. I had to understand what all of this emergency management cycle at the federal level was about. I was then asked by the president after September 11, and running operations from FEMA headquarters on September 11 to become the deputy director.
I have overseen over 150 presidentially declared disasters. I know what I am doing. And I think I do a pretty darn good job of it.
The media even claimed that -- falsely stated I was never an adjunct professor. I find that funny because there's a gentleman in the room right now who has represented me on many occasions that I actually asked to come in and fill in for me one time and come and speak to my class that I was teaching. So maybe we're both hallucinating about teaching that class, but I did teach law school. And, in fact, I taught legislation and I taught state and local government law. I know how municipal governments work.
Interesting, Time then quoted my employer, one of my first employers after law school, and said I had done a lousy job. I guess they wanted me in the middle of the disaster to run back to Virginia, dig through my papers and find the personnel records that talked about the outstanding job that I had done.
But I guess it's the media's job. But I don't like it. I think it's false. It came at the wrong time. And I think it led potentially to me being pulled out of Louisiana, because it made me somewhat ineffective.
My experience at FEMA has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. The men and women of FEMA -- every single one of them are dedicated to the mission of saving lives, sustaining lives, of building and keeping this robust emergency management system working as well as it can.
FEMA has faced some trying times. If you think it's difficult to merge Compaq and IBM -- ask Holly (ph) what she thinks of that -- try to merge FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security, and then try to reorganize that again from having been an independent agency.
The people of FEMA are tired. The people of FEMA are tired of being beat up -- and they don't deserve it. The men and women of FEMA, the career civil servants, the career people that I work with are dedicated to doing the absolute best they can to help communities because they chose to come to work at FEMA. And they deserve better than what they are getting.
Mr. Chairman, it's my belief that FEMA did a good job in the Gulf states. We could do things better. We could improve them. And I hope that, through these hearings, we can find ways to not only improve FEMA and make it better, but that we can strengthen the emergency management system in this country.
Mr. Chairman, I would be happy to answer any questions that the committee might have.
DAVIS: Mr. Brown, thank you very much. We are going to get into some fairly lengthy questioning shortly -- organized by timeline and then by subject matter.
But let me begin by asking an important question that are on a lot of people's minds, and give you the time you need to answer it:
Based on what you know now, what would you do differently? And specifically, what would you have done to evacuate New Orleans sooner? What would you have done to a ensure unified command? What would you have done to address the security needs at the Superdome and then throughout the city of New Orleans?
What would you have done to maintain communications? And what would you have done to get the National Guard or the military there sooner, knowing now what you know and seeing the problems that ensued?
And what were the biggest mistakes that you think FEMA made -- and you being their command and control?
BROWN: Mr. Chairman, that's a pretty darn good compound question -- if you would give me a minute to write down all the subsets...
DAVIS: I'll let you run with it.
BROWN: ... I'll be happy to cover them.
DAVIS: We want to give you an opportunity first. Then we are going to go through the timeline and a number of other questions.
BROWN: Let me start out by addressing the premise of the question, which I don't entirely agree with -- that what could FEMA have done in terms of the evacuation? What could FEMA have done in terms of communications, law enforcement?
Those are not FEMA roles. FEMA doesn't evacuate communities. FEMA does not do law enforcement. FEMA does not do law enforcement. FEMA does not do communications. But having said that, I have got to tell you in hindsight there are things that I, as the former director of FEMA, wish that I had done that maybe would address those particular areas.
First and foremost, when we started the SVTS, the video teleconferences that we do with the state and locals, I should have pushed harder to both Louisiana -- particularly to Louisiana, because I, with all due respect, I do not want to make this partisan, so I can't help it that Alabama and Mississippi are governed by Republican governors and Louisiana is governed by a Democratic governor.
That's not an issue with me. We go to every state regardless of who the governor is and do what we can, but I didn't have a problem with evacuations in Mississippi or Alabama. They were doing it. Jeb Bush had already ordered evacuations through the Keys as Katrina was making its way through that area.
My mistake was in recognizing that for whatever reason that we might want to discuss later, but for whatever reason, Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco were reticent to order a mandatory evacuation. And if I, Mike Brown individual, could have done something to convince them that this was the big one, and they needed to order a mandatory evacuation, I would have done it. Maybe I could have gotten on the telephone with General Landreneau in the emergency operations center and said: General, get some of those National Guard troops out there and start driving buses and pick people up and take them out of there. Maybe we could have done something like that. That's all speculation.
DAVIS: Is there any federal authority anywhere in evacuation where the federal government can come in, in the case of reticence on the part of state, that you are aware of?
BROWN: Mr. Chairman, not that I am aware of.
In terms of communications...
KAGAN: We're going to continue listening in to Michael Brown, the former head of FEMA, as he testifies before this House committee.
Also, on the other side of your screen, you're seeing a picture from Beaumont, Texas. President Bush arriving there. He will attend several briefings. He will get an aerial tour of Texas and the Louisiana border today, and then he goes back to Washington later this afternoon.
Much more testimony from Washington D.C. ahead. Right now, a quick break.
KAGAN: And we're looking at videotape now of President Bush arriving just a few minutes ago in Beaumont, Texas. He's coming to survey the damage from Hurricane Rita, look at the impact on the oil and refinery business in that area. He will go to Texas and the Louisiana border, and he goes back to Washington later this afternoon.
Want to go back now live to what we've been listening to Washington, D.C.. Embattled former director of FEMA, Michael Brown, has been testifying before a House committee looking at the failed response of the federal government to FEMA.
And while we listen to that, I want to welcome back John Copenhaver, a former FEMA director for here in the southeast. He's been listening in as well. Couple points. First question to Mike Brown today, what should FEMA have done differently, what should he have done differently, especially on evacuation, law enforcement, and communication. His frank answer is, that wasn't my role. That is not FEMA's role. And you agree with that?
COPHENAVER: It is not FEMA's role to actually conduct the evacuations. And law enforcement is not FEMA's role, either. They are not first responders. But at the same time, when former director Brown was asked what should FEMA have done differently and he says that he personally should have conducted more briefings...
KAGAN: Yes, his first answer was that he should have had more news briefings, more news conferences. Wouldn't have been the top of your list? COPENHAVER: Wouldn't have been at the top of my list, no. And, in fact, that would be probably pretty far down the list. I think that the issue of coordination with the governor and mayor is clearly one that is very important. I don't know exactly what happened, and where the blame should lie, but the lack of that coordination clearly cost the people in New Orleans, in terms of the timing of the recovery and getting troops into downtown New Orleans.
KAGAN: And the second thing is, you were mentioning that he said he should have done whatever he could to get Mayor Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco to get along better. Clearly, there was some kind of bad dynamic happening between the two of them. But relationship counseling and being the head of FEMA also, perhaps, not the top of your list?
COPENHAVER: I would have to say while I would have like to have taken all kinds of courses on relationship counseling when I was at FEMA, that was not high on the list. It is not his responsibility to make the governor and mayor get along. His responsibility is to ensure that whatever the dynamics are between those two, that the federal government response integrates as seamlessly as possible with the state and local authorities. If they're not getting along, that doesn't mean the federal government doesn't have a role. It means that you're going to have to simply adjust that role to the dynamics of the situation.
KAGAN: A lot more questions to ask. They are being asked in Washington, D.C. We'll go -- this is the one Democrat who has shown up for this committee hearing. And this is William Jefferson of Louisiana.
REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: I find it absolutely stunning that this hearing would start out with you, Mr. Brown, laying the blame for FEMA's failings at the feet of the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans.
I think it's fair to say that perhaps mistakes were made all around, but I don't think the response of the federal government can be explained on the basis of, as you have said here, you could not persuade the governor and the mayor to sit down and coordinate a response.
As you probably know, Governor Blanco requested a disaster declaration from the president three days before the storm made landfall. And the president declared a disaster two days before the hurricane hit. So the local folks, I think, made an accurate request for support.
But even if they hadn't made any request for help at all, even if they were plainly, as you have said, dysfunctional, which I am not here to defend them, but I don't believe that is an appropriate characterization of what happened here, FEMA had already been engaged in exercises that would, I think, put the lie to any notion that this was to be handled by local people.
For instance, in your own document, as a result of this Hurricane Pam exercise we have heard so much about here lately, it says at one point this: "A strong hurricane hitting heavily populated southeast Louisiana will create a catastrophic event which the state would not be able to cope without massive help from neighboring states and the federal government.
"The geographic situation of southern Louisiana and the densely populated New Orleans area would complicate response problems and quickly overwhelm the state's responses."
You've said here that FEMA itself had capability issues and was overwhelmed. How much more would one think that a state or a local government would be overwhelmed by such an event?
It further reads, "A catastrophic event will produce a chaotic and degraded environment with possible losses and malfunction of various layers and sections of all levels of government.
"A major storm would create a possible need to reconstitute local and state government authorities' responsibilities, capabilities, missions, and resources" -- meaning that the normal response one might expect of state and local government in this situation was not even contemplated to be available.
And then the Department of Homeland Security's national planning for major hurricane includes following assumptions -- that most of the local, fire, police, and other response personnel and officials are victims of the storm and aren't able to coordinate immediate response resources.
State and local capabilities -- triaging and treating casualties in the disaster area are overwhelmed. And the national response plan talks about proactive federal response.
"A catastrophic event," it says, "including a major natural disaster that results in extraordinary levels of casualties and damage," quote, it says here, "almost immediately exceeds resources -- almost immediately exceeds resources normally available to state, local, tribal, and private sector authorities in the impacted area.
"The response capabilities," it says, "of local jurisdictions may be insufficient and quickly overwhelmed."
Now, we all knew from the various scenarios that were created out of the Hurricane Pam exercise by the Hurricane Center at LSU, by the 2004 "National Geographic" report, which chilling report of what might happen, in the event of a Category 4 hurricane -- a 3 or higher. And in September 2004, the U.S. commissioner on ocean policy submitted a report to the president on the same matter. And even the newspapers who ran articles that talked about the threat of this catastrophe occurring.
Now, if there's more than a matter of the media not having the proper briefings and more than the matter of the governor and the mayor not being able to sit down and coordinate a response.
The response that was contemplated was a federal response, and not a state and local response.
I am more interested in what actually happened down there before landfall -- and about whether there were meetings with city and state officials before landfall and, if there were, how many there were and where they were and what happened there.
I am more interested in what actually happened down there before landfall and about whether there were meetings with city and state officials before landfall, and if there were, how many there were and where they were and what happened there; about the contacts by phone or in person with DHS or with the secretary before landfall; and how you dealt with Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, Governor Barbour in the week prior to the landfall; and what resources and supplies did FEMA and other federal agencies deploy before the landfall; and, to the extent you're aware of it, how did the pre-Katrina deployment of resources differ from the pre-deployment of resources prior to Hurricane Rita.
Now, that's before the landfall. And if you want me to stop here, I can stop and let you deal with that. But I think also after the landfall, here's what we know on the ground in Louisiana: that no matter how the statements go up here today and no matter how the matters get described, the help just didn't come, and people suffered from it.
The president himself said early on that the response was unacceptable. He, since that time, made statements which are more complete about some of the failings and shortcomings.
And I think it's real important if we're going to find out what and make sure it doesn't happen again because I'm not interested myself in pointing fingers at you or any particular individual. I hope you know that.
I simply want to find out what happened and how we can prevent it from happening again, because what happened here has already occurred. People have already suffered. We've already had terrible losses.
And it's in the wake of this that we're here today trying to figure out what happened, because you owe it to all those people who suffered to answer their questions. We owe it to the families that are out there now who don't know why they're in the situation they're in and who have lost loved ones and lost property and lost a sense of place, a sense of being at home that they may never recover.
And so it's very important for us to justify to them why the government didn't do all it could to make their situations come out better.
But this is principally prospective in its value. Because, as I've said, they've already gone through that suffering. We're looking now to how we can make sure that our government works better for people in the wake of these disasters, which we see are coming more ferociously and more frequently than we've ever seen them in recent times before. And so the preparation has to be equal to the challenges that we face. And our region of the world, unfortunately, is probably facing other risks out there, the dangers from these same sort of events.
And so for me and for others from the region, it's really important that we're able to reassure our people that the government is handling this problem and handling it properly.
So I'm really troubled by the response when one asks, "What would you have done differently, and did you make mistakes?" and you crystallize it to these two matters of not having the appropriate media briefings and not being able to get Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down and coordinate a response.
I think that's a very weak explanation of what happened and a very incomplete explanation of what happened. And I would hope we could look forward to a fuller explanation before the day is gone because I don't think that's going to cut it, really.
The federal government -- I mean, FEMA is there for a reason. And you say it's there to be an honest broker; it's there to coordinate the levels of government but it's not a first responder.
In the ordinary course of events, perhaps that's how things go. But one has to have the government match the threat that's out there.
And everyone knew what might happen to that region in the event of the kind of catastrophe that Hurricane Katrina posed. And therefore, the preparation for it, by your own documents from the government -- all of them contemplated something quite different.
Yet we seem to have proceed in quite the usual way as if we expected, not these catastrophic, horrible events that could have occurred, but if we were simply going about some other set of disaster planning that didn't pose these huge, extraordinary risks.
And it can't be approached that way and expect results to come out any differently than they did, which is to say that the coordination effort, if that was the object of FEMA, failed. The coordination effort, if it was to get local people working together, of course, failed. If it was to get resources in place, failed. If it was to reach people at the time they needed help, it all failed.
And I think the results are quite stark in that regard. And I hope and we have a right to expect a fuller explanation of what happened from you and from the other persons who were leading the agency before the day is done, before these hearings are done.
Mr. Chairman, I have specific questions, but I can (inaudible) about landfall -- he may, before landfall, and then I have a few about after landfall. But if you can take the before landfall ones that I inquired about earlier I would appreciate a response to that.
DAVIS: Thank you.
BROWN: Thank you, Congressman Jefferson. I am glad that you were there, because you and I can talk firsthand about what we saw and what took place. Before landfall, I had numerous conversations with Governor Blanco specifically asking about mandatory evacuations and whether she was going to order those or not. I never understood what the reticence was in not ordering those mandatory evacuations, but I did push and push her on that regard.
JEFFERSON: If I might, when was that?
BROWN: That was on Saturday -- Saturday and Sunday. Saturday and Sunday, when we are both -- I think she participated in Saturday's VTC, but I don't recall specifically.
Both myself and the staff at FEMA pushed the state EOC, and I personally pushed the governor, for mandatory evacuations prior to landfall.
The other thing I think is important to note before landfall is -- and you didn't have the benefit of the statement, but it's in my statement -- about all of the things that we pushed forward in Louisiana prior to landfall, because, as you correctly point out, she made a request for a presidential disaster declaration. President Bush signed that. That enabled FEMA to go ahead and surge and start prepositioning all of those assets.
One of the things that I did -- that FEMA did that was unusual in this case was that we sent a federal coordinating officer -- although not in that capacity, but an individual of that capability -- and another career FEMA person into Mayor Nagin's office so that they would be there prior to landfall.
FEMA did that because, having for the first time in the history of the organization put together catastrophic disaster planing, and having specifically chosen New Orleans because of the potential for a catastrophic disaster, we knew that the mayor was probably going to have some problems; that any mayor there was going to have some problems.
So FEMA thought it was incumbent upon us to make certain that there was someone on the ground to be our eyes and ears within the mayor's office so that we could help that mayor in whatever needs they might have.
And we did the same thing in the state emergency operations center, too.
And, Mr. Jefferson, I know that you saw what I saw when I was there on Sunday and Sunday evening and Monday, which was no one in charge. I couldn't find out who was driving the resource requirement, who was making the decisions about what needed to be done.
You saw that middle room, the room where we sat with the president and had the briefing. On Sunday and Monday, that room was chaos. I remember walking into a small room like that in some rural county in Florida. I don't remember what county it was and it's immaterial. And I remember commenting to some of the folks that were there that, wow, this team had its act together because they had -- we are county level now, in your case, parish level -- they had someone there who was their county coordinator. They had their ESS, their emergency support, functions set up.
And we walked in, FEMA walked in, knew who was in control, who was making the decisions, where the resource requests were coming in and how those were being fed out.
And I never found that in Baton Rouge. I never saw that room function the way it should have functioned.
We put people in the mayor's office...
JEFFERSON: May I suggest FEMA had the responsibility for that? Go ahead.
BROWN: We put those people in the mayor's office because we knew, based upon Hurricane Pam, that exercise, that any mayor may have a difficult time communicating and get those resource requests in to us. So we specifically put people in there to help us feed those resource requests.
On Tuesday, the governor and I got in the helicopter and flew to the Superdome, landed and walked into the mayor. And I was ready for bear because I was mad at the mayor. I was madder than a wet hen at the mayor at that time.
And my staff did what they were supposed to do. The FEMA staff did their job. They sat down with Mayor Nagin and they said, "Mayor, the FEMA director is going to come in here. We promise you, after the cameras disappear, you have had your little photo op and everything, he's going to sit down, and he's going to ask you, 'What do you need?' He's going to ask you, 'What are the priorities for those needs?'"
And lo and behold, I walk in and photo ops occur. Then I sit down with him and he does -- he's got his list there of everything he needs and the priorities.
And I turned to Phil Parr (ph), the FCO on the ground, and I say, "Phil, you guys are doing a good job. The mayor's got his list here. Feed those into the system. Let's help this guy."
The state EOC was incapable of doing that, and it didn't happen.
Now, I'm not here to point blame. I'm not here to point fingers. I'm here just to tell the truth. I'm here to tell what I saw and what I witnessed. And that's what we witnessed.
KAGAN: I'm Daryn Kagan. We've been listening into testimony by the former head of FEMA, Michael Brown. He is testifying before this House committee. And the congressman now asking the question, the one Democrat who is there to ask questions today, William Jefferson of Louisiana, a man who has brought controversy of his own.
We'll get to that in a minute. More importantly, what Michael Brown has had to say to this committee today about what FEMA did wrong and what he could have done differently.
The two mistakes that Michael Brown has said so far in this testimony that he made, his number one mistake, he said that he would have held more regular briefings with the news media. And his second, he wishes he could have done something to get Mayor Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco to get along and to make decisions together.
I've been listening in to this, and we have as well, with former regional director of FEMA, John Copenhaver, who has been taking very copious notes there about what you're hearing.
William Jefferson, the Democrat, saying what we've heard so far is just not going to cut it, we haven't heard enough.
COPENHAVER: I would agree. I think that we still have not yet heard why the delay in getting the military into downtown New Orleans occurred.
We saw the images coming out of the convention center and the Superdome. Those images of people suffering, those images of people suffering from exposure, lack of water, lack of food. We knew that there was a dire situation down there. And we also knew that there had to be a assistance that had to get down there to them. And why the delay took place in that, I'd like to hear his explanation of how that happened.
KAGAN: That's what you would like to hear. Now, Michael Brown also saying that there are things that FEMA is just not responsible for. In terms of not responsible for the evacuation, not responsible for communication, that these are things that are all getting lumped on FEMA that didn't work but not necessarily his department.
COPENHAVER: That's true. FEMA is not responsible for the actual evacuation order itself or for conducting the evacuation. That is a local jurisdiction responsibility, and working closely with the state.
But I guess my point is that, even though the evacuation did not go as it probably should have, the questions that we need to ask are the questions -- the federal government's response, the role that the federal government did play and should have played is what's under question here. And I think we're going to have to find out why, even though there were problems with and failures at local and state government level, why the federal government was not able to execute more effectively and why that put the citizens in the area of the convention center and the Superdome at risk.
KAGAN: And final question for you, you're not really satisfied with the answers you're hearing out of Michael Brown this morning, but you're not really satisfied with the questions by these congressmen as well?
COPENHAVER: I think that we're missing the point so far. And I hope that we get to it.
KAGAN: All right. We'll be listening in. John Copenhaver, thank you for your expertise... COPENHAVER: Thank you.
KAGAN: ... and for listening in.
We're going to go ahead and listen it. William Jefferson, Democrat from Louisiana, continuing his questioning of Michael Brown. Let's listen.
JEFFERSON: ...FEMA should have applied its resources earlier and more effectively, it seems to me -- its coordinating responsibilities and other things it had to do there.
If it's different in any significant way, then one has to approach it differently, it would seem to me.
So I can tell you, I was in some rooms with you where we were all concerned about how things were working. But I don't think that I can sit here and bear witness to the fact that it was because of a lack or a dysfunction between the mayor and the governor.
There was some concern, as you may know, about what the federal response was going to be -- what role the federal government would take, whether it would take a stronger role. And there was some concern about how the National Guard and the active duty forces would coordinate their work.
I remember that very pointedly. And that seemed to be a point of contention between the governor and the president to some extent.
But before we get to that whole set of issues, when you went through the exercise with Pam, which assumed that everything bad that could go wrong, went wrong -- including not just poor communication between local officials, but no communication.
They assumed that nothing worked, that everything was blackened and there was no way to do anything.
And the question was, in any event, where it's so bad until the local folks are overwhelmed immediately, there's no communication, there's no coordination between the mayor and the governor or anybody else, in those circumstances -- and they came up with an appropriate response. And that response wasn't taken here. Why was that not taken
Assuming that everything else was going wrong, tell me why the response that Pam contemplated under those circumstances wasn't undertaken.
BROWN: Pam was an exercise. Pam was the first time that the federal government, and particularly FEMA, has sat down and looked at the potential of a catastrophic disaster and our role in it.
And the public policy debate that now needs to occur between the administration and Congress is, what do we do? Do we muscle up FEMA? Do we muscle up NORTHCOM? Do we somehow tie NORTHCOM and FEMA together? I mean, I don't want to just list those things. But there's any number of things that we can do so that FEMA can respond effectively to that catastrophic event.
Because I go back to my basic premise that FEMA is not -- we do not have the capability or the capacity to come into New Orleans and reestablish their government immediately. Even in the best of situations, that's going to take several days because you have an urban area, an urban area that was not evacuated, you have an urban area where the police and fire services have broken down and disintegrated, and you cannot, even the 5th Army or the 1st Army cannot turn on a dime and be there two hours after landfall and reconstitute that.
So, yes, we can have those policy debates all day long. And, frankly, I think Congress probably should have those policy debates all day long.
But the fact of the matter remains that New Orleans did not evacuate in the timeline it was anticipated in Hurricane Pam. The state did not utilize the National Guard, for example, to drive the buses that everybody has on their photographs, on their Web sites somewhere.
BROWN: None of those actions were taken, none of those actions took place, despite the cajoling and the persuasion and everything that we could do. And at this stage of the game, that is not the federal government's responsibility, that's a state and local responsibility.
JEFFERSON: I want to thank the chairman for permitting me this time.
And I just point out, that at the very end of this, the Stafford Act gave the authority under the exercise that we talked about, which contemplated that there was no coordination, there was no getting along, there was no talk and there was no anything with anyone. And that is the response that I was talking about that did not take place.
So I want to thank the chairman for permitting to ask this. I hope I get a chance to...
DAVIS: We'll get another round...
JEFFERSON: Thank you very much.
DAVIS: ... Mr. Jefferson.
KAGAN: Once again, we are listening into this House committee looking into what went wrong and what FEMA could do differently in the wake of hurricane -- after Hurricane Katrina and the federal response.
Michael Brown, the embattled former head of FEMA, still on the payroll for a month to talk about and help the government look at what went wrong when a lot of people think a lot of what he did went wrong. He is on the hot seat today. We've been listening in to his testimony. We will continue to do so.
Right now, I want to welcome back John Copenhaver, former regional director of FEMA under the Clinton administration.
KAGAN: We should make that distinction.
Talking about evacuation -- they just were there -- we saw evacuation did not work with big parts of New Orleans. And we just saw with Hurricane Rita evacuation not working with trying to get everyone cleared out of Houston. A lot of work to do on that front.
COPENHAVER: We have a tremendous amount of work to do. I think that we need to go back to the drawing board, because it's clear that when we're evacuating major urban areas, the problems of addressing the special needs populations, the problems of getting non-ambulatory out, the problems of making sure that we can phase in evacuations so that we don't overload the routes out of a major urban area, as we saw in Houston...
KAGAN: And we're talking about two different types of evacuations we witnessed in the last month. The New Orleans evacuation and Houston were two different types.
COPENHAVER: Two different types of evacuations, but some of the same issues, making sure that people leave, making sure that they are able to leave. And that's something that we have known for some time.
It poses tremendous logistical difficulties. And I'm not sure that we made the progress we need to make. And I think we need to go back to the drawing board.
KAGAN: Clearly not. John Copenhaver, thank you.
Let's go ahead and listen in once again to the committee hearing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the very first time that you or the public media began to look toward the Gulf Coast, where the hurricane finally hit, as a potential target? When was the very first moment in time when that took place?
BROWN: There was -- it was Wednesday, August -- no, I take it back. It was Tuesday, August...
KAGAN: We're going to continue listening in to these hearings and bringing you the highlights as it goes on. Once again, Michael Brown testifying in front of the House committee on the federal response and the FEMA response to Katrina and the Gulf Coast area.
Well, FEMA is certainly getting better marks for its response to Rita, but not across the board. The sheriff of flooded Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, says the military did an admirable job with rescues but FEMA hasn't shown up yet to help. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERIFF MICHAEL COUVILLON, VERMILION PARISH, LOUISIANA: I wish for once FEMA would cut all the red tape and expedite the supplies and the services needed for all of these people that have lost their homes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAGAN: And then there is this from Mayor Dick Nugent of Nederland, Texas, right in the path of Rita's eye. He indicates the red tape for FEMA seems to be worse than the hurricane was.
President Bush has landed back in the disaster zone today. Today's visit is his seventh trip to the Gulf Coast region in the wake of hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, joining us with details on the president's trip.
Dana, good morning.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.
And just a little bit of color before we get to that. On the Michael Brown hearing, I can tell you that there are more than a few White House staffers back here at the White House and on the complex who are watching very closely to hear what Michael Brown has to say about what he thinks went wrong with Katrina, as the president, as you mentioned, is now down getting a firsthand look in Beaumont, Texas, still trying to erase the impression that many believe, Michael Brown essentially crystallized and symbolized of the federal government and a White House too slow to respond initially.
So what we have today is Mr. Bush in Beaumont, Texas, as I mentioned. First, he is meeting, I think, as we speak, with federal officials who are leading the effort there, as well as the governor. He will then later in the day go to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and take an aerial tour as well.
Now, the towns along the Texas-Louisiana coast, of course, are where Rita made landfall. And also, that is home to some oil refineries that produce gasoline, about 10 percent of the nation's gasoline. Many of those refineries are still shut down.
And Daryn, you heard the president about this time yesterday talk about the fact that Americans, from his point of view, should start conserving, something that we don't hear from Mr. Bush. Particularly, it was a first to hear him say that Americans should stop driving if -- unless it is essential. That they should pitch in. He also said federal employees should take the leave, actually issued a directive to federal employees to curb nonessential travel.
The question is, what is the White House going to do? You see there a picture of the motorcade. How is the White House, the president, going to take the lead on the conservation? Well, we're told by the White House today that the motorcade will shrink a little bit, perhaps take some of the press vehicles out. The White House has told some of its staff to remember to turn off lights and things like that, perhaps even raise the temperature.
But the question, another question that is being raised, Daryn, is the president's entourage. Air Force One takes an enormous amount of fuel, as does the rest of his motorcade to move. But the White House is very clear that they are trying to deflect any criticism that the president perhaps shouldn't travel on a day like today when he's calling for conservation, because they call his kind of trip today to get a firsthand look at Rita devastation essential travel -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Well, Dana, that would be a case of you can't win for losing. To first to be criticized for not going to the region...
KAGAN: ... and then being criticized for going to the region and burning fuel.
BASH: And that's not lost on them here at the White House, I can tell you that.
KAGAN: Dana Bash, live at the White House. Thank you.
BASH: Thank you.
KAGAN: It has been a sad homecoming for many Louisiana residents who are seeing firsthand the home-wrecking destruction of the storms. Our Soledad O'Brien takes us to St. Bernard Parish. That is where the damage continues to take its toll.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Sometimes getting in means breaking in. Rachel Kessling was eager to see the damage for herself, even though her husband, a police lieutenant, warned her how bad it was.
(on camera): So he told you, didn't he, what to expect?
RACHEL KESSLING, STORM VICTIM: Yes, he prepared me before we even came back.
O'BRIEN: What did he say?
KESSLING: That it was just all gone and not to come back. But I had to come back for peace of mind.
O'BRIEN: Why -- why peace of mind?
KESSLING: To see it for myself, just to know -- just really accepting it.
O'BRIEN (voice over): By mid afternoon, cars were lined up leaving the parish, packed with whatever people could grab. They're muddy and dirty and tired. And in spite of seeing it on TV for a month now, they are utterly shocked.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's 10,000 times worse than what we thought. Just horrible.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Is there relief in coming back?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to see this place again. This is horrible. I have never seen such devastation.
O'BRIEN (voice over): It's been a tough emotional journey. Some are angry, most are just devastated.
(on camera): How you doing? It's OK. It's OK. It's all right. It's all right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Forty-three years gone. We've been married 43 years. Everything we've worked for -- our daughters both lost their homes.
I have four sisters, and they lost their homes. All of our friends, our neighbors. This parish is gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will never be the same.
O'BRIEN (voice over): But as we tour miles and miles of St. Bernard Parish with Sheriff Jack Stevens, it's clear there's really nothing to come back to. Every home as at least some damage, collapsed or washed out, leaning precariously or just obliterated.
Boats hang in midair, cars are perched in trees. The water is receding, and wherever it's dry or mostly dry, people have returned.
On homes near the petroleum plant, the water line is an oil line. A leak of about 250,000 gallons of oil have made homes uninhabitable and leached into the ground below as well.
Rachel Kessling hopes to save shirts that were hanging in her laundry room.
(on camera): This mud is just -- it's not to be believed. Is this mud this thick in the house?
O'BRIEN: Or thicker?
It's just as thick in the house, but Rachel takes comfort in the little things she manages to pull free.
A total loss?
KESSLING: (INAUDIBLE), like my senior mug. Silly sentimental things.
O'BRIEN: Are you going to take it?
KESSLING: Yes, I did. I dug for it, but I found it.
KAGAN: That was our Soledad O'Brien reporting. The chairman of St. Bernard Parish council is now complaining that levee repairs were unequal that left his area more vulnerable to flooding. The Army Corps of Engineers denies that claim, by the way.
We're going to go from Katrina's damage to Rita's.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm aggravated, I'm upset. We're getting to the point where we have to make each other laugh instead of cry. But I understand their job, but eventually they're going to have to let us in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAGAN: Why some Louisiana residents are left wondering if they have anything to go home to.
And the cost of energy in America, why paying for gasoline might be the least of your worries if you heat your home with natural gas.
KAGAN: And we have heard about the devastation from Hurricane Rita in the coastal parish of Cameron, Louisiana. Floodwaters 15 feet deep, thousands of homes destroyed. Well, now residents in one parish town wait to see the destruction for themselves.
Details from our national correspondent, Gary Tuchman.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 82nd Airborne has arrived.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you guys going to be doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fixing the state.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah!
TUCHMAN: Fixing the state and more specifically, fixing Cameron Parish, one of the areas of Louisiana hit hardest by Hurricane Rita. But while the troops go over the bridge into the devastated town of Hackberry, the people of Hackberry are being told by police they can't go because it's not considered safe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm aggravated, I'm upset. We're getting to the point to where we have to make each other laugh instead of cry, but I understand their job. But, eventually they're going to have to let us in. They're going to have to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Either that or we're going to have to outlaw to do it, and I know it's going to be hard. I was very tempted this morning to go by boats. And they said they was arresting us, it was almost to that point to say we just don't care. Arrest us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know they're doing it for safety reasons. I understand that a lot. But we're not going in there to take nothing out, we just want to go look to ease our minds.
TUCHMAN: Cameron Parish is where the eye of Hurricane Rita crossed. As a matter of fact, this is the precise spot, on the southwestern tip of the state. Most of the buildings in this parish have been destroyed or heavily damaged. Towns have just disappeared from the map. In the neighboring and also devastated parish of Calcasieu, Harold Herman was able to talk his way in. But what he saw was not good. He lost his home and his nest egg.
HAROLD HERMAN, CALCASIEU RESIDENT: It's like where do you start? You know, what do you do first?
TUCHMAN: His gas station convenience store, a business he built years building up, destroyed.
(on camera): What do you think the monetary damage is?
HERMAN: You know, this place is worth a million dollars and right now I don't think you could give it away.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Back at the bridge they wait in the blazing sun, hoping police change their minds and let them see what happened to their homes. In the back of their minds, though, they know the news will likely not be good.
Gary Tuchman, CNN, Cameron Parish, Louisiana.
KAGAN: And coming up next...
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are extremely invulnerable. If we have another tropical storm that shuts down production, I fear for the economy.
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KAGAN: How precarious is America's energy supply? We will run down the numbers, coming up next.
KAGAN: Want to show you a live picture. This is from London.
This is a protester, Fathers for Justice. We've seen them before. They -- well, he's on the roof of the House of Commons.
When we have seen these protesters for this group, they tend to show up in superhero costumes, hanging off the side of buildings that you don't expect to see them. Well, we have not seen the camera zoom in, so we can't tell you exactly what superhero this man is dressed up as, but Fathers for Justice is a -- they describe themselves as a civil rights movement for working for a child's right to see both parents and grandparents.
And when we figure out what superhero is on the side of the House of Commons, we will get that to you as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, let's talk gas prices. They are inching up a few pennies after Hurricane Rita. Nothing, though, close to the 46-cent- a-gallon national spike from Katrina.
Our correspondent Ali Velshi now with today's CNN "Energy Alert."
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's true, most refineries were spared the worst of Hurricane Rita, but your wallet might not be.
TOM KLOZA, OIL PRICE INFO. SERVICE: The hurricanes are going to haunt us for really about four, five, six weeks or so. And then we'll be OK in November and December.
VELSHI: At a national average of about $2.80 a gallon, gasoline costs nearly a dollar more than it did a year ago. If it stays around this price, that's 500 bucks more per year for the average American driver, 500 bucks seems like a deal compared to what you'll soon pay to heat your home, especially if you live in more than 50 million American homes that is use natural gas.
The government says that if it is a cold winter, it could cost you 71 percent more to heat your house this year than it did last year. That's $600. If you use heating oil, you will pay about 30 percent more to heat your home this winter.
For most Americans, it's still hundreds of dollars that you won't have to spend on other things, the other things you buy that make America one of the strongest economies in the world. And that's if nothing else goes wrong.
PHIL FLYNN, ALARON TRADING CORP: We are extremely invulnerable. If we have another tropical storm that shuts down production, I fear for the economy.
VELSHI: The president knows it is a real fear. For the second time in a month, he urged Americans to conserve.
BUSH: We can all pitch in by using -- by being better conservers of energy. We can curtail nonessential travel that makes sense for the citizen out there to curtail nonessential travel. It darn sure makes sense for federal employees. VELSHI: Oil companies are urging conservation too. ExxonMobil is buying full-page ads encouraging drivers to save gas by reducing trips. Why would Exxon ask drivers to cut back? Because for some Americans high fuel prices are making conservation an economic decision rather than an environmental one. And if Americans get serious about conserving fuel, it will hurt the industry a lot more than the hurricanes did.
Ali Velshi, CNN, New York.
KAGAN: The military mission in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf. Up next, I'm going to speak with the marine who helped rescue flood victims following Hurricane Rita.
Plus, the war in Iraq, why the U.S. military says that it's killed a significant figure in the fight against the insurgency.
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