Panelists: Scott Wells, Louis Botta, Michael Bolch
Richard Sexton Good morning, everyone. On behalf of EMI and the National Emergency Training Center I want to thank you for being here.
As Mr. Piño said, this is one of the critical topics that we’re dealing with, especially with the lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and it’s a very difficult one, because as Mr. Piño well put it, you have the four pillars and people, as the flavor of the month, and we try to transcend the way we’re looking at disasters, and we oftentimes get focused on hurricanes, which we are now, and then losing track of the other disciplines and then flipping to terrorism and then losing sight of the other things.
One of the things we’re looking at and one of the things that is crucial to all of us as professionals in the field is preparing a workforce and preparing the public and preparing those people for an all-hazards approach and being ready for any catastrophe. What we’re going to do is do it a little different here because I know you guys have some real big questions and should have a lot of them, so we will spend about 12 to 15 minutes for each one of them to talk a little bit and then the remainder of the time will be questions.
Scott Wells Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today about not so much Katrina—we use Katrina as the lens, but just the disaster management, disaster operations, and we will focus on response because that’s really where preparedness comes in, although there is a significant preparedness component to recovery operations that we probably ought to discuss because recovery is very important, too, but we don’t have the time to do that today.
The first thing I want to do is take you through to try to get you connected to Katrina, and it’s very difficult because you have to be there, you have to see there, you have to drive through there, you have to fly over there, you have to see victims, and then you feel it, and then you get it. When people come from D.C. or places outside, they come in with a perspective. Everybody has their own anchor point, their point of reference for disasters.
When you come to Katrina, when you come to Louisiana, Mississippi, that all goes away. People say one of two things: they either say, oh, I get it now, I see what you’ve been talking about, because you drive for miles and miles and miles of total devastation. Homes that moved—not just fallen down, but have been washed several hundred yards away.
This thing hit the 29th of August. Back in early May, we found two bodies—that’s about 8 months into the disaster. They knew where those bodies were and they went to their home, but actually their home had moved over 300 yards, 3 football fields, down, and the bodies were in the home. They’re still finding bodies down there, there’s still no electricity, there’s still a lack of infrastructure throughout that New Orleans metropolitan area.
The scene on the right is a collection point—we call that a lily pad. It was by design. When we use the search and rescue folks, they took the people from boats and helicopters and put them on these high points, roads and stuff, and then they’d be transferred later on.
Eighty percent of New Orleans was flooded—Orleans, which is the parish for New Orleans, is a little over half a million; Jefferson Parish, right beside it, is a little over half a million. There are about 1.3 million people in that metropolitan area.
For the first two weeks we saw people—families, children—walking through water, going from point A to point B. This was just not something that happened the first day or two.
The scene up top is where one of the levies broke—I think that’s the 17th Street Canal.
This is a convention center. There were actually two disasters. Pre-event, the Superdome was a refuge of last resort that people flowed into. There was no water, food, or anything there for them—they just went into there. In post-event, we had overtopping of the levies and then breaches and there was a sizeable population that went to the Convention Center—about a total of 65,000 people between the two facilities.
I want to talk a little bit about what made Katrina different. The first thing that comes out is just the magnitude. I remember three things from my four years in college. The first thing was I was sitting in an auditorium like this and they were talking about this ain’t the 13th grade. I didn’t know what that meant—I do now—but when you went from high school to college, it wasn’t the 13th grade.
When you go from a large disaster to something like Katrina, it isn’t one notch up. You do things totally different, and I think that’s what Admiral Allen was talking about—that legacy response of FEMA. I think that’s what I was talking about early about everybody has their point of reference. Point of reference is the last disaster they fought, or the last hurricane they had. A catastrophic disaster is different, and it’s different because of the magnitude. You can’t appreciate the magnitude. Let me just give you some examples.
They had six oil spills. They had more than six, but they had six major oil spills. Each one was an incident of national significance. All of the oil that was spilt was about 75 to 80 percent the size of Exxon Valdez. People don’t realize that. Everything we did went beyond the pale of what we had done in other disasters—everything. Every one of those emergency support functions—transportation, medical, urban search and rescue, EPA clean-up. We’re still cleaning up white goods. We’re still picking up refrigerators and all those things, and we’ll be doing that until the end of this hurricane season from Katrina. Everything.
Let’s talk about medical patients. Remember the four hurricanes two years ago when Ivan, Jeanne, Frances, and Charley hit Florida? If you add all the patients up for those four hurricanes total, that doesn’t even add up to the patients we had for Hurricane Rita. I want to talk about that a little bit.
Rita was a big storm. If you go back to what cost to Stafford Act, what FEMA does, Rita was number 3 since the late 80’s, only exceeded by Katrina and the Northridge earthquake. We treated more patients in Rita—that’s about a $2.5 billion disaster in and of itself. It came right on the heels of Katrina—that landed on the 24th of September. The number of patients we did in Katrina is about 11 to 15 times larger than what we did for Rita. Everything we did was of great magnitude.
To me, as an operator, the most significant thing for a catastrophic disaster was the tempo that you have to work at. I don’t know quite how to describe it other than you have an operational tempo you work at, and the bigger disaster, the faster you have to go. It’s like running. The operational tempo for a catastrophic disaster is so fast, you got anaerobic, quick. You can’t keep up. You don’t have the resources. You don’t have the training. You don’t have the expertise. You don’t have all those systems in place—or we didn’t—to manage that disaster like a disaster ought to be managed.
One thing I will remember for the magnitude of this is you have to have your systems in place to keep that up tempo or you will fall behind and not do the things you need to do to save lives and to prevent human suffering and reduce the amount of damage. And that didn’t happen.
The second thing that stands out with Katrina was the situational awareness, the common operating picture. We had none. We sent Federal assets—mostly FEMA, some Corps of Engineers, other Federal agencies—into Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge is about 80 miles north of New Orleans. We went in on Saturday—two days before the storm. The storm hit Monday morning.
Just as an aside—not that it’s real important, but in other discussions it might be—this hurricane was not even supposed to hit Louisiana—it was supposed to hit Florida. FEMA early on, D-5 days, started moving assets toward Florida and the models in general agreement it was going to hit Florida, and then it started drifting, and then we lost all confidence in it and about Friday afternoon, then it looked like at that time Louisiana became in that zone of error, and then we started at it. Saturday, two days before, we went into Louisiana, into Baton Rouge, and set up an op center and worked out of the State EOC.
The storm hit Monday morning around 6 a.m. It was a very large storm. It was about ten times larger than Andrew in ’92. Andrew was a very powerful storm that hit Florida, but it was very small and compact. This was a very large storm, so it took several hours for it to come ashore and to make its way through New Orleans and then up north and then went into Mississippi. We got Cat 1 winds in Baton Rouge. It took several hours. We could not get a rapid needs assessment team out that day. It was dark before we could get them out. No situational awareness.
It hit 6 a.m. Monday morning, and that means it got into New Orleans about 9 a.m. Monday night, in the State EOC, Louisiana, a catastrophic disaster, and people were milling about, drinking coffee, talking to one another, and it looked just like another day. And I’m serious—it was quiet. That was the most quiet night, the most inactive night of the whole disaster because Saturday we were doing planning all night long; Sunday night we were doing planning all night long—it was coming ashore; and then that Monday night, we were waiting to get these reports. We got nothing. It reminded me of when I was in the Pentagon in the Army Ops Center which Andrew hit because that’s exactly the same thing—when Andrew hit, we were just sitting in the basement of the Pentagon talking it out, yakking it up. Phones weren’t ringing in Louisiana, nothing was going on. And I said either this is good news or bad news, but it was bad news.
We never got a good operation picture throughout, at least that first week, week and a half. Baton Rouge became a communications void. We sent teams down Monday morning into the Superdome to get with the mayor and the State and they could communicate out a little bit on satellites, but we could not get traffic into Baton Rouge and we couldn’t get it out, so our regional office out of Denton, Texas, and our national offices with FEMA and DHS—they were all talking, so the situation awareness was virtually non-existent, it was different from any other disaster I’ve ever experienced. If you don’t have situational awareness, you won’t get your job done—it’s just that simple.
Continuity of government: I need to talk about that a little bit because it means different things to different people. I think to most local people it means providing essential services to your constituents. I think to most Federal people it means just making sure you have your government officials in a place where they can carry on operations. I’m talking about everything.
In New Orleans in particular—not exclusively, but in particular—they had no government. The mayor was holed up in a hotel. All of his lieutenants went to Baton Rouge and they didn’t come back for about three weeks. The police, fire, and emergency responders were all in disarray. Hundreds of the police left. They left with their families or they just left—they didn’t show up. I remember one day about a week into this two of the police committed suicide in one night. They walked around with that 20-mile stare wherever they went. Like Admiral Allen was saying yesterday, they carried their weapons on their shoulder.
They had no government. In a very large city in our country there was no government. We had to do continuity of government operations in a catastrophic disaster. We had never done that before.
There were a lot of things we had never done before, but there’s a lot of lessons there. When you’re looking at things to look at, that’s something to look at. How are you going to do that? How are you going to do those emergency services? What’s the best way to do that? How are we going to plan on that? This was a natural disaster. What if it was terrorism?
Mass evacuation operations: That was different. That’s normally considered—it is considered, had been considered a State and local responsibility. I think that’s all changed, but that has been the policy that has been our doctrine that evacuation is all State and local. We did that post-landfall. About 65,000 people out of the New Orleans in about four days from scratch. This was a Federal operation.
I want to say there are a lot of lessons learned there. If somebody wants to study that, that needs to be studied because what they did in those four days from ground zero—a lot of special needs, elderly, people who had medical conditions, people who were obese, people who were criminals with guns and knives and all kinds of weapons—it was as bad as you can imagine, and they did 65,000 people in about four days, air and ground. That was a miracle that they did it that well. I’m fully aware it wasn’t good enough, wasn’t quick enough—I think we all know that. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is what they did from on-the-fly needs to be studied and looked at. There are a lot of things we can glean from that to do it better next time.
But the real lesson is you’d better be prepared, because if you aren’t prepared and you have to go from ground zero, it will take a while. Four days was damn quick—let me tell you. That was quick for not being prepared.
Security: We’ve never been concerned in FEMA about security issues; we’re just a bunch of wussies. We were scared of everything. It was a frightening environment down there in New Orleans. There was a lot of looting, a lot of people shooting, a lot of the criminal element early on. It got exaggerated in the media big-time—that only made it worse. We heard reports there were 100 dead in the Superdome, 200 people dead in the Convention Center—these were the kind of credible reports. We got a lot of Internet traffic throughout that was interesting—the first time I’ve ever seen this—saying, we have people holed up under siege in this hospital or nursing home, and we started tracking these things down. Ninety-five percent of that stuff was bogus—that information. That wasted a lot of our time on what we were doing.
Security is something we need to look at, we need to factor that in. We’ve got a little bit with hauling ice and water and stuff like that, but we had to actually shut down our search and rescue operations, we had people shooting at helicopters doing hoist operations, for example.
The National Guard pulled security out of the Superdome on Thursday. We had two DMAT teams in the Superdome. They left. At liaisons with the mayor and the State New Orleans, they left Thursday for security, and they didn’t come back until Saturday. One of the most problematic things was we broke contact with that city on Thursday. That was really at the height of where tensions were and where coordination was most needed and we left. But we’re not used to security issues; we’re not used to people shooting at us and things like that. That needs to be studied.
Hotels, cruise ships: We used hotels as a shelter. And guess what? People went to hotels in Hawaii and 48 States. Those were shelters. People were holed up in $300-a-night-room hotels as shelter. This was the largest displacement of people in the history of our country. We brought in cruise ships—which I think is a good idea. A cruise ship comes in, we put all first responders on two cruise ships for New Orleans, and then we use one cruise ship for St. Bernard, and we put in central workers, government workers, the fire, police, the Port Authority, and people we shouldn’t even have been putting on but it just made sense, like the refinery folks. We were just supposed to be taking care of victims. But if we don’t get those refineries going and repaired, guess what? You will be victims; you won’t have any gas in your cars. But that’s a different issue. That needs to be looked at in a critical infrastructure and what Stafford Act does and what Stafford Act can’t do.
Last thing we had Hurricane Pam. Hurricane Pam was an exercise we started I think in ’04 that I think helped out a lot. I want to talk about it briefly because that was different from Katrina because we did have a catastrophic plan. What we actually had was a draft of a plan that hadn’t been finished and hadn’t been completed and it was just a plan. There was a lot of criticism or dialogue about, you had Pam, and why didn’t use it, this and that. It’s just a takeoff on what Gene was saying earlier: you can’t just have a plan. With D-Day they just didn’t have a plan. You have to first resource that plan. You have to get the people, the resources for the plan, and then you have to train, and then you have to exercise, and then you have to do it. I think it’s unrealistic to expect to do a catastrophic disaster without going through those preparedness things of having a plan and testing the plan.
We have plans all over this nation. These local communities have plans, these States have plans, and they just did a national plan view. Guess what? They have plans, but that’s it. You can wipe your butt with that plan, but that’s about all you can do with that plan unless you test it, exercise it, or you train to it. They’re just paper plans. You have to do everything. The plan is just the start, the beginning of the beginning.
I’m going to talk a little bit about the problems just from an operator’s standpoint. We have lots of problems in response operations. I want to talk about the whole architecture of emergency management. First off, we don’t understand it. I don’t think—maybe it’s just me—how many of you all understand emergency management architecture?
When I get a group of folks in a room and we talk about stuff, the only thing I can get—just take one example: who’s in charge of disaster? The only time you can get consensus is when you come to the point where you say, nobody’s in charge and everybody’s in charge. And everybody goes, um-hmm, okay. That’s what you get everybody to agree on. Other than that, you won’t get agreement.
Listen—you can’t run a railroad with that type of understanding of who’s in charge. You can’t run a football team, you can’t win a war, and you certainly can’t do emergency management until we all have a simple, common understanding of how emergency management works in this country. I think one of the reasons we had poor PR—there are a lot of reasons that public information was so poor in this disaster of getting messages out what was doing, how it was working—is we don’t understand how emergency management worked. We can’t communicate to the American people. We can’t communicate to the secretary of DHS, the president, Congress, or the victims because we don’t understand. You just don’t understand.
I think the fundamental part of that is emergency management is unlike virtually anything else we do in the Federal government. It’s unlike law enforcement operations, education, the military in that it’s bottoms up. The people on the ground are in charge. In the military, it’s top down—the generals tell the colonels what to do, the colonels tell the majors what to do, the majors tell the lieutenants, the lieutenants tell the sergeants, and the sergeants tell the privates, and they do the work. That’s how we understand it.
Emergency management is not a lot like that. Those privates, those local emergency managers, those incident commanders—they are in charge. That jurisdiction, that mayor, the person the people elect to take care of them, the safety and security—that’s the guy in charge, or that county executive or that parish president. Those are the people in charge. The State is there to support and the Federal government is there to support the State. That’s the way it is, as I understand it, but that’s not what we practice, so we really have two systems out there going.
We have some conflicts in the architectures. For example, we took this ICS system from the fire community and it’s a great system, and it will sound like I don’t like ICS, but I really love ICS, but I think we need to look at it. I’ll give you a couple examples in the emergency management community.
Under ICS, things come from the bottom and go up. Requirements are identified at the bottom and they go up the chain and they get sourced at the lowest level possible. That’s how it’s supposed to work. But what works in emergency management is there is a political process also that trumps that. For example, in Rita, I went to another State and we did Rita, and the ICS system was identifying, as an example, we need two 1-megawatt generators and one 1-megawatt generator in Harrison County. And that goes through the chain.
The State director has his own conference call with the county judges every day, too, and they give him another requirement: I need 4-megawatt generators in my parish and 6-1, so you get different. You get two systems out there working. Of course, that political normally trumps the ICS one, but what happens is it creates confusion and duplication. You have two systems working and we’re already getting the first system and they’re loading up the generators to go to Taylor County and now the State director is saying, oh, we want them to go to Harris County, so get them off of there and get them all here—it screws things up.
My point is there is a political element in emergency management that trumps the ICS system that we need to look at. The other thing is ICS is based on who can best fit a need. Get everybody at a tailgate of a truck and say, okay, this is a problem, how are we going to fix it; and you find who can best do it, who can do it the quickest, and who can do it the mostest and who can do it the bestest. We don’t do that in the Stafford Act. The Stafford Act and the National Response Plan is based on supplemental assistance. It’s do everything you can local and then you go through the State. Do everything you can State and then we go to the feds.
Do you know how long that takes? Too long. Because part of the culture we have in our country is nobody wants to say help until they’ve exhausted every possible alternative and then it’s too late. So if the locals need a generator, ice, water, food, or radios, they will do everything they can to try to do it, and then when they know they can’t, then they will ask. It’s already a day late. Then they take it to the State, then the State will go through EMAC or this or that or the National Guard—oh, can’t do it. There’s another day late. And then the Federal government gets it. Well, it’s already three days late—it was needed three days ago by the time we get it. That’s Stafford Act.
ICS is not supposed to work that way, so there’s a conflict between the architects or, in my mind, between ICS and the National Response Plan, ICS, and what we do under the Stafford Act.
The fourth problem we have is the States and locals do not have the staff or the capacity to execute ICS unified command the way it’s supposed to be executed.
We have 15 emergency support functions. You go to a State. They might have three people that are working all 15 emergency support functions. They’re not there. One of the new things we’ve been doing over since about two or three years ago for big disasters is sending in Federal teams into local jurisdiction—parishes and counties—to work in their EOCs. The State can’t match us up. So you have a system out there that requires X amount of people, but you don’t have the people at the State and local level to match with the Federal level to execute the system the way it’s supposed to be executed.
Which takes me to the next point: the capability at the State and local level. There isn’t much there, and it gets less and less every year. I’ve been in this business since ’92, and what we have in emergency management over the last 10 or 15 years is going down incrementally and the capability to do the things that need to be done is just not there. It’s not there in response operation, but probably just as important, it’s not there in the peacetime preparedness operation—the Pillar 1 you’re talking about, Gene. When you go into States and the local jurisdictions, their staff is focused mostly on recovery types of things in peacetime. Their plate is full doing that sort of thing.
We need to be aware of that, we need to understand that, and we need to appreciate that—that they just don’t have the people there to meet the needs out there to get done to do the preparedness stuff. We need to acknowledge that and we need to look at that and we need to find a way to fix that, whatever way we can, but they don’t have the people, they don’t have the expertise. If they have not had a disaster in the last one to two years, they have lost their experience in response operation. It’s very perishable. It’s not something you can learn today and it will stay with you five years from now—it doesn’t work that way—I don’t know why, but it doesn’t. It has a shelf life of about one or two years and it expires and then you’re back to not knowing.
We also have a lack of guidance and standards for response operations at all levels of government. All I would want to know as an operator is tell me what I need to find success.
One thing I like about the military—I knew how many push-ups I had to do, how many sit-ups I had to do, and how fast I had to run two miles. We don’t have standards like that to define success or failure in emergency management. There’s a doctrine like, locals are supposed to have enough supplies for 3 days, emergency power, water, ice, food, stuff like that, but that’s not doctrine—that’s general. Did they do it? No. We not only don’t have standards for response, past condition standards for people, we don’t hold them accountable. Until you develop standards, you can’t hold somebody accountable, so there’s no accountability out there.
Talk about leadership in management. There’s a significant problem—and I will just leave this within confines of FEMA, so I want to talk about somebody else. We have a significant void of leadership in management. We have no systems for professional development. We have no Army equivalent of War College or Command and Staff College, moving people around. The people that are in staff in D.C. in FEMA Headquarters—they stay there. They don’t come to the field. We don’t move people around. The people in the field—they stay there. They don’t go to D.C.
In the military, you have staff assignments—you work in the Pentagon, and then you go to the field, so you learn a little of both. That’s called professional development—you learn what the other side is doing. You can do a better job that way. But in D.C., all you have are people that have been in D.C. 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 years. No field experience.
Now, how good a policy, how good a regulation, how good an execution at national level do you think you’re going to get when you have people with no field experience? We not only need to move people around, we need to have a professional development process that trains, educates, and gives people emergency management exposure so we can be better leaders and better managers.
This is sort of second tier things. Financial management—I won’t cover that. I do want to say we do 100 percent Federal for the State of Louisiana through June 30. I think that’s a significant problem.
Immediate response authority: the military has it; FEMA needs it. It allows you to provide direct assistance before a presidential declaration. We don’t have that now. We can move things and we can pre-position teams, resources, before a storm or before an event, but we can’t employ them, we can’t give them to the State until there’s a presidential declaration. We need to have some type of immediate response authority to do that.
Recovery programs: they’re just too slow. We are not getting money on the street fast enough to help local jurisdictions and States recover. The faster we get money to them, the faster they recover—it’s just way too slow.
I think I’ve taken more of my time than I should have. I guess I want to say one thing that you all are interested in: what can academia do to help?
The one thing I would say is we need some response science, for lack of a better word. We don’t have response science. When I see operators out there who don’t know how to operate in response mode—somebody was talking about a course in catastrophic disasters and stuff—I think that’s a great idea. We need to have courses, we need to have training for people to be responders. We don’t have that. Here’s what you get when you go to disasters: you get these people from other—I’m talking Federal now—emergency support functions and being on the response team—we call them teams. They’re not teams, because when you go to a disaster, this is the first time you’re seeing 95 percent of these people. You’ve never worked together, you’ve never trained together, you’ve never coordinated together, you’ve never built relationships together, so it isn’t a team—it’s a group.
You get your group together in a disaster and the people who are there doing response stuff is not necessarily their first job—it’s their second job, or maybe their tertiary job, or maybe they just called on the hey you roster, but they haven’t been trained. It’s a secondary job for most all of us, and I’m just here to tell you it’s a secondary job. It’s not a primary job being on a response team in most of the Federal agencies. It’s not. It’s not a primary job in FEMA. If you look at a number of response people, it’s a very, very small percentage. If you want to do something right, you have to invest in it, you have it make it your first-time job.
Here’s a real story: in Katrina, we had hundreds of thousands of people without power. Had a Department of Energy lead in the joint field office and I was asking him questions about what’s the power grid look like, are we going to get it up. It was obvious he couldn’t answer these questions. I said, wait a minute, how long have you been doing this, and he said, well, wait a minute, I don’t do power, I make bombs—I’m an energy guy—well, actually, I make the stuff that make bombs; and then he started talking to us in a meeting on power grid about what he does. That doesn’t work, but that’s a vignette, an insight of why things work the way they are. We don’t take this business seriously. If you’re going to do response, it has to be your primary job if you’re going to do it right.
We need that response science, we need people to develop and train people to operate in a response mode.
I will tell you one more story, and then I’ll get off the podium. What you get in disasters is people that do peacetime work, and they think peacetime work—they think inbox, outbox, inbox, outbox. Have many of you play chess? Nobody? How many of you have played chess with a clock? Going to a disaster and seeing people out there working on the staff is like playing chess—they all know how to play chess, take time, they have all the time in the world to make a move.
In response operation, you’re on a clock, and you have maybe 3 to 5 seconds to look at the board, see what your opponent did, and then you have to make a decision. Some people can’t work in that environment. They don’t know how to think, operate, make decisions in a time-sensitive environment, and it kills us. We need to have that science to give people those tools so they can do their job. That’s where academia can come in. Right now, in my mind, what we’re doing is we’re still stuck on stupid, to take a quote from General Honoré. What I see in the Gulf Coast is we’re doing like Admiral Allen said yesterday: we’re putting these PFOs with the FCOs and we’re getting water, ice, all this stuff pre-positioned for the Gulf Coast.
Guess what? If we have a hurricane in the Gulf Coast, we will do great this year. I guarantee it—we’ll be ready. If we have an earthquake, if we have a terrorist event, or we have another event somewhere else, we aren’t. Do you know why? Because we’re treating symptoms; we’re not treating the fundamental problems. We’re trying to treat the symptoms, and we are treating the symptoms. We’re treating the symptoms for Hurricane Katrina, but we’re fighting our last battle. We have to address the fundamental problems we have in emergency management so it applies throughout the whole nation because we don’t know when, where, and we don’t know what, but we know it will happen; and until we repair our fundamental problems, we will continue to have problems.
Thank you very much for your time.
Michael Bolch Thank you very much. I won’t take very long—I really don’t have a great message like Scott. Scott really fought in the trenches in Louisiana and Texas in some really tough duties.
I was assigned as a Federal coordinating officer for the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the Hurricane Dennis disaster in the State of Alabama. I just finished up my assignment in Alabama Monday of this week. That marks the longest deployment I’ve had in the six years I’ve been with FEMA—that was 11 months long, from the 1st of July of last year until the 1st of June this year, basically. And it was a real tough assignment, but it wasn’t anywhere as tough as the assignment that went on in Louisiana.
As I was introduced, my background is in engineering. I was a reactor operator in the Navy on a nuclear submarine, I was a senior reactor operator in commercial nuclear power plants, and I’m a lot of technical background—I like to get into the technical side of things and see how things work and make them work correctly.
One of the things I’ve learned since I’ve been in emergency management—and that was starting in 1980, right after Three Mile Island, when the commercial nuclear power plants had to get involved in emergency management—is one of our most complex components. Our most complex component that we operate with is a human being. It’s the one we have sometimes the least control over.
We operate on three different levels with people out in the field and disasters. As a Federal coordinating officer, I always tell my staff and the staff who works for me on disasters that the primary level that we work with is the disaster victim level—they’re always our number one customer, our number one priority, and we have to look after the disaster victim. Sometimes we think of disaster victims just as numbers. We think of them as the number of temporary housing units we put out or the number of shelter spaces that are occupied or the number of hotel rooms, or the amount of dollars we put out. But disaster victims are a lot more than that—they’re human beings, and they’ve been traumatized, and we need to remember that, we need to deal with them as human beings, we need to try to maintain their dignity and their self-worth and look after them as human beings.
Another level we work with people is our counterparts, our direct relations. Leon Shaifer was here just a minute ago, and Leon and I have worked a couple of disasters together when Leon was with Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Very often, I worked with the State director or a county director, such as Mobile County, and Bruce Baughman, the State director in Alabama, and worked with the governors, senators, even down to the city council’s and mayor’s levels. All these people—they’re human beings also and they have different forces pulling on them.
One of the things mentioned previously was that there are a lot of politics involved in emergency management. That’s correct. Leon and I know that very well. Those politics will shape a lot of the things we do and it shapes a lot of the requests that come in to us, but we need to establish good working relationships and we need to work in an incident command structure so we can work with human beings on a one-to-one basis and keep those relationships functional all the time.
Then the third level of people we worked with is the human beings we work with as our subordinates and our employees and our staff. I had a staff of 650 people working for me in Alabama and they were under a lot of pressure. Alabama wasn’t as tough as it was in Mississippi, nor was it as tough as in Louisiana, but there are still people we have to work with—people who have come in to work on disasters. They’ve left their homes, they’re staying in hotel rooms. They’re under their owns stresses and their own strains. We have to look after them, train them, bring them along, and mentor them. We have to take care of them.
My brief message is that as an emergency manager, in 25 years of doing emergency management work at different levels in different opportunities, I’ve seen the human complexity of working with people in all these different levels.
I’ll be glad to answer any questions when the time comes. I look forward to working with you in future disasters, if you’re unfortunate enough to have one in your State. I look forward to taking my time off—I’ve been deployed for 11 months and I’m going on a month’s leave right now. Thank you very much.
Louis Botta After Mr. Piño, Scott, and Michael, I have very little to say other than to reiterate a couple of major points.
Over the last seven years that I have been in the Federal Coordinating Officer Cadre, I have seen the—hopefully, if I’m pissing somebody off, too bad—emasculation of what was the most effective agency in the Federal government and the fact that up to the point it became, for one reason or another, ill capable to meet the demands that were placed upon it. Everything we can do from now is to get better.
The one thing that really concerns me is the divorce of the different areas of the emergency management cycle into different areas of our government. It has to be one, it has to be united, it has to be indivisible. Preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation need to be together and treated as one academic and operational discipline.
The emergency management cycle, needs to be a bottoms-up approach. In addition, we need the formation of a professional cadre of emergency management at all levels and its cross-flow across the entire spectrum of emergency management. The military must be a partner because of the fact that as a Federal coordinating officer, the law allows the Federal coordinating officer to task any Federal agency for resources, et cetera. Only the military has the conditions and the resources that are necessary from time to time to bring into effect the massive use of resources that are needed in a catastrophic situation. That’s plain and simple.
I will end with a little anecdote: I was deployed during Hurricane Isabel as the Federal coordinating officer. Hurricane Isabel was for the Washington, D.C. area, the State of Virginia, and up in the Ohio River. It was a tremendous disaster. I was deployed to a particular State where the State director came up and said, “Mr. Botta, if the Federal government does not give us—I think it was 30 or 40 generators, we will have to use our own.” My answer to him was, “Well, sir, I guess the system doesn’t work, does it?”
I want you to know that because the folks in the bottom, the emergency management directors, need to be in charge. That’s basics for the emergency management system.
Now I’ll shut up, and hopefully, we can take some of your questions. Thank you very much.
QUESTIONS: The first gentlemen made some very profound statements, but I also felt there was an indictment about local entities being able to handle their own problems. If you look at the World Trade Center, the locals did an outstanding job, but when you looked at Katrina, the poster child for failure was Michael Brown, a FEMA person. What has FEMA learned from that disaster in putting in people who are not capable of handling a position like that?
Scott Wells: First off, let me say it’s not indictment—it’s anything but that. I’m a big advocate of the State and locals. I’m just saying throughout the nation, there’s no robust local capability. I think it’s universally accepted that New York has a great local capability and very robust and it’s something you can be very proud of, but I think it’s also universally known that the rest of the nation does not have that same local capability that you all have, so it is not an indictment.
As far as what has FEMA learned? I don’t know. Here’s what I know is we keep learning the same thing, the same problems over and over. We keep making the same mistakes. We learn them. We know that when you touch that oven, it gets hot, but we still touch the oven.
If something is wrong systematically we have out there it’s because we keep making the same mistakes over and over. We learn, we have after-action reviews, we have hot washes—we do all that. We know these mistakes and we learn them, but we don’t institutionally fix these things so they don’t happen again. Other than that, I can’t answer your question, but please don’t accept that as an indictment. I’m a big advocate for local.
Question from Tammy Harris, Canadian Defence Academy: As an incident commander for the Air Force, do you guys feel that you’re getting to a need where you have to train your people to do capability-based planning and effects-based operations, because Katrina sounds like a three-block war scenario from standing back here listening to you discuss. Were you able to identify a center of gravity that you were working against in that planning?
Scott Wells: I’m sorry—I don’t understand your question.
Question: When you looked at Katrina on the whole, and listening to Admiral Allen speak yesterday and yourself, sir, it sounds like you were up against a three-block war scenario going on—that you were trying to do rescue operations, response, and preparedness all at the same time. Was there one center of gravity—what you would consider an enemy factor—that you were working against, that you were all planning with, or do you feel your planning was disjointed and that’s what you were talking about earlier?
Scott Wells: We were fighting on several fronts. We had many different operations going on at once. Of course, the search and rescue and fighting, trying to repair the levies were the immediate concerns, the lifesaving things and the medical treatment, too.
After about Day 3, the thing became the center of gravity. Day 1 was the 29th, 30th, 31st—yeah, the 31st to the 1st, the evacuation of the Superdome and the Convention Center became the center of gravity, but I don’t want to try to characterize it as that it was just one thing we were focused on. We had all these major issues—getting food, water, generators; the search and rescue; the medical—still establishing—you have to establish infrastructure, too. You can’t just show up. There’s nothing there. Everything is flooded, it’s hard to get access, there’s law enforcement, there’s security, so for the first week, I think, again, there’s no situational awareness, there’s no common operating picture, so we were essentially working in the dark, we were essentially in a very reactive mode, so we stayed reactive probably for several weeks.
Normally, in most disasters—even a large disaster—if you can’t get your arms around it by the first 72 hours, you’re in big trouble. Normally, you can get your arms around it, found out what the context is, and then you get things going. We couldn’t do this for Katrina, so we were constantly reacting to the situation in Katrina as it was a very formidable enemy and every time you’d get something going somewhere in the box, something else was happening.
The problem with the plans is, again, we didn’t have the resources, we didn’t have the training, we didn’t have the expertise. You make your plans in peacetime, where you get that expertise, and that just didn’t happen. We didn’t do that Pillar 1 thing.
Louis Botta, responding to the local responder question: I don’t know if any of you have seen the two bills that are on the floor—they’re in committee right now as far as the restructuring of FEMA. The interesting thing is the Susan Collins bill and the other one—I can’t remember who is the sponsor—both of them not only unite the concept of the emergency management cycle but also they direct. It will be enshrined in the law that the director, the vice-director, and all the appropriate division directors of the Federal Emergency Management Agency must be seasoned emergency professionals. Over the last many years it was not like that. Right now we have a consummate professional—Chief Paulison—and the last one we had was James Lee Witt. That hopefully should be eliminated.